GROUND UP Coffee – Changing lives…one barista at a time


Nineteen year old Soyiso Mnganisa ran away from home at the age of 15. No longer able to see his mum suffer violence in their home, he left to go live with friends in Mfuleni, Western Cape. 

It wasn’t long before he was hooked on drugs. After three years away from home, and spiralling further into drug addiction, his aunt asked him to come live with her in Hermanus. She supported Soyiso through his drug rehabilitation and enrolled him in the Barista Training Programme at Learn to Earn, funded by E Squared. After attending day one of the programme, Soyiso decided that barista training was not for him, and he was ready to quit. The dedicated staff at Learn to Earn convinced Soyiso to come back the next day, and the day after, and before they knew it, Soyiso was the star of the class. After graduating from the programme, Soyiso was offered an internship at a local coffee shop. The coffee shop owner took note of Soyiso’s amazing attitude and hunger to learn, and has since taught him to roast coffee beans, which is a skill in and of itself. 

Cheryl Jacob shares lessons learned from conversations with Soyiso on a recent trip to Hermanus:

“Passion is energy

Soyiso’s energy is contiguous, he is excited about life and the opportunity to turn his life around, become barista and coffee roaster with a paying internship. He boasts that he makes the best coffee in Hermanus, and he wasn’t kidding; he went on to make me one of the most delicious cappuccinos I have ever tasted and I am quite the coffee snob.

Growth thrives in favourable conditions (Law of the environment)

Soyiso says he will not return to Mfuleni because his friends will influence him badly again. He is determined to make a life for himself in Hermanus and in the coffee industry. While he may have not known the law of the environment, Soyiso is smart enough to know that Hermanus provides him with favourable conditions for growth and to thrive.

Invest in yourself. It pays the best interest

I met Soyiso by accident. I happened to be at Learn to Earn on the day he came by to attend a computer course after his shift at the coffee shop. Keen to tackle the admin at the coffee shop where he works, Soyiso took the initiative to register and pay for a course that would help him achieve this. The self-improvement bug has bitten Soyiso and I am convinced that his learning journey will pay great dividends in the years to come. 

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled

Soyiso told me that if Fikile (the Barista Trainer) had not cared as much and taken the time to support him that he did, then he would not have stuck with training. This reminded me of a great quote: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Fikile is an amazing trainer – I learnt about the history of coffee, and fair-trade coffee sitting in his class, but his ability to genuinely care and connect with young people sets him apart from the rest. It is this level of dedication and care that not only technically trains young minds but ignites a blaze.

Sometimes you meet people who change you for the better. These people are baristas!”

While this quirky quote alludes to coffee’s superpowers, and the superheroes who prepare our daily caffeine fix, it’s also the perfect description of my meeting with Soyiso. The pandemic kept me stuck in my home office for far too long. Eventually being able to meet the young people who benefit from programs invested in by E Squared, such as this Ground Up Barista Training Program, reminded me why I do what I do and why I need to keep doing it. Meeting Soyiso, hearing his story – which is the story of so many young people in South Africa – has solidified my ‘why’, refuelled my energy and strengthened my resolve; that I too can be the change I want to see in the world. I hope Soyiso’s story does the same for you.”