Step by Step: Mano a Mano Workshop #3 in Chapare

Editors Note: This article was written by Morgan Harden, a recent graduate of Kenyon College. She has degrees in Spanish Literature and English, with a creative writing emphasis, which she uses to write, translate, and share stories. Drawn to its story and collaborative model, she began volunteering remotely for Mano a Mano after her graduation. This work eventually led her all the way to the organization’s epicenter in Cochabamba. After her time volunteering in Bolivia, Morgan will be headed to Argentina to begin her Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship.

Yesterday was Morgan's last day with Mano a Mano (bottom left in the picture), and Mano a Mano staff and volunteers shared a meal to thank Morgan and say good-bye.

Morgan’s last day with Mano a Mano was in early December (bottom left, in the purple sweatshirt, in the picture), and Mano a Mano staff and volunteers shared a meal to thank Morgan and say good-bye.

Morgan’s other blogposts:

  1. “This is Everything:” Medical Donations on November 17th
  2. Where it Starts: Mano a Mano Workshop #1 at the CEA
  3. Food for Thought: Mano a Mano Workshop #5 in Japo, Bolivia

Step by Step: Mano a Mano Workshop #3 in Chapare

“Now, which of your classmates are most plague-like?” Camila, Mano a Mano agronomist, asked, during a demonstration of plague and disease in Bolivia’s Chapare region. The students called out names and jostled each other playfully towards the circle’s center. The professors didn’t miss a beat, as they named the four most “plague-like” of their thirty students. Those chosen few stepped bashfully into the middle, surrounded by their classmates.

Bolivian farmers touring Mano a Mano's Center for Ecological Agriculture on the outskirts of Cochabamba with Mano a Mano agronomist Camila Yavira Garcia (right).

Bolivian farmers touring Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture on the outskirts of Cochabamba with Mano a Mano agronomist Camila Yavira Garcia (right).

Next, Camila called over the students’ heads, asking for the most wholesome students. Again, at the professors’ suggestion, Camila nudged two or three more students into the circle. Personally, I was experiencing childhood flashbacks (duck-duck-goose games gone wrong), so I held myself at a safe distance, along with the professors. As it turned out, none of us were safe.

Stepping behind us, Camila drove all of us into the circle’s perimeter. “We’re all an ecosystem,” she announced, tapping students to deem them plague, bacteria, insect, etc. Camila began to explain the interrelated nature of all ecosystems: nothing is independent; everything affects everything else. “So, what happens when an ecosystem is out of balance?”

She started removing various people from the circle, pulling others in, until the “plague-like” students had nearly doubled. Then, Camila tapped the professor next to me and asked her to step into the middle of the circle. “What is your teacher?” Camila asked, turning to the students.

Students called out various responses: “an animal?” offered one. “The sun?” asked another. “A pesticide!” a third cried out. The goose? I thought, still caught somewhere in childhood.

“She’s the plant, and she can’t move like the rest of you. When things are out of balance, she’s the one who suffers. The plants suffer, and so do we.”

Ecological Management of Plagues and Diseases

This demonstration was just a small interlude in the third workshop Mano a Mano International offers, “Ecological Management of Plagues and Diseases.” The workshop teaches its participants about natural threats to crop production and the dangers of using conventional pesticides. Those pesticides, while effective in stifling infestations, also pose a great risk to farmers, their families, and consumers. The effects of the use of pesticides materialize in countless ways, everything ranging from birth defects to death. As Victor, another of Mano a Mano’s agronomists, noted, “just because we can’t see the effects of these pesticides immediately doesn’t mean they’re not there.” That’s how the morning began, with a group discussion and a game of plague-plague-plant. However, the workshop didn’t stop there.

The second part of the afternoon found the students divided into groups, making their own eco-friendly, natural solutions for common plagues and diseases. The theory of the morning was put immediately into practice. Camila and Victor circulated through the groups, with pointers and suggestions. By the end of the hour, students presented their projects to one another, explaining how they were made and for what purpose they were intended. Even when the projects were done and the students sat down, the discussions continued. There was still a lot of work to do.

