Friday, 15 March 2013

Brittani O'Hearn

 Be warned, two weeks is simply not enough time to spend at Cyrila's! Fortunately I was able to participate in a variety of activities, but it was just an introduction. Juan and Abelina will welcome you into their home as a family member, and you may never want to leave. You will learn that the Cho family began their chocolate making venture producing 25 bars a week, made by hand on traditional Mayan stone tools. Since then, the business has grown immensely! The family now has a very effective production site at their home where they offer tours, demonstrations, and delicious traditional Mayan lunches. Visitors can also participate in a tour of the families farm in Indian Creek that provides all the cacao, coconut, ginger and sugar used in Cyrila's chocolate products. Juan an Abelina aim to provide visitors with an understanding of Mayan culture while promoting and practicing methods of sustainable, organic agriculture.
During my time at Cyrila's I experienced a little bit of everything. Volunteers can expect to participate in all chocolate making procedures which includes, harvesting cacao, grinding, shelling, and processing products. They will also package, label, and sell products to visitors. In addition to making chocolate there are opportunities to harvest sugar cane, coconut, ginger, and other crops at the farm. Not only did I assist with chocolate production, but also with tours, lunch preparation, and garden maintenance. Juan and Abelina really appreciate the extra set of hands, and will introduce you immediately to each visitor that comes through the door. Volunteers at Cyrila's are truly treated like family, and you can look forward to many interesting dinner conversations. In my short time I was able to learn quite a bit about Mayan religion, mythology, and other cultural practices. It was definitely an experience I will never forget. 

<3 Brittani

Friday, 30 November 2012

Emily Simmons

Working at Cyrila’s was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had! I stayed with the Cho’s for two weeks  - but it felt like months. While I was there, we did a lot of everything. The first day, Juan gave me a tour of the farm, sharing his vast knowledge of sustainable farming as he pointed out plants like curry bushes, jippy-jappa stalks, and plantain trees. We ground sugarcane juice at the farm and then made cocoa powder and coconut chocolate bars at the factory too, and I helped to package them for sale. Then we worked on improving the business – some marketing, some budgeting, and some painting! It was exciting to see what progress can be made with dedication and just a little sweat. I learned so much about the history and process of making chocolate, and its significance in the Mayan culture. And I learned some Kekchi Maya words!

Cyrila’s really stands for something big. Juan and Abelina have an amazing vision for their business, truly cultural and sustainable. The chocolate is so pure and delicious, straight from the Toledo farms and processed by the owners themselves. They are adamant to have great chocolate while implementing sustainable farming that supports the natural lush rain forest environment of Belize. Cyrila’s brings forward the best of both Mayan and Belizean culture, led by two of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. They will prove it to you, that chocolate is not only the most essential treat, but also can save the rain forest.

Living with the Cho’s was an incredible experience as well. I was instantly welcomed into the family and soon felt it to be my second home. I went with them to church – hands-down the most upbeat religious service I’ve ever attended! We went to a local waterfall for an adventure one day, and spent an afternoon making decorating for Independence Day. One night, we joined the extended family to cook tamales – it was so fun to learn the traditional cooking technique, and they were so delicious! I loved seeing so many stars every night and hearing the howler monkeys start up. I miss it all – my bunkhouse bed, my lessons on pounding corn tortillas, all the chickens!!

I ended up leaving Cyrila’s with a suitcase half packed with chocolate loot – 26 chocolate bars, 8 bottles of cacao wine, and 6 hot cocoa packs to be exact. I also took home with me so many memories of my sing-alongs with Lucresha, memory games with Henry, country music sharing with Juan, and bushrat hunting with Abelina. I had such an amazing time and I can’t wait to go back to visit again soon!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Joel Bransky Volunteer

I volunteered with Juan and Abelina for two weeks. Born and raised a bleeding heart liberal, I came to Cyrila's suspicious that a business could effectively conserve the environment and the community. Juan and Abelina proved that notion dead wrong. Good ripples outward from Cyrila's like in a cup of hot cocoa! Cyrila's cacao is organically sourced from either the Chos' own farm or from other small Toledo farms, providing these farmers with a good living and an incentive to preserve their soil. Juan and Abelina keep Mayan traditions alive with their chocolate and their knowledge (cultural shack with marimba coming soon!)

