Farmers Visiting Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture for Eco-Education

Editor’s Note: The post below was written by Sam Klein, a volunteer from the US that will be working with Mano a Mano Internacional in Bolivia for the next few months. This is Sam’s third post (CLICK HERE to read the first one about their first few weeks with Oxford students at the CEA, and CLICK HERE to read the second one about building greenhouses in Tapacari). We will be posting more from Sam over the next few months about activities at Mano a Mano.

Sam is an 18-year-old volunteer from Boston, Massachusetts on his breach year from high school, with plans to pursue a degree in journalism. Sam arrived in Bolivia on July 26, 2016 to volunteer with Mano a Mano in the Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA).

Farmers Visiting Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture for Eco-Education

Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA), Cochabamba, Bolivia

Sam Klein

9/20/16

A greenhouse and some seeds are not the only two ingredients needed to change a rural Bolivian farmer’s way of life. A third element is just as crucial.

Without any sort of education or understanding of how to use the greenhouse, it would go to waste, as would the farmer’s chance of a better life for them and their children.

For that reason, 42 farmers – Mano a Mano recently constructed 42 greenhouses in Tapacari Municipality – gathered in Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture, or CEA, on Saturday, Sept. 17 to learn about how to maximize use of their new greenhouses.

Mano a Mano engineer Victor Penarrieta (left) explains seed planting and irrigation.

Mano a Mano engineer Victor Penarrieta (left) explains seed planting and irrigation.

The situation resembled a classroom for part of the day, with Mano a Mano agronomist Camila Yavira standing up front, explaining in Quechua how to rotate crops properly in the greenhouse, as the farmers sat in chairs and looked on as students.

Farmers listen to instructions about seed planting.

Farmers listen to instructions about seed planting.

Beyond sitting and listening to Yavira, however, the farmers also practiced planting seeds in one of the CEA’s greenhouses. For some, for the first time, they put lettuce seeds in the irrigated channels, a practice that they will be repeating in the future.

Mano a Mano engineer Victor Penarrieta (kneeling) demonstrates planting a seed.

Mano a Mano engineer Victor Penarrieta (kneeling) demonstrates planting a seed.

A farmer plants lettuce seeds for the first time.

A farmer plants lettuce seeds for the first time.

Furthermore, to practice organizing their greenhouses, the farmers laid out blueprints on large pieces of paper, and then explained their logic to the group. The other farmers met these explanations with feedback and ideas of their own.

Leandro, who maintains the CEA, works on planning a greenhouse with a farmer.

Leandro, who maintains the CEA, works on planning a greenhouse with a farmer.

Farmers draw up plans for a greenhouse.

Farmers draw up plans for a greenhouse.

Farmer Cristobel Mendoza explains his greenhouse plan to other farmers.

Farmer Cristobel Mendoza explains his greenhouse plan to other farmers.

The farmers in many ways were students. Most had never seen, or in some cases, heard of vegetables like Cauliflower (Coliflor) and Swiss Chard (Acelga). Beyond a standard crop rotation of potatoes, lima beans, and corn, indigenous subsistence farmers are not exposed to vegetables. The greenhouses change all that, but the farmers still need to learn about the vegetables that they will be growing.

For instance, Mano a Mano instructed the farmers about rotating crops inside the greenhouses. Because the warm space is a great place for weeds and pests, rotation needs to happen more frequently than the farmers are used to. Should a pest attack a farmer’s crops, a harvest is ruined and the greenhouse wasted.

Farmer Cristobel Mendoza walks by a partially built greenhouse at the CEA.

Farmer Cristobel Mendoza walks by a partially built greenhouse at the CEA.

Mano a Mano engineer Camila Yavira talks to farmers about one of the CEA's greenhouses.

Mano a Mano engineer Camila Yavira talks to farmers about one of the CEA’s greenhouses.

These vegetables, which require a consistently warm environment that only the greenhouses can provide in high-altitude, rural areas of Bolivia, mean a greater variety of crops for the farmers. This will make children grow taller and stronger because of the improved nutrition.

The day of instruction and practice is crucial to enable the farmers to use the greenhouses properly. Many projects, including ones sponsored and supported by much larger organizations, skip this step. Like all of Mano a Mano’s work, education for the farmers costs money, but unlike a project such as building a greenhouse, the output from that money can be harder to quantify.

Yet without education and practice, the money for the greenhouses would be for nothing. And with no former exposure to growing vegetables in a closed environment, the farmers need the chance to learn how it works.

At the end of the day, Mano a Mano gave out a tangible benefit of the day – eight packets of seeds to each farmer, each packet containing a different vegetable. Equipped with seeds, and, equally importantly, the knowledge of how to use them, the farmers were prepared to go make the most of their newly constructed greenhouses.

