Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Making a difference

For at least two years, the Spanish Catholic organization Manos Unidas has supported an agricultural project in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.

The project initially worked in 22 villages to help improve agricultural practices in producing basic grains (corn and beans) as well as to promote family gardens. More recently it has been working in 18 villages mostly in terms of family gardens and reforestation, with both fruit and hardwood trees. They are also working with forming  cajas rurales, a sort of community institution that makes small loans to members. A documentary for television in Spanish can be found here.

The current funding ends in December and it is not yet clear whether Manos Unidas will continue its assistance. We may have a better idea after they do a monitoring visit to several of the communities in the parish.

I spent Monday morning with Mauro, Adán, and Elder (the three técnicos, whom I’ll call fieldworkers), Padre Efraín (the pastor of Dulce Nombre), and the parish secretary (who does a lot of the administrative work for the project).

I had a lot of questions, mostly about where the work had been going well and where there was still need.

The fieldworkers agreed that there were about 12 villages where the groups worked well and where there was still need. One idea would be to continue working with them to strengthen their work.

I also asked them to think of other communities that might profit from the project , that had great needs, but also had people willing to work together in groups to improve their lives, especially through better agricultural production that promotes a more diversified diet. We came up with 15 villages.

One of the fieldworkers remarked that some communities are very hard to work with. They don’t want to take the time to prepare gardens, mostly because they receive a monthly basket from a child-sponsorship group that works in many communities in the parish. He saw this group as promoting dependency.

And so the team would like to work with up to 27 villages in the parish. A big dream, but they are working on a proposal to present to Manos Unidas.

Mauro, Adán, and Gladys working on a new project proposal

I am also thinking about the possibilities of help from  St. Thomas in Ames and the parishes in Shelby County, Iowa, that area in a relationship with the Dulce Nombre parish. It would be good if they could finance another fieldworker so that they can add about 6 more villages. My guess is that this might cost between $17,000 and $20,000 a year – including salary, seeds, transportation, costs for training sessions, and administrative support. I’ll be talking with people about this when I visit Iowa in mid-October.

This is a small effort  that has made some differences.

And it has raised interest. A number of women have told me how much they liked the vegetable seed distribution which helped them diversify their family’s diet as also generate some cash by selling the surplus vegetables.

In addition groups in several communities have asked them if they could participate in an expanded program.

There are problems – but I think this is an area where we can really make a difference in the health and livelihood of the people of the parish of Dulce Nombre. 

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