My last week at FAO was kind of busy. The workload in the office was light, but we had some big events. This year is the 70th anniversary of FAO and we had a video conference with all the other FAO offices in Latin America and the Caribbean. This call was long and fun and very festive. A lot of pride and thanks was expressed from many FAO members for the work that we do. And I totally agree; I have a great sense of pride for the work I’ve done in my short time here.
The following day (October 16) was Día Mundial de Alimentación, or the World Food Day, and the office went to a feria. At this feria, we had speeches from our own FAO Peru representative, someone from MIDIS and QW, there were farmers throughout different regions of Peru selling their produce, traditional dances and songs. It was a good time and I enjoyed being witness to this event.
The day after this, there was another DMA event in a neighborhood in Lima Provincia. The point of the event was to teach about food security. We had a booth along with all the ministries and other players in the community. At our booth, we had a roulette wheel with numbers 1-20, that corresponded with flash cards 1-20 each with a question about food security, hunger, agriculture in Peru, etc. We gave away information packets about food security, family farming, a work book for children, and a cook book to come lucky attendees. Again, there were more speeches, food, lots of information packets, and something for everyone in the family to learn. This was a community event, a family event, and a good opportunity to spread the message about food security.
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This was my last event and it was a fun way to go out. I have had an absolutely incredible time in Peru and am beyond thankful for this opportunity and the folks who helped me along the journey. I’ve learned a lot from my time in Peru, mostly about myself, but also about food security, creating a workshop, working with children, model building, and how truly important it is to think and act holistically to solve some of our most pressing problems. This was a fabulous internship and learning opportunity and I will say that I took advantage of it.
On a side note: In addition to learning as much as I could on the job, I also took advantage of the weekends and holidays to visit other parts of Peru. The weekend before I left, we had a 4 day weekend so I took my last adventure in the south of Peru to a city called Arequipa. In this region, there is the Cañon del Colca, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in some places. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon but I hear it’s quite impressive. Likewise, the Cañon del Colca was impressive and did not disappoint. Coming from Florida where it is very flat, this was maybe the hardest hike I’ve ever done. We went 1,300 meters (roughly 4,250 feet) one day and 1,300 meters back up the next day. It was intense. It was so beautiful! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a landscape like this before.
Peru is a beautiful country and a place I would definitely love to visit again in the future. This was my first trip to South America and it was everything I hoped it would be. From the food to the culture, traditions, landscapes, dances, handicrafts, and landmarks, it’s a remarkable country with a rich history. I had a wonderful time in all aspects, in the office, in the field, at the events, and around the country.
Wow, these last two weeks have flown by. Things are wrapped up at the school and I am spending my last week in the office. Here’s the recap of what happened:
Week 17: Today’s lesson at the school was drawing the big picture. During the past 6 weeks, we’ve talked about many things and maybe the kids don’t remember or don’t understand how everything fits together. So today, we went over the highlights and connected the dots. I wanted to make sure that these children understand why I am here and that we share this world, so what you do here can actually affect the rest of the world. It may not have been the most exciting lesson, but I believe the point got across.
And week 18, my last week at the school. How bittersweet it was. Two ladies from the office joined me at the school and I am very thankful that someone else could share this experience with me. This week, I asked the students a lot of questions. I wanted each student to tell me something they have learned. A lot of them mentioned the importance of nutrients (for ourselves and that a garden needs nutrients, also). A few students mentioned plastic contamination. And some students said they learned about composting (which, if you know me, you know this warms my heart).
After the revision, I gave a pep talk to the kids encouraging them to stay in school and learn as many things as they can. I printed some photos throughout our time together and brought them in to pass out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a photo of every student working in the garden so a few kids were sad, but overall, this was a big hit. Of course, after our talk, we went back to the garden and Silvia and Juana (the ladies from the office) spoke with the professors and took photos, as well. Any opportunity to go in the field is exciting and this was a great day to come. Two other interns from the office accompanied me to the school on two separate occasions, also; but personally, I think this was probably the best day. This is definitely a day I won’t forget anytime soon. I think I learned as much from these kids as they learned from me.
