There’s no questioning the size of the University of Massachusetts Amherst — it’s huge. Home to more than 23,000 undergraduate students, getting bored of campus life is almost impossible. This size also makes for hidden gems waiting to be found both on and off campus, including basement coffee shops. Located below the First Baptist Church in Amherst, adjacent to the UMass Amherst Visitors Center, is a quaint coffee shop called Freedom Cafe. However, its stylish atmosphere is not just another small-chain Starbucks wannabe — Freedom Cafe raises money to end a worldwide pandemic, one coffee cup at a time.
What is Freedom Cafe?
Since it’s opening it 2013, Freedom Cafe has raised more than $55,000 to help rescue the victims of human trafficking. As an organization run entirely through volunteers and donations, everything down to its last coffee bean comes from ethically sound sources. The cafe supports goods from local suppliers who practice fair labor trade and ecologically sourced farming.
Proceeds from Freedom Cafe are put toward vocational and business management training in the north region of India. The money raised also goes toward educating those at risk of being trafficked. After using proceeds to open its first vocational center, the cafe was able to invest in micro business education for the women in northern India to learn about what it takes to start, maintain, and own a business. This way, Freedom Cafe helps women that are both at risk or prior victims of trafficking to become specialized in certain jobs, allowing them to seek future employment opportunities.
On a communal level, the cafe’s presence on campus aims to inform students and faculty about the dangers and, unfortunately, the great prevalence of human trafficking on all occasions (modern day slavery, unfair labor practices, etc.) The organization hopes students will be more mindful of the companies they choose to support, while aiming to facilitate a campus-wide conversation on human rights, justice, and dignity for all.
UMass Students Give Back
I initially heard of the cafe from my professor for Honors 321: Violence in American Culture. As part of a class requirement, all students must complete 30 hours of volunteer service throughout the course of the semester to somehow expose us to an aspect of culture as it pertains to violence. The class originally had 25 students, but due to such demanding expectations, only seven of us are still standing. I too considered this class to be too much work for what it would mean for my transcript (simply put, this class is just another elective I need to graduate) but I was unable to find a better fit for my schedule. So, this semester I decided to bite the bullet and stay with my small, heavy-hearted class about violence.
It’s been three weeks into the semester and I question everyday if I’m smart enough to be enrolled in this class. However, I do not question to what extent it is teaching me valuable life lessons. I also do not question how much this class, in a mere three weeks, has opened my eyes to how fortunate I and so many of my peers are for living in the worlds we are in. Even if this is the only thing I take from being enrolled in Honors 321, then I will be happy. This stands as the perfect reality check I think I needed. Also, the volunteer position is a lot of fun — I get to serve coffee!
Higher education, no matter the institution, is a privilege often overlooked by many. Upon entering college, it’s easy to get caught up in the superficial logistics of what it takes to succeed: having good grades, making lots of friends, maintaining health, etc. While these are obviously important and in part the essentials of a “good” college experience, it pushes aside basic concerns for humanity. We’re often too worried about our own inconveniences to realize that we are still among the few percent of people in this entire world who are fortunate enough to even be in college. With this, I pride myself in going to a school where giving back to your community is not only available and encouraged, but also expected by the faculty. While I chose to volunteer at Freedom Cafe among lists of volunteer services offered on/near campus, the fact there is even lists to choose from I think says a lot about the compassionate community that is UMass as a whole. For this, I am extremely proud to call UMass my home.