All of the projects the students completed were based on models, developed and tested at Mano a Mano’s Center of Ecological Agriculture (CEA) in Cochabamba.

Mano a Mano's Center for Ecological Agriculture

Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture

However, the workshop was a long way from Cochabamba, at the Center for Technical Development Eterazama in the Chapare region of Bolivia. To say Cochabamba and Chapare are different would be a colossal understatement. Driving through Chapare, there is a hardly a break in the lush, green landscape, a blessing brought by continuous rain. Meanwhile, Cochabamba and its surrounding areas are suffering from a drought of historic proportions. Clearly, Cochabamba and Chapare have very different ecosystems. Accordingly, what works to treat plague and disease among crops in Cochabamba may not be as effective in Chapare.

Mano a Mano builds water retention projects, like this reservoir in Maldonado currently under construction, to help farmers manage their water resources; these projects are especially critical with the current drought.

Mano a Mano builds water retention projects, like this reservoir in Maldonado currently under construction, to help farmers manage their water resources; these projects are especially critical with the current drought.

While the workshop and projects certainly gave the students new tools and perspectives, the work does not end there. These ecological practices ask each student to take the information and activities from Mano a Mano’s workshop and carry them forward. The projects are starting points, not magic potions. They must be changed and adapted to fit each individual situation. Simply stated, there isn’t a perfect solution. There may never be, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for the best one. As Camila put it, “Try it, think about it, then try something different. It happens step by step. Nothing begins with success.”

Learn More About the Training & Technologies at Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture:

Thank You Central High School Volunteers

Thank You Soup and Sort Volunteers

Thanks to everyone that came to our ‘Soup and Sort’ volunteer session to sort donated supplies last night! Everything they sorted will be included in our next shipment of supplies to Bolivia, where they are distributed to people and organizations throughout the country.

Soup and Sort volunteers at Mano a Mano, December 12, 2017

Soup and Sort volunteers at Mano a Mano, December 12, 2017

From Minnesota to Bolivia: Distributing Donated Medical Supplies

Check out a video of a recent distribution of donated medical supplies in Cochabamba, Bolivia:

Thank You Central High School Volunteers

Also, a special thanks to the students from Saint Paul Central High School for volunteering and interviewing Mano a Mano as part of a non-fiction radio diary project for one of their classes. Both our Co-Founder Segundo Velasquez and Executive Director Nate Knatterud-Hubinger attended Central, and we are happy to see current students get involved!

Students from Central High School interviewing Mano a Mano Co-Founder Segundo Velasquez.

Students from Central High School interviewing Mano a Mano Co-Founder Segundo Velasquez.

Mano a Mano Events Calendar

All upcoming events with Mano a Mano, such as last night’s Soup and Sort, are posted on our Events Calendar on our website.

Thank You Duluth Harbortown Rotary

Thank You Duluth Harbortown Rotary

Thanks for the mention Duluth News TribuneRotary International clubs in the Duluth area have been very generous to Mano a Mano for many years, and our Co-Founder recently went to Duluth to receive a check for a clinic project in Jatun Mayu, Bolivia.

From the Duluth News Tribune ‘Faces’ Section:

“A $34,000 donation was presented to Mano a Mano International to build the Jutun Mayu Medical Clinic in Icla region of Bolivia. Pictured are (from left) Karl Everett, Harbortown Rotary International committee member; Segundo Velasquez, Mano a Mano International president; and Mitchell Diers, Harbortown Rotary president. Funds were provided by the Harbortown, Skyline and Club 25 Rotary Clubs and other Minnesota, North Dakota and Canada clubs, with matching funds from Rotary District 558.”

Food for Thought: Mano a Mano Workshop #5 in Japo, Bolivia

Editors Note: This article was written by Morgan Harden, a recent graduate of Kenyon College. She has degrees in Spanish Literature and English, with a creative writing emphasis, which she uses to write, translate, and share stories. Drawn to its story and collaborative model, she began volunteering remotely for Mano a Mano after her graduation. This work eventually led her all the way to the organization’s epicenter in Cochabamba. After her time volunteering in Bolivia, Morgan will be headed to Argentina to begin her Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship.

