Wild Timor Coffee wouldn't be where it is today without Shannon "Frenchy" French.
One of the four company founders, Shannon is a big-hearted fellow with a passion for helping others. He initiates Wild Timor's social projects, and is a big driving force behind the success of our Coburg cafe. We joke that he has his fingers in many pies- he's always cooking up the next scheme to meet a need.
But they're real, deep needs. As well as Wild Timor Coffee, Shannon also coordinates projects that help out army veterans, is establishing Lospalos coconut oil factory in Timor-Leste, and even has a campaign for the protection of rhinoceroses, participating in anti poaching patrols and training in South Africa as well as raising funds to support the cause.
Shannon said that getting involved and helping out in Timor-Leste wasn't always as simple as just rolling up your sleeves and diving in. "No one over there would even talk to me about anything when I started," he said. "People just have to see a man with a plan... People are drawn to that.
"When someone's inspired, it lights a fire in other people's hearts. But it does take time."
Shannon identified as a bit of a "tough guy" for a lot of his earlier life. He didn't have many female friends or relatives, and spent most of his time with army comrades.
"We came into the villages (in Timor-Leste) in 2000 when the war was on... A lot of the young folk used to follow us around." Shannon noticed one girl in particular couldn't seem to get around without bumping into things. He asked if the girl had cataracts, or something similar. Her friends told her that it was the result of trauma induced blindness from sexual abuse. "I thought, How could anyone do that to someone else?"
One Timorese child in particular became Shannon's shadow. She used to cry whenever they would leave town. When Shannon returned to Timor-Leste in 2012, he looked her up. Stella was studying to become a geologist, a rarity among her peers. Shannon gave her the money she needed to complete her education. "That was a good feeling. I think it was a part of the healing process for me."
It was only after their deployment that the boys learned of the events of WW2, and Australia's debt of honour to Timor-Leste. Shannon resolved to find ways he could help provide opportunities to people in rural areas, however he could.
One of the projects Shannon remembers most fondly is the Wild Timor Water Project. The village people in Belumhato had to walk a solid 5km walk to fetch their water if they ran out- this meant that the children would have to go and get it, and miss out on going to school. Wild Timor Coffee raised the money to install a pump system that would bring the water up to the village into a tank.
One of the projects currently being worked on is the implementation of a contemporary Barista training course at the ETDA centre in Dili. Shannon has worked hard to develop the relationship between Wild Timor Coffee and the centre. We're excited to see their progress!
"I'd like to thank everyone who's contributed to functions and fundraisers, people have been so generous with their donations. No projects happen without them and that's a fact."
We'd like to thank you, Shannon, for being Wild Timor's light that keeps burning!