It was clear that, as the farmers eagerly received their seeds, they believed they were ready to go home and start planting. With all that the farmers learned that day, Mano a Mano knew as well that they were sufficiently prepared to cultivate their own vegetables.

Mano a Mano engineer Camila Yavira gives a farmer seeds for her greenhouse.

Mano a Mano engineer Camila Yavira gives a farmer seeds for her greenhouse.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Dianne Van Goor

Volunteer Spotlight: Dianne Van Goor

You could say that Dianne Van Goor got started on the path toward becoming a Mano a Mano volunteer 72 years ago, when she met Mano co-founder Joan Velasquez at the age of three. “We’ve been close all through our lives,” she says now. “It’s been a friendship with a capital F.”

She actually began working with Mano a Mano in 1994, picking up medical supplies with her two daughters near their Sioux Falls home. The work was a way of realizing an otherwise unfulfilled ambition. Dianne had wanted to be a missionary, but ended up as a secretary and then as an employee at the crafts store, Michaels. “This was my way of saying, ‘God, I’m answering your request.’ I feel this is my way of giving back.”

“I feel this is my way of giving back.” – Dianne Van Goor

Dianne’s work for Mano evolved into a specialized niche. She is the organization’s queen of baby layettes, putting together 400 to 500 packages a year for new mothers to take home with their infants. The layette set includes a blanket, bath towel, wash cloth, onesie, socks, a cap, a pair of safety pins to hold the pieces together, a small toy, and an illustrated card that says, “Congratulations, God Bless You.” The set is packed inside a 2.5 gallon zip-lock bag, which in itself is useful to struggling mothers.

Dianne and a helper-gang of older women in the Sioux Falls area scour local garage sales to find the baby gear that they add to the kits. Then they wash and mend the individual pieces before assembling them into color-matched sets.

Van Goor family sorting and packing layettes.

Carol, Dianne, Missy, Pam, Alyssa – Van Goor family sorting and packing layettes.

Bolivian members of Mano a Mano’s team have offered her evidence of how needed the layette sets can be. “Blanca Velasquez (Joan’s sister-in-law) told me that she arrived at a hospital to deliver 90 layettes that we had made. And as she got there the nurses were searching for a curtain they could pull down to make a little blanket for a baby that had just been born.”

A happy mother receiving a layette in Bolivia.

A happy mother receiving a layette in Bolivia.

Lately she’s found other ways to support Mano a Mano’s mission as well. She’s collected hundreds of seed packs from suppliers like Burpee’s that have been sent on to Bolivian farmers. She’s convinced school teachers to save and donate leftover supplies such as pencils and crayons. And she’s collected tons of clothing and hard goods that she’s delivered to the second-hand store, Savers. The operation pays 20 cents per pound for clothing and five cents per pound for hard goods, such as cookware or sporting equipment, when the proceeds benefit a non-profit. The last collection Dianne directed filled two trailers, five vans and two pickup trucks, for a total take of $695 that will help fund Mano a Mano’s work in Bolivia.

Collecting supplies to sell in support of Mano a Mano, Summer 2016

The Van Goor family collecting supplies to sell in support of Mano a Mano, Summer 2016

The pay-off from her efforts is obvious for Bolivians. But it’s also clear to Dianne herself. She says, “I enjoy this work beyond words.”

This interview and article were written by Mano a Mano volunteer Anthony Schmitz.

Mano a Mano’s Winter Greenhouse Construction Project is Halfway Complete

Editor’s Note: The post below was written by Sam Klein, a volunteer from the US that will be working with Mano a Mano Internacional in Bolivia for the next few months. This is Sam’s second post (CLICK HERE to read the first one about their first few weeks with Oxford students at the CEA). We will be posting more from Sam over the next few months about activities at Mano a Mano.

Sam is an 18-year-old volunteer from Boston, Massachusetts on his breach year from high school, with plans to pursue a degree in journalism. Sam arrived in Bolivia on July 26, 2016 to volunteer with Mano a Mano in the Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA).

Mano a Mano’s Winter Greenhouse Construction Project is Halfway Complete

Tapacari, Bolivia

Sam Klein

Sept. 10, 2016

A Quechua subsistence farmer watched his harvest multiply while the sun went down on the community of Rodeo on Saturday, Aug. 20.

The farmer, however, was not observing his plants grow. Rather, he was looking on as Mano a Mano nailed in yellow panel after yellow panel of a roof for a greenhouse that he had constructed of adobe bricks.

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The Mano a Mano group roofing greenhouses consisted of three Mano a Mano members and ten volunteers from Oxford Development Abroad, a group in its fifth year of collaboration with Mano a Mano. Between Aug. 20 and Sept. 7, the thirteen people reached their goal of roofing 42 greenhouses.