Yesterday was Morgan's last day with Mano a Mano (bottom left in the picture), and Mano a Mano staff and volunteers shared a meal to thank Morgan and say good-bye.

Yesterday was Morgan’s last day with Mano a Mano (bottom left, in the purple sweatshirt, in the picture), and Mano a Mano staff and volunteers shared a meal to thank Morgan and say good-bye.

Morgan’s other blogposts:

  1. “This is Everything:” Medical Donations on November 17th
  2. Where it Starts: Mano a Mano Workshop #1 at the CEA

Food for Thought: Mano a Mano Workshop #5 in Japo, Bolivia

It was like watching a magician pull impossible things out of a top hat. With a few notable differences, of course: magicians make rabbits appear, not heaps of food. Still, sixty students and teachers of the school in Japo watched in astonishment, as Ben, director of Mano a Mano International, laid out seventy-eight different kinds of food on a table at the front of the class. Fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, you name it, it was probably there. The colorful array of food confounded me, as much as it did the students. I’d never seen such a varied bounty. One by one, Ben lifted each item up for everyone to see. “What is this?” he asked, with each new spectacle.

Of course, there were some easy items, rice and milk, to name a couple. The students shouted those out with excitement. (Yours truly might even have called out a few for fun). However, that didn’t last long. Quickly, we exhausted the easily identifiable items, and Ben began brandishing foods I didn’t even have names for in English. The students were similarly stumped, and a hush fell over the room.

Over the course of the morning, Ben went through every item on the table. But the workshop went far beyond a simple vocabulary lesson. As he went through each item, Ben took the time to explain the nutritional benefits of each food. Everything from carrots, with vitamin A for vision, to garlic’s cholesterol lowering properties. The students took notes, occasionally breaking to taste the healthy snacks and salads, prepared and passed around by the rest of the Mano a Mano team behind the scenes.

Workshop #5: Nutrition and Healthy Eating

Workshop #5: Nutrition and Healthy Eating

This workshop, “Nutrition and Healthy Eating,” was the last of five for the students in Japo, following the construction of one of Mano a Mano’s greenhouses. Nearly a year ago, the school requested a greenhouse to improve the quality of the students’ meals. Bundled in a jacket and beanie (in the summer, mind you), I couldn’t imagine how anything could grow there, against the biting wind, high altitude, and lack of water. Just one look into the greenhouse defied all of my expectations.

Mano a Mano greenhouses (yellow-topped buildings) now dot the landscape in Tapacari.

Mano a Mano greenhouses (yellow-topped buildings) now dot the landscape in Tapacari.

It was like the door led to a pleasant afternoon in the valley. A warm rush of air greeted us, as we caught sight of the greenhouse floor, brimming with lettuce, onions, radishes, and other crops. While we walked through, the school’s director told us about how they were using the fresh vegetables in the kitchens. However, the greenhouse hasn’t just been an administrative project for the school. The students themselves are the primarily caretakers of the plants in the greenhouse, giving them hands on experience with the produce as well.

Though the students clearly work hard in the greenhouse, cultivation alone won’t teach the students about healthy eating or nutritional benefits of the foods they grow. That’s where the final workshop fills the gap. By focusing on the health benefits of specific foods, Mano a Mano gave the school the information they need to use the greenhouse to the fullest.

By the end of the day, the class split into groups to build well-balanced plates of their own. One by one, the selected students passed to the front of the room. Their confident hands, piling different foods onto the plates, were a far cry from the morning’s outcries of confusion. As Ben went through every plate, the students stood alongside him, explaining their choices.

“What would you make out of those ingredients?” one of the teachers asked, as his student held his colorful plate of ingredients out in front of him. With so many different ingredients, I could see why it might be difficult to come up with a meal. Ben began spinning out a few ideas, but I was confident he already had everything he needed to make it work. Just add creativity, I thought. That’s the last ingredient.

Thanks St. Kate’s Volunteers! – November 30, 2017

Thanks St. Kate’s Volunteers! – November 30, 2017