I also gave a presentation about my project in the office at FAO this week, which went over well. It was neat to see other’s interest in my school visits. I felt well-received during the presentation and was asked good questions. After this presentation was also one of times when I felt really proud of myself. I came to Peru not being fluent in Spanish, and therefore not having a lot of confidence when I found out I would be teaching at a school. Although I am still not fluent, I have learned so much. Giving a presentation to children is different than giving a presentation to your colleagues. After the presentation in the office, which was not perfect, but it was not bad, really gave me a confidence boost.
On another note: The weekend between this two weeks, I went to Cajamarca (a city in the northern Andes of Peru) to visit my friend’s parents. This was a fun trip, different from my other trips because I was taken in as family. I have to say that these two weeks in Peru were very comforting, even though I was still outside of my comfort zone at times. But it is working through the challenges that produce the most satisfying outcomes.
The northern Peruvian Andean countryside is really beautiful. Cajamarca is a quaint city, although recently has been disrupted by some mining activity. For me, it seemed like the history and the integrity were still strong, and I can appreciate that about any place. They have farms, textiles, and a few ruins, all worth visiting.
The last two weeks have been pretty low-key. And I enjoy this down-time, actually. When I first started my internship, there were a lot of workshops, conferences, and meetings, and it was all very exciting. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have attended all those workshops. But now, I’m enjoying focusing on the work and the task at hand. I’m still going to the school and giving my lesson plans, and I also love having this little break in the week. It’s such a great opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try to teach some impactful lessons.
Week 15’s lesson was about plastic, and how it is a problem globally. In some parts of Lurín, a decent amount of plastic can be seen littered on the streets and lining ditches. And every time I go to the school, I pick a few plastic scraps out of the garden. So I explained to the children how all this plastic on the streets and in the grass affects the health of the community, the health of the environment, their health, and why they should care. Lima, like my hometown of Tampa, Florida, is a coastal city and all this trash (much of it plastic – bags, bottles, forks, bottle caps, lighters, etc.) has a very high probability of blowing into the ocean (or in the case of Tampa, the Gulf of Mexico). 80% of ocean pollution enters the water from land. And plastic never goes away, rather it simply breaks down into smaller pieces.This of course is bad for the environment because fish and other sea creatures don’t always know the difference between zooplankton and shredded plastic bits. As plastic is made from oil, it’s quite toxic to ingest, and can oftentimes kill the animal that ate the plastic. And then it’s also possible for it to go through the food chain. Bigger fish eat the smaller fish, some crabs eat fish, octopuses eat crabs, and in Lima where ceviche is a popular dish, sometimes we humans eat those fish and other sea creatures whom have eaten plastic. Cows, dogs, birds, ducks and other land or air animals sometimes also eat plastic. And again, it’s possible for us to eat those cows and ducks. This information blew the kids’ minds.
So what can we do about all this plastic? Well, of course we can recycle. But if there is no recycling infrastructure or center, what can we do? We can reuse the plastic bottles that are so prevalent and make planter pots of out them! And this was our activity after my lesson about plastic and the environment. We cut plastic bottles, added a mixture of compost, soil, and manure to them, and placed red pepper and papaya seeds in each one. The kids loved it.
Week 16: Our lesson was about seed (semillas) saving. Almost all fruits and vegetables have seeds. When we save seeds, we can grow more food and help ensure our food security for the future. It makes sense for us to save seeds, as we have a garden. We can also save lots more plastic bottles and in time have a ton of little sprouts and seedings going. I told the kids that all the pepper seeds I brought the previous week were from one pepper, and one kid’s eyes got so big; he couldn’t believe so much could come from one pepper, not much bigger than the size of a fist.
I also explained to the kids that it’s important to save seeds in a community (or country, and everywhere in the world, really) where agriculture is practiced. In the case of climate change and more severe weather patterns, more or less rainfall, flash floods, extreme dry season and other changes in the weather where it’s possible to lose crops, having a community seed bank can be a lifesaver. Big industrial agriculture and GMO seeds simply generate new seeds and ship them to the farmers. But saving seeds the old fashioned way and sharing them with our neighbor when needed is an investment in our future, and our food security.
Again, the overall theme of the lessons are waste as a resource: food waste (compost), plastic (planters), seeds (more plants). I’m nearing the end of my internship and have two more school visits planed. Next week is drawing the big picture together and the last one is reflexions.
