Story of an extraordinary Colombian barrista


May I please introduce to you, Juan Oviedo. He is 24 years old and lives in Pitalito, Huila (Colombia) where he owns a nice coffee bar. This is where I met him and became interested in his walk-of-life. I told him about the project“If I would be the boss of healthcare” and found Juan willing to share his rather personal story.

The story begins when I was only 11 years old. My grandfather, who is the only doctor in our family, brought me to one of his consults. He explained me how a kidney works and I found it truely fascinating. I still remember this moment very well. From that time, I knew for sure that I wanted to become a doctor. My dream was to make people better. My grandfather, currently 88 years old, is still parttime working as doctor, by conducting consults for the Red Cross.

After high school, at 17 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to study medicine, and I applied for the best medical University in Colombia: University del Rosario in Bogotá. After several interviews and qualification tests they let me in.

The start of a brilliant medical student

I left my parents and moved to Bogotá. For four years I really enjoyed my studies and I was one of the very best students. To be honest, at that time I thought I was a brilliant mind and started to become very arrogant to the people around me. I also started to use drugs and alcohol, and I was treating girls like toys. I really wasn’t a nice person at all and I am not proud, even very much ashamed, of this period. But eventually, I belief that every decision in life comes with a consequence. Definately also for me.

For several months, my life was hell

At the end of my fourth grade I started to suffer from severe depression. I didn’t eat well and often had sleepless nights. This even evolved in a psychiatric desease, called ‘Obsessive ideas’, and I was really suffering a lot. I believe, the natural mechanism (that exist in every person) made me want to escape from this feeling. So at some point I even had suicidal thoughts.  

I was afraid to tell my friends and family about my problems, because I knew what they would say: “Go to a doctor.”. But since I exactly studied the symptoms myself, I knew that the doctor would diagnose me with ‘Obsessive ideas’. And from my medical studies, I knew that for a problem in the mind, the only answer at hand is medicine. Medicine that only treat but does not cure the problem. 

Looking for answers to my illness

For all these months I didn’t often leave my house and started reading a lot of personal stories from different patient forums, medical magazines, blogs etc. from people all over the world. Basically, the conclusion was that none of them could say they got better and everyone turned out to be very desperate after all.

Besides me, the medical system is sick too

This striked my, and that was when I realized I could only heal myself. Sadly enough, I also realized that not only me, but the medical system here in Colombia is sick too. Because, as I have experienced it from the inside, it is based on (financial) incentives to keep you sick instead of really make you better. Now, I even believe that every doctor in the world that does not stop their job is selfish. They are only looking for money and personal satisfaction. If they really want to help people they have to exit the system. Since my dream was to make people better, and I couldn’t change the system, I decided to quit my studies. When I told my grandfather, he didn’t talk to me for months.

Time to heal myself

My decision and dedication to heal myself, made me change my lifestyle. I was taking a lot of time for introspection, which made me realize about doing right and wrong in life. Therefore, I decided to quit some of my relationships, drinking and other bad habits. I really wanted to be a good person again, for myself and the people around me. Gradually, my illess started disappearing.

The passion of ‘doing right’ remained, only the way of doing so changed

My passion, doing right for all the people that surround me, did not change. I decided to set up my own bar, since I used to work as a manager at my father’s bar. But it would be one that only serves what I think is good. Good for the customer and good for the entire (production and distribution) chain.

The way turned out to be coffee

Is was not untill three years ago, that I drank my first cup of coffee. Last year I deciced to study in Bogotá to become a barrista. That is where I became extremely passionate about (the process of) making good coffee. I also realized the importance of my job as barrista, because if the farmer and the roaster do well, I have to do well too. Otherwise I ruin the product. Also by picking local farmers, I want to help them not to depend on foreign markets. By coffee house is going well, and I hope to serve and teach a lot more people about good coffee.

Thank you Juan

I drank a lot of (good and bad) coffee in my life. But never have I encountered such a passionate and knowlegable person about coffee. Juan really teached me how to taste and appreciate coffee. Besides that, I was really touched by his personal story, honest perspective on the medical system and giving up his dream. For me personally, it is a great pleasure spreading his story. I hope it can inspire any boss of healthcare, to do right instead of wrong. Thank you Juan. 

Rob van DrunenComment