Thursday, August 29, 2013

El Proyecto de Agricola – The past, the present, the future and the hope.

Youths from El Maizal & Izalco and Nelson Caranza Asst. Director


This picture is from an event our agricultural project held recently.  Senor Cabeza is the head of the Diocesan Agricultural projects and has been working with the Diocese for 12+ years. His Assistant is Senor Nelson Caranza, Nelson lives in our Community of El Maizal.  Senor Cabeza's original main task was overseeing the Centro de Capacion, El Maizal Divina Providencia, (The El Maizal Divine Providence Training Center). In his tenure as Director he has expanded the project to include 4 other communities; Congo, Izalco, Cuilapa and Amatal. Under his guidance and with the hard work of many dedicated members of the project, they have maximized the agricultural resources of the communities through extensive training in all phases of agriculture. 

Left to right - Senor Cabeza and Senor Nelson Caranza
Young Ladies of the Youth Agriculture Project
On the far left is Cristina, President of the youth Project

Initially the training was for all interested community members. Then the training was aimed at the jovenes (youths) and mujeres (women). The youths of the community belong to the 4C’s, Corazon (heart), Cabeza (head), Conicimiento (knowledge) and Cooperacion (Cooperation). Between the 5 communities there are almost 50 youths involved in the programs, with 17 members being from El Maizal. The house next to ours is used as a large storage shed for all their supplies.  Dianne and I get to see them daily. The womens group has 100 members with 20 of them from El Maizal. To give them their own identities and promote their own autonomy both groups are trained separately with meetings happening almost every week.

The Women's Agriculture Project logo

When the Agricultural project was 1st started in approximately 2002, Mr. Cabeza had the foresight that in order to be a steady revenue source for the Diocese, part of the project should be the forestry of hardwoods. With funding from ERD, U.S. Dioceses and U.S. Churches, in El Maizal we now have stands of Teak, Eucalyptus and African hardwoods.  These were all planted at different times so there will be multiple harvests going into the future. These stands are self-sustaining as the saplings at the base of the trees are dug up and used to start other stands. It’s always fun to speak with people from the U.S. who have visited El Maizal and some tell us how they were part of Mission Service groups who planted the original Teak Trees. Those same trees are only about 6 years from harvest and most of them stand over 20 feet tall now.

Harvesting Teak saplings

We also have Mango, Lime, and Coconut tree groves (you put the lime and the coconut and drink it all up, oops I digress).  There’s also Avocado, Black Pepper, Maringas (trees of life), Cinnamon (Canela), Guava, Jocote (local fruit), Plantain, Banana trees and Orange trees. They aren’t full-fledged groves but there are many of them in proximity to the groves I mentioned. Most of these trees you’ll recognize but you probably don’t know that they aren’t all native to El Salvador. They are the fruit (excuse the pun but I just had too) of one of Mr Cabeza’s ideas. He wanted to look at other areas of the world with similar climates, identify what they grow there and decide how they might benefit the people of El Salvador.
Mother and Child working the rice paddy

There are also vegetables grown in our 2 greenhouses. The greenhouses are large bamboo framed structures covered with heavy duty white netting that allows in sun and rain in but protects the vegetables from the very strong direct sunlight. In the greenhouse we grow various types of tomatos, pepinos (cucumbers), lechuga (lettuce), repillo (cabbage), cauliflower and radishes. Surrounding the Greenhouse, pinas (pineapples) are grown and another section is devoted to various spices such as chives, oregano, rosemary, spearmint and other. In this same area is a relatively large section reserved for planting of corn, in an area that is prone to collecting water run off there is a rice paddy and I recently helped plant soy in another area. All of these areas that I have mentioned are used as living classrooms for the 4C’s, the women’s group and other interested parties.

It’s all wonderful work and has improved the lives of the communities in many ways. In communities that rely heavily on Corn to feed themselves the fruits and vegetables provide additional vitamin rich food options to ward off malnutrition. This knowledge has allowed people who must watch every last penny to save money by increasing their harvests and growing additional foods instead of buying them. Finally as any farmer knows better than I, there’s a certain sense of accomplishment when cosecha (harvest) time comes and you see the production of all your labor.

There's  a part that I don't want overlooked. It's the future that is being built here. In many poor communities planning for the future is overlooked because trying to just achieve the daily needs takes all your time.  Planning is a luxury of free time that they don't have. In El Maizal it's not just the investment in trees, vegetables and fruits that will produce a brighter future, it's the investment in people. Between the women's and youths groups there are 150 people who now know or are in the process of learning how to better feed themselves and their families, invaluable life skills. All of them can take pride in their hard work and what they have accomplished. In the 150 people are 50 youths who have been given an option and opportunity (opportunity - another luxury not seen in poor communities) to improve their and their families future. Often the youths are described by a single story in El Salvador, Gangs and lives of crime. Projects like these help remove that stigma.