Fun fact: the weekend between week 15 & 16 was my 30th birthday. My mom came down from Florida and we started this new decade on a fun note. We went to San Lorenzo and the Palomino Islands off the northern Lima coast and saw sea lions (thousands of them!). And I have to say, being here in the middle of this amazing experience is a great way to spend a birthday.
These last two weeks have been pretty calm in the office. There were no workshops or conferences, so I’ve been in the office making my lesson plans for the kids at the school and doing more research for my final paper.
Here’s a little more about my lesson plans for the school… I am teaching waste as a resource and have a thought out series of lessons that build off each other, and all relating to the garden in some way. The first lesson was the importance of the garden, because gardens grow food and provide another area where we can obtain nutrients, which we need to grow. And by growing our own food, we contribute to our own food security. The second lesson was about what a garden needs, and gardens need nutrients, as well. So I talked about compost a little and the importance of sunlight and water in a garden. The next lesson, I went into more detail about about compost and taught about food waste and how it is a global problem.
This past week, I had my lesson plan about plastic ready; however, when I arrived at the school, the professors had other plans for the day. One of the professors said that a nearby farmer offered us some of his banana trees, but we had to do the work. So with a wheelbarrow full of shovels, we walked a few blocks to the field and dug up banana trees, 11 in total. Then we walked back to the school carrying our banana trees. And then of course, we had to transplant them in our garden. So my plastic lesson will have to wait until next week…
This week was full of activity! It was awesome and I’m so thankful for the opportunities that were granted to me.
On Tuesday, I went to a conference about school gardens where I met more FAO liaisons working elsewhere in Peru helping to establish and implement school gardens. MIDIS was also at the conference, and as Qali Warma (and the school feeding program) is under MIDIS, I learned a little more about to the extent of their participation in the programs. Working in an organization as large and spread out as the FAO has been an incredible learning experience in and of itself. And being an intern for a limited amount of time, I don’t necessarily have all the background information and full articulation of contributions from all actors involved. However, attending all these workshops and conferences helps to clarify the bigger picture and desired goals; which in turn helps me with my project and create a model more targeted at addressing certain needs and/or missing pieces.
On Wednesday, I went back to my little school in Lurín where I taught my second lesson about what is important to a garden. Last week, we learned why a garden is important (because it provides us nutrients), however a garden needs nutrients, as well, in the form of sunlight, water, and compost.
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to join a FAO field visit in Puno (a city in the south of Peru close to the Bolivia boarder). We flew in Thursday and went to a school on Friday. The purpose of the visit was to recognize a school for their achievement in nutrition in school meals, as well as recognize one student in particular. The student, Ariadne, drew a picture that became the Peru banner for the International Year of the Family Farmer (which was last year; 2015 is the International Year of Soils). Ariadne comes from a family of campesinos, or peasant farmers, so she said she drew what knew.
Our day at the school in Puno consisted of a ceremony (presenting a plaque to the school and to Ariadne); speeches from the director of the school, FAO, the director of Global Humanitarian (an ally organization in Peru and globally, also dedicated to eradicating hunger); a market display of local products; and singing and dancing. It was absolutely beautiful and so much fun to be a part of!
Additionally, I had the opportunity to stay in Puno for the weekend and do some exploring. A little background of Puno: it is a city on Lake Titicaca, which is the largest lake in South America and the highest lake in the world (over 12,000 feet/4,000 meters above sea level); there is a lot of agricultural activity in Puno, both in the fields in terms of vegetable produce and sheep, cattle, llama, and alpaca farming (for meat, leather, and wool/hair for textiles) and agricultural activity from the lake with a large population of residents being fisherman. Puno (and everywhere in Peru, really) is an interesting city with a rich history. There’s Incan history and folkloric stories (Puno is the folklore capital of Peru), and dances, festivals, and traditions hundreds of years old. It’s a lovely, quaint city in the altiplano, high plains, of the Andes with some of bluest skies I’ve ever seen in my life.
Well, the kids are back. I’m back. It sounds like we’re all ready to go.
I went to the school on Monday to say hello to everyone and check in with the teachers. As things are always subject to change, I wanted to make sure we were still on the same page with what days are best to visit and give my lesson plans. There were only a few minor changes in our original schedule and the director of the school, Señora Zoraida, told me that to would be good to come on Wednesdays. So from now until the end of my internship, I shall visit the school every Wednesday. This works for me. It was nice to see the student again and chat with a few of them. I was also very pleased to see that more banana trees were planted in my absence. Our garden is growing!