Juan, Abelina, Henry, and Lucresha are a fun, generous family and I really enjoyed my time with them. Talk with them about Mayan lore and the happenings in Toledo! And make sure to ask for Abelina's internationally famous habanero sauce... I still have some with me.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Amber Wentz - An Experience to Remember

I interned at Cyrila’s Chocolate located in the village of San Felipe. I worked and lived with Juan Cho and his family for two weeks to experience the organic sustainable business of making chocolate that they have built from the ground up. We were able to see the entire process, from planting and harvesting the cacao and sugar cane, to making, molding, and packaging the chocolate. The Kekchi Maya culture is rich in the village of San Felipe and in the small facility of Cyrila’s. Juan Cho and his family are the most considerate friendly people, an incredible delight to share life with. It was inspiring to see a small humble business that was seeking to improve the lives of families and care for the land they worked. It was a unique and unforgettable experience to work in a different culture and learn how things are done. I was able to experience many procedures and entrusted with tasks and responsibilities right alongside the Maya King and Chocolate Queen. I enjoyed seeing the dreams and future planning that Juan and Abelina strive for in their lives and business and I will certainly be keeping in touch to see how these exciting endeavors progress. Thank you for a wonderful two weeks! Tojo’ok re’

-Amber Wentz

Thursday, 15 November 2012

From the Owner...

My name is Juan Cho, Owner and Operator, along with my wife Abelina Cho AKA “the chocolate queen.” We are very passionate about nature’s way of working and the idea that nature can provide for all sorts of wildlife and plants and understanding of the traditions we pass on. I am very much a Maya of a ONE-HUNDRED percent, and am passionate about what we do. We are not about profit margin, but about  educating our species of mankind young or old about the understanding of sustainable and organic agriculture, and how this planet of our’s can be enjoyed by the next generation.
I/we believe in making this world of ours a better place, and a center for learning where nature is still functional.

I have used the gift of nature and Maya culture, processed from far away experiences throughout the various countries I have visited. I am thankful for the people who have contributed their time in teaching us about modern education which has become a tool and guideline for a daily life.It’s only when we learn to appreciate ourselves when we learn to appreciate our natural resources, our environment, our culture and where our food comes from.

Allow me to introduce CYRILA’s which is my mom’s name; without her, I would not be on the face of this planet. As a result, I have placed her name on the top of whatever I am successful in life as I believe it is the best gift I can give her. Since 1985 I can still remember the last drop of chocolate milk on my lip.

We welcome both, young and old, local and international to experience, learn, taste, touch, smell, see, hear, and eat with the flavoured sounds of nature.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Casey Muncy, Chocolate, and a Need for More

After an afternoon of making chocolate by hand, eating the chocolate I created, and filling my belly with owner Abelina's wonderful Belizean cuisine, I knew I would be back to Cyrila's Chocolate. Less than a week later, I rode my bike seven miles from Punta Gorda for a chocolate bar and the opportunity to share the experience with my roommate.

Cyrila's, however, is about more than chocolate; they are working to preserve traditional Mayan culture, bringing economic opportunity to San Felipe and developing sustainably in an ever-more disposable world. A day at Cyrila's not only taught me about Belize, chocolate, and Mayan culture, but enabled me to reconnect with nature and see her as a friend and provider rather than an obstacle to work around.

A year-and-a-half later, Casey has returned, willing and ready to learn the chocolate trade. Stay tuned for updates regarding Casey's stay in San Felipe. Welcome back, Casey!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Nick: Contributing to Cyrila's Story

As a college student and native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I traveled to Belize on a whim; my overcommitted school schedule needed a rest. And so, as a part of the Creation Care Studies Program in Santa Elena, I began delving into Belizean culture, ultimately joining Cyrila's Chocolates for a November internship. Today, I feel compelled to share my experience, hoping to develop an even greater awareness of this one-of-a-kind business venture.

When I first arrived in San Felipe, a small Mayan village just outside of Punta Gorda, I was welcomed by owners Juan and Abelina Cho. Almost instantly, I felt at home. My co-intern and I settled in with a traditional Mayan meal, a tour of the facilities, and an introduction to life in San Felipe. I sensed the couple's passion almost immediately; they love what they do, care about their visitors, and dream big. I was thrilled to be a part of the process.

Over the next two weeks, I learned the chocolate-making system and began assisting Juan with public relations, marketing, and business duties. Time and time again, I was encouraged by the couple's obsession with sustainability, commitment to running an ethical business, and dedication to others. As tours came through and interested shoppers knocked on the door, I witnessed a passion in Cyrila's buyers that I have not seen elsewhere. They weren't just curious, or in need of chocolate; they believed in what Juan and Abelina were doing, and wanted to provide as much support as possible.

Now nearly two weeks later, I get it. Cyrila's isn't about selling chocolate, or making a profit, or even developing a farming enterprise. Instead, they want to educate others while staying true to their roots. Perhaps this is why Cyrila's buyers approach the door with passion and excitement; because they, too, know the story behind this humble business.