This project has planted seeds in more ways than one.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

ArchBishop - Oscar Romero


Tomas y Dianna


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mano en Mano

My essentials in the campos
Raul & Francisco (check out the height of the grass)
They spend much of their time bent over like on the right, their stamina is amazing

As I walk through the waist high grass at 7:30 AM, already soaked through all my clothes with sweat, a roll of hay hanging over my head on my trienche (pitchfork), praying that a scorpion or arana (spider) doesn’t drop on me, I say to myself, “self”, you asked for it J.

You see about 2 weeks ago I started asking mi amigo Nelson (Assistant Director of the Agricultural Project) if I could work with the project. Nelson would smile and say Tomas, manana (tomorrow) or le llamarle’ (I’ll call you). Tomorrow comes and no Nelson, no call.  We played this game a couple times till I told him, I’m here to help, let me help. He smiled and said manana and I thought here we go again.                   
Tomorrow comes and this time Nelson shows up and my active membership in the Agricola Proyecto (Agricultural Project) starts (be careful what you ask for).  Since then I’ve planted Teak saplings with Claudia, another member of the project. We planted about 50 trees over 2 days. I’ve also pruned Teak arboles (trees) with Nelson using our corbos (machetes). I’ve planted corn, soy and also fertilized the churches corn crop with Santos, Gloria, Yury and Laura. With Erick and Nelson’s help our park was cleared for the kids to use.
Finally here I am waist deep in grass. For the last 4 days Raul, Francisco and I have cleared ½ of a soccer field so it can be used. We started every day between 6:30 to 7:00 AM, stopping at 11:30 or 12. The grass and weeds were 2 feet to 6 feet high. Raul and Francisco use a hooked stick to hold up the grass while swinging the corbo to cut right along the ground. As they progress they use the stick to pull the cut grass behind them and move forward. This is where I come in. I use the pitchfork as a rake and roll the grass till I’ve formed a decent sized roll, then I take one end and twist it back over the roll and stab it down into the middle. You lift it up and you have what looks like a big bunch of cotton candy that I pile up at the edges of the field. The bundles weigh from 20 to 40 lbs.
A job well done and they cut it to within an inch of the ground with a corbo

The cleared Goal

The view from midfield at the goal in the uncleared area

It’s been one of my best experiences here because I made two friends by being present. The reason we only work 4-5 hours is because when we start the heat index is in the high 80’s and by the time we stop it’s crept to the low 100’s (101 to 105). In this heat doing this work you work for 45 minutes and rest 15 minutes slowly filling up on water (don’t gulp water in this heat). The actual work was a struggle between the heat, the sun and because of the previous nights of rain we worked in either a couple of inches of water, mud or normally both. It was very important not because of the end result but because I was earning respect from my campaneros de trabajo. First because I was actually doing this work but they came to realize I could communicate in espanol and that we had many mutual interests.
In the field when they found snakes, we talked about snakes. They found turtles we talked about turtles. They noticed (everybody notices) that I sweat so much I dripped from head to toe they joked about it saying, “I was leaking”. During the breaks it was more of the same, we talked about our families, sports, food and the good and bad things about El Salvador and my country the U.S.  Raul worked in the U.S. for 2 years in California and knew a little English which helped facilitate the conversations. Francisco at first was very quiet but with Raul explaining my Spanglish, soon Francisco was also talking to me. That was a big moment for me because I don’t think he realized I could communicate. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish is terrible, absolutely terrible. It’s all 1st person present tense, I can only hope that ½ my verb conjugations are right and pray that ½ the words I use mean what I think they mean. The point is that it doesn’t matter. We had some great laughs (most at my expense) but I became one of the guys (and gals, there’s as many women as men in the project) during all this work.
Mano en Mano means hand in hand, in this case you could assume it’s because we were working hard and needed each other’s support. The reality was we reached out for each other’s hands in friendship by sharing the information of our lives. Everybody I’ve worked with knows more about me and me about them now and we all shared smiles and laughs. For me in mission this is what being present means, this is what accompaniment means and this is what it means when you hear people talk about the process being more important than the job. Every home, school, hospital built or skill taught is extremely important in impoverished nations but if you’re not present, if you don’t accompany the people and if you don’t take the time to make real friends (not based on being the giver and them the receiver) along the way, you’ve missed one of the great gifts God gives us when He calls us to serve. It’s the gift of giving and receiving, not of tangible assets but of ourselves.
“As we begin to strip ourselves of false securities, finding in God our true and only identity, daring to be open and vulnerable to each other, we’ll begin to live as pilgrims on a journey, discovering the God of surprises who leads us into roads which we have not travelled and we’ll find true companions on the way.”
Quote – Anonymous
Tomas y Dianna