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Travel with purpose

Spending an entire year in a foreign culture on someone else’s dime sounds like any college student’s fantasy.

For Belmont alums and newlyweds Eric Taft and Hilary Hambrick-Taft, this was their reality following graduation thanks to the Lumos grant and Belmont University

“We found out about it on our first study abroad trip, in 2010. So since our freshman year we knew it was something we were interested in,” said Hambrick-Taft.

In 2011, the two returned to Guatemala as a part of Belmont Enactus, a social entrepreneurship organization. On this trip, they met Freddie, who introduced them to his family’s project, Monte Cristo. Monte Cristo is a vocational training center for under-privileged middle school students.

And that is where the adventure began. Upon their return, the Tafts drew up a proposal for the Lumos board and suggested they would return to Monte Cristo and create a business for them to become 75-percent self sustainable. The proposal was accepted and a few short months after graduation, and getting married, they were off to Guatemala.

“You get off the plane in Guatemala and 4 million people are trying to get around the city, so it’s very busy and there’s smoke everywhere and it’s all so overwhelming,” said Taft. “It’s sensory overload.”

Understandable considering Guatemala is a country in Central America with around 21 different Spanish-based languages.

And the Tafts, they didn’t have knowledge of a single one.

“I took some Spanish in college, but it’s not like I remembered any of it. And Hilary, she hadn’t even watched “Dora the Explorer,” said Taft

The first few months were spent immersed in the new culture, surrounded by Freddie’s family and hours of studying the language.

“It’s impossible to make a difference if you don’t know the language,” said Taft.

Once they mastered the language, or at least could hold a conversation and not be completely lost, they went to work. They began teaching English classes at Monte Cristo and become more involved in the children’s lives.

“Monte Cristo doesn’t want teachers, so we fit in really well,” said Taft. “They want people with experience and have something to share.”

While continuing to learn themselves as well as teaching, the Tafts began tossing ideas around for a possible business venture. Honey was the first idea, but the thought of having thousands of bees in the same place as school children did not seem like the best idea to Taft. That is when the idea of body creams, still made with beeswax but lower doses, came to mind.

And the body care line Queen Bee was born.

“We found the recipe online and messed with ingredients,” said Hambrick-Taft. “It was just like getting a recipe out of a cookbook.”

Queen Bee is handmade by the Tafts in the Monte Cristo kitchen and sold in the Monte Cristo storefront.

“I got on the Internet in Guatemala, which is a hard thing to do, and was looking for an oil press,” said Taft. “I found an ad for one and went to go see it. Turns out the ad was from three years ago. That’s why you don’t use the Internet in Guatemala. But anyway, the guy thought it was broken, so we offered to fix it then offer a price for it. We got it in perfect working condition, and ended up getting it for $150. We got a $5,000 machine for $150. That’s why I love Guatemala.”

Queen Bee is slated to be in several more stores with in the upcoming months and plans to expand the line into soaps and shampoos are in the works as well.

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