On the first Wednesday, I gave my first lesson plan. It was simple, but necessary: The importance of the garden and what it can do for us. One of the things I am most passionate about is food waste. And in my mind, food waste being turned into compost is one of the simplest solutions to our current environmental crisis. So, under the umbrella of ‘waste as a resource’, I am teaching the children of this school about composting, food waste, a little bit about seed saving and a little about climate change. I’m only taking up about 30 minutes a week of their time, as they have a schedule already from their teachers and lesson plans regarding the usual math, science, literature, etc. However, I also plan to incorporate some of those basics into the garden education curriculum. After all, how many paintings and essays are there that have used this marble we call home as their creative inspiration.
Well, what would be going to Peru without also getting to experience world-wonder Machu Picchu and the great Amazon? These weeks, I had those opportunities! (This is also a good time to travel as the kids don’t have school for two weeks due to Independence Day coming up and their mid-school year break.)
For the first adventure, we headed to Cusco and Machu Picchu. I actually met up with some fellow USF alumni and we all had the best time exploring these Inca ruins. We flew into Cusco Saturday afternoon but caught a bus and headed straight to Ollantaytambo, a town in the Sacred Valley in between Cusco and Aguas Caliente (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo). Ollantaytambo is a beautiful, historic, small town with lots of offer. We were fortunate to have one whole day in Ollantaytambo, where we went hiking, checked out a local market, enjoyed the local foods, and made a few local friends. In the evening, we headed to the train station to catch a 2 hour train heading to Aguas Caliente, where we would enjoy the following day in Machu Picchu.
And Machu Picchu is everything it claims to be: large, impressive, and ever so beautiful. The history, the architecture, the agricultural terraces, the beauty of the Andes, it’s all so awesome. When we arrive at Machu Picchu in the morning, we make our way to the entrance to Wayna Picchu (a mountain just behind Machu Picchu village that’s the famous mountain in the iconic photos). Hiking Wayna Picchu is not for the faint of heart; the rock steps are quite steep and narrow in some places and there are a lot of steps. Once at the summit, however, the view makes the scary steps totally worth the climb. There’s also something about seeing such a famed, historic place that fills your soul with the kind of excitement that can only be experienced firsthand.
Once back to Machu Picchu village, we found a tour guide and enjoyed the rest of the day learning more about the Incas, their architecture (there is no mortar in MP, all the stones are shaped to fit together perfectly); the way the Incas worked with the solstices and agriculture; how MP was lost and rediscovered just over 100 years ago; it was fascinating. It was a great day.
We visited Cusco after Machu Picchu and it is a really beautiful town; we easily could have spent an extra day or two there. It also has a great history with ruins of its own, with museums, food, markets, everything.
Trip 2: Iquitos and the Amazon
The second trip on my agenda was to the city of Iquitos, located in the north of Peru in the Amazon Jungle. It is the largest city in the world inaccessible by road, it can only be reached by plane or boat. It’s an interesting city. Some of the guide books made it sound small, but it is a giant place. And I don’t think I’d call it a built-up or well developed city, although it looks like it was trying to be at one point in time. The main mode of transportation is by mototaxi (there is a sea of mototaxis, actually, like hundreds of them), and none of the buildings are exceptionally tall. There’s a huge library with all things Amazon, a few fancy cafes, a cathedral, a Museum of Indigenous People, and a few other gems, but nothing too extravagant. It’s quaint in a giant, dusty, hot, haggling at markets, crowded streets kind of way.
If I’m honest with you, the main reason I went to Iquitos was to catch a glimpse of the selva (what the jungle is called in Peru). The thing about Peru is that about a third of the country is selva so I didn’t have to go that far north to see it; but the thing that makes Iquitos interesting is it is boarded by three rivers, one of them being the Amazon. So we’ve got the Amazon River and the Amazon Jungle; there are worse places to be.
So among the usual tourist and sight seeing ventures, we spend a day hiking in the selva. A tip of advice: if you go hiking in the selva, wear boots. Throughout our hike, the path became very muddy in places and slightly difficult to hike in. We tried to buy boots beforehand, but the market didn’t have any. We should have gone to another market. But between slipping many times because the bottom of my Nikes were caked with mud and trying to catch my balance by grabbing a tree with a bunch of spiky caterpillars on it, we saw wild potatoes in the jungle (yes, potatoes; they were purple), a few birds, some butterflies, two small snakes, banana trees, medicinal plant vines, more caterpillars, sugarcane, and a man carrying a pig. Hiking in the mud really sucked at the time. And as we were heading out of the selva, it started to rain. But it was a great experience and a fun adventure. Oh, and our tour guide was a local. Where he was raised in Iquitos, the selva butted up against his barrio and the selva was his backyard. It was definitely an interesting day.
As exciting as all of this sounds (and it was, don’t get me wrong), I was really shocked with how much trash and pollution are common throughout Iquitos. Even 2.5 hours into the selva, there were plastic Coca-Cola bottles on the ground. The river had so much plastic washed up on the shoreline. The neighborhood we stayed in had trash lining either side of the street for at least a mile. And the air isn’t so great from all the exhaust from the hundreds of mototaxis. It was really sad to see so much trash. The Amazon has problems of its own with regard to deforestation. And the Amazon River, I was lucky enough to take a boat ride down a small part of it, but’s not nearly as pretty or romantic as it sounds or you may see in some pictures. I think my first suggestion would be to invest in a recycling facility. And if there is one (I should look into this), then to invest in its capabilities. Iquitos has the potential to be great. If I’m not mistaken, it is the most visited jungle city in Peru. A little sustainable tourism investments could go a long way; and not just a few eco-lodges, the city could use some help, too.
All in all, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to explore more of Peru, even if they were two of the biggest tourist areas here. But truly, how could you come to Peru and not go to these places.
There’s lots to catch up on.. Week six was busy and exciting, back to the school and a few different meetings.
I returned to the school Monday and worked on the garden with the kids. Since we (the children) had cleared the land the previous week and some parents donated banana trees, we planted them in the afternoon. Other parents had donated banana tress (we have a total of 7 now!), so the kids whose parents donated dug holes to receive the trees. I went to the school on Tuesday, as well, and the kids seem to understand the process of the trees and planting them. If their parent donated a tree, that student must dig the hole and do the work in order for the tree to be planted. I’m working on lesson plans with the kids regarding seed saving and composting, but that’s to come.
Wednesday, I had a conference about Sustainable Schools, which was very informative and very helpful. The past two weeks, I had a lot of meetings with my advisor and another woman in the office regarding a plan of action, and this conference helped solidify a lot of the concepts we’ve talked about in those meetings. One of the main themes of the conference was fostering intersectoral and interinstutitional cooperation between organizations (exactly what we talked about last week in our office meetings). However, seeing presentations about this idea and hearing another organization’s view helped shine new perspectives on this for me and my project.
Later in the week, I had the opportunity to visit La Molina (a prestigious agriculture university in Peru) and speak with Professor Alfredo Delfin, who specializes in hydroponics. The university is big and beautiful, and has a lot of offer. We met with the hydroponics professor because he is a contact with someone at FAO; and the meeting was mostly to get ideas for the school garden. As it turned out, I think we (at the school) are better suited to traditional agricultural techniques and Mr. Delfin was gracious enough to give us a contact of someone who may offer advice in that area.
After another meeting at the office about intersectoral and interinstutitional cooperation, I have my work cut out for me. The kids have a mid-school year break starting next week, which is the perfect opportunity for me to finalize some lesson plans and models floating around in my head.
How can it be I’ve been here a month already? The time has flown and crawled at the same time. Because my supervisor was out sick when I first started, things have moved kind of slow for me. My fourth week was no exception (my supervisor is back but we’ve been playing catch up). So I’m reading more and working on a plan of action for the school I’ll go to next week (week 5) and the garden I’m suppose to help establish there. During the week, I did have the opportunity to meet with a woman at the Instituto de Investigación Nutricional (Institute of Nutritional Investigation [a great institution in Peru doing work in indigenous communities, food security, childhood malnutrition, and more]). Hilary Creed, the woman I met with, was interesting and gave me some good leads. I shared my thesis research and questions with her about food waste and food security, the importance of working with children on this issue (as they will feel the future effects of food insecurity more than the current generation) and she found my angle interesting. The last thought is something that had not previously dawned on me, but I think it is important to consider and adds a new element to my research. I’m still working out the kinks.
However, after four weeks, I’m starting to get a little antsy. I want to go to the school. I want to start work on this garden. While I enjoy the conferences and meetings with people, I’m also ready for some action. Boy, did I get some action come week 5…
Monday morning of week 5, we finalize the arrangements to go to the school for Tuesday. The school is Instituto Educativa 6012 in Lurín (a district in the province of Lima). I didn’t know much about the school in terms of the state of the garden, number of students, and grade levels. I knew it was ‘un poco lejos’ (a little far) and in a poorer neighborhood. On Tuesday morning, I met a woman from Qali Warma (the organization that heads the Programa Nacional de Alimentación Escolar [National School Feeding Program]) and we wait for the bus to take us to IE 6012. We actually end up taking 3 busses and a mototaxi. Un poco lejos may or may not be an understatement.
Upon arrival to the school, I instantly fall in love. There is the sound of children playing and there are mountains in the background. Rosita from Qali Warma introduces me to Esmeralda, one of the teachers, and she was very welcoming and excited to have me help with the garden. The director of the school is not there on Tuesday, and I need to meet with her so I am told to return tomorrow (Wednesday). Rosita and I don’t stay at the school more than an hour and a half. I’m introduced to another teacher, I’m shown the classrooms and the garden site. The garden site is huge, 1000 square meters. There was a garden once upon a time, but it is now defunct. Obviously, this is where I come in. After being offered some popcorn with a vow to return tomorrow, Rosita and I are headed back to Lima (via a mototaxi and 3 busses).
After the school, I return to FAO and tell Fanny (my supervisor) about the day and the school and all the things that I have learned. I show her the pictures I took of the garden space and of the classrooms and she smiling the whole time. After I met with Fanny, I met with another woman in the office, Jazmine, because I have a few questions about the school and my job and such. Our meeting turns into something I was not expecting, and we have a slight change of focus for this project. It’s much bigger than I thought and much bigger then me (but we’ll get into that in a minute).
First, a little more about the school. It’s small, 28 students from first to sixth grade. There are three teachers including the director of the school. And the parents have a meeting at the school about once a week or once every other week. The school has no kitchen (this also changes things a little), but the kids bring snacks with them and the school passes out snacks, as well. The school is simple, no computers, no machines. They do have running water and electricity, but there are no bells and whistles. On the way to the school from the last bus stop, there are about 6 or 7 farms/fields that I pass. If you don’t take the mototaxi, it’s about a 15 minute walk uphill. But I think the walk is beautiful. There’s cornfields, cows, chickens, a few dogs and some restaurants. You can see people’s laundry hanging on the clothesline. And there’s mountains in the background. (Well, being from Florida, I consider them mountains, but people from Peru with the Andes in their backyard may not consider them mountains.) The point is, the area is rural.
Wednesday: believe it or not, I traveled to the school by myself. And I did not get lost. I arrived at the school and everyone was excited to see me again. The children are interested in me because I am a foreigner, which I find kind of amusing. I meet with the director of the school, Zoraida, and present my introduction letter from FAO (she has to sign it so it’s official that they accept me). She introduces me to the students and explains that I am here to help build a garden for them, and that we will have banana trees and other great things. Then I introduce myself to the students and explain that I am student just like them, that I am from the US and that I like to garden and have a garden at my house.
After this, I sit in on the class lesson and observe. And I go back to my lesson plan, because without a kitchen, things are a little different in terms of waste. After the school day, I return to FAO and meet with Jazmine again and we talk in detail about the new action plan. So back to the new plan that I think may (or may not) be too big for me. As it is now, FAO has no boots-on-the-ground projects in Lima; all the projects are elsewhere in Peru. So Jazmine and Fanny conversed and told me that this school garden could be an opportunity to build FAO’s presence in Lima. FAO already works with Qali Warma in other schools throughout Peru, so that connection is in place. However, there are other connections we can strengthen. For example, Jazmine suggested we contact the Ministerio de Agricultura (MINARGI) to request seeds and starter plants for the garden. We wrote a formal letter requesting seeds and are waiting to hear back. MINAGRI has projects relating to food security and development, and this school presents an opportunity for them to also invest in the local community. Jazmine also recommended we contact the Ministerio de Educación (for obvious reasons). And perhaps, with our powers combined, we can create a model that can be applied to other schools in the Lima area. So me and my little school in the rurals of Lima are asked to set the example to what school health can look like. Oh, and I’m suppose to have a meeting with the parents. We will need ongoing support for the garden and who better to enlist than those who can benefit the most. A new plan of action indeed. I’m only slightly overwhelmed.
On Thursday, I go back to the office to work on this new plan of action and try to take it all in. Maybe I should inform you also that I’m not fluent in Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t know any Spanish; I get by just fine. And I understand more than I can speak. I don’t find reading Spanish difficult. And it’s great with the kids because we have the same level of Spanish. But being asked to make connections with the Ministerios and have meetings with parents, I think that’s out of my league. Of course, I have the help and support from FAO. None the less, it’s a little intimidating.
Friday is a new day and I wake up feeling empowered that I can do this. It’s a great opportunity to be a part of this groundwork. I make it to the school and present this plan of action to Esmeralda and Zoraida, and of course, they are excited. The kids are happy to see me again; my exoticism hasn’t worn of yet. And today is the day we till the land, clean the weeds away, and prepare our garden area! And, Esmeralda brought banana trees for the garden. I brought some seeds that I’d been saving. (As one who likes to garden and has a habit of saving seeds, I had a small collection of fruit and vegetable seeds from my market buys; and I donated them to the school.)
The kids totally loved playing in the dirt and digging out the weeds. One of girls asked if we could have flowers in the garden also. How could you blame her; a world without flowers is just not as pretty. I don’t know if MINAGRI will donate flowers, but I think I can find a way to incorporate them into the garden somehow.
I wanted to go to Centro Historico this weekend and see the catacombs in the Cathedral de San Francisco, but with these changes in the plan, I have new work to do. I wanted action, and now my hards are full.
After a couple of weeks in Colombia, I officially began my internship with the Environmental Heritage Foundation of the Caribbean, or “FundaHerencia,” in Santa Marta, Magdalena. My research topic is the economic empowerment of indigenous communities as a conservation strategy, specifically in the form of payments for ecosystem services. I am spending a couple of days in the office just prepping and setting up some field visits. In that short time I have learned (unintentionally) about the importance of an organization’s culture. The leadership here has created a pleasant, transparent, energizing atmosphere, based on values of resourcefulness, collaboration, and respect, among others. I think having this well-defined backbone of identity has everything to do with FundaHerencia’s success as a regional player in environmental conservation.
Values in Action
1. RESOURCEFULNESS- is a huge part of the country’s culture at large, mostly for survival purposes (literally), and FundaHerencia has internalized this trait as well. For example, this organization finally moved into a permanent home this year, but throughout the last decade, with or without adequate office space, they have been prolific at conducting research and publishing an astounding amount of studies. This is a humble organization that gets big things done with little resources. They make it work.
2. RESPECT- for everything and everyone- and I mean everyone. As construction of the new headquarters was finally under way, relics of the Tairona civilization started popping up from the ground. The crew also discovered the thousand-year-old body of a medicine man! Construction was immediately stopped and would not start again until a spiritual authority from the Wintukwa (Arhuaco) tribe came down from the Sierra Nevada to conduct a proper ceremony for his ancestor. A special ground burial was created and the processed remains were left exactly where they were originally found.
3. COLLABORATION- is a core value at FundaHerencia. It’s like a default first step at the beginning of any project, to look around and see who’s in on this with them. What’s more, the non-profit sees itself as a facilitator between regional authorities and smaller organizations, strengthening the role of government entities and highlighting the work of their partners. They insist on keeping a low profile and rather give, than get, credit for the positive outcomes of their work. Honestly, I’ve never seen this before.
Infusing the three values of resourcefulness, respect, and collaboration into every decision, from grave diggin’ to project development, defines FundaHerencia as a place where people work hard, treat each other with respect, and realize they are a part of a bigger movement. An organization’s culture can be the defining element that attracts talent and funds and generates results, and FundaHerencia got it right.