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The three weeks of construction ended in a celebration held by community members. Volunteers sat and listened to speeches and music, ate lunch with the farmers they had built the greenhouses for, and played soccer until 4 p.m.

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The farmers who spoke talked about how grateful they are for the greenhouses and how it will entirely transform their lives and their children’s.

As if to prove this point, when it was time to eat, bowls of potatoes and a bowl of meat sat out on the dry ground. With traditional farming methods that the people of these communities use, meat and potatoes is most of what the ground can produce.

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Those ingredients, however, may not be the entirety of the farmers’ lunches for much longer.

The point of the greenhouses is to allow the farmers to grow more crops, including green vegetables, than they are able to without the greenhouses’ temperature-controlled environment.

With access to those new vegetables, children will grow taller and stronger, and the people of the communities will live longer, healthier lives. This creates a society better suited to the harsh environment of the Bolivian altiplano.

Before Mano a Mano offers to aid a farmer with a greenhouse, the farmer must sign off that they will use the structure for growing crops, rather than as shelter. The farmer will build foundation and walls, and Mano a Mano roofs and does preliminary seeding.

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This method is the way that Mano a Mano’s charity work functions; the organization helps communities and individuals improve their lives – in this case, through food productivity – in the long-term, and the organization requires that the person or people receiving the aid contribute part of the work as well. For example, in this case, the farmers construct all except the roof.

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With the roofing finished, and after seeding takes place by Sept. 8, the greenhouses will be set for growing plants for years to come; adobe lasts a long time. This will let the farmers diversify their currently carbohydrate-based diets, and improve their and their children’s lives as a result.

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So it may not come as a surprise that, as the sun fell behind the mountains and shone off the yellow roof that Saturday evening, the farmer sat and watched each hammer stroke. He didn’t want to miss seeing his entire way of life transform in just a few hours.

Building Greenhouses in Tapacari, Bolivia – August/September 2016

Join Us For Mano a Mano Co-Founder Joan Velasquez’s Retirement Party on October 2nd

Join Us For Mano a Mano Co-Founder Joan Velasquez’s Retirement Party on Sunday, October 2nd

After 22+ years of pro bono, full-time volunteer work, Joan is ‘retiring’ from the day-to-day Mano a Mano management team at the end of this year. Help us honor Joan and celebrate her tremendous dedication on Sunday, October 2nd, from 2-4.30pm at the Mano a Mano office in St. Paul. This event is an open house format, and no RSVP is needed. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

We hope to see you there!

Joan and Segundo at the Midwest Book Awards in May 2015, where Mano a Mano's book Gaining Ground won first place in the inspirational book category.

Mano a Mano’s Co-Founders Joan and Segundo Velasquez at the Midwest Book Awards in May 2015, where Mano a Mano’s book Gaining Ground (written by Joan) won first place in the inspirational book category.

PDF Version of Invitation

If you’d like to print this invitation to share with others, here is a PDF version:

Invitation to Joan’s Retirement Party on October 2nd

Book Reading & Discussion on October 1st at Mano a Mano Office

Book Reading & Discussion on October 1st at Mano a Mano Office

Mano a Mano is hosting a book reading on Saturday, October 1st from 10-11:30 am. Mary Martin, the author of Mano a Mano’s second book La Familia: An International Love Story will be reading from the book and talking about the process of getting this project done, including a discussion with Mary and Mano a Mano staff about the Mano a Mano community-based partnership model that is so central to our work. Mano a Mano will also recognize the people that spent countless hours writing and editing the two books.

Please RSVP with Carmen (carmen@manoamano.org) if you are interested in attending this event.

  • WHAT – Book reading & discussion of La Familia: An International Love Story by Dr. Mary Martin
  • WHEN – Saturday, October 1st, 2016 from 10-11:30 am
  • WHERE - Mano a Mano Office: 925 Pierce Butler Route, St. Paul, MN 55104 (click here for a map)

La Familia – The Book

Mano a Mano’s book La Familia: An International Love Story by Dr. Mary Martin is now available. The book is based on her three years of interviewing and weaving Mano a Mano’s stories into a lovely, inspiring tapestry. La Familia provides a moving account of childhood challenges, intercultural pitfalls, and the ultimate creation of grassroots international partnership at its best.

La Familia: An International Love Story

La Familia: An International Love Story

Purchase the Book Here

The book is currently available as a paperback and is $19.95. (An e-version is in process and will be listed as soon as it’s available.) Books are mailed from the Mano a Mano office; you can also pick up a copy there.

To purchase a book, please email carmen@manoamano.org or call the office at 651-457-3141.

In your email, please include:

La Familia & Gaining Ground – 2 Mano a Mano Books

La Familia joins Mano a Mano’s other book Gaining Ground: A Blueprint for Community-Based International Development, published in 2014 (you can purchase Gaining Ground in hard copy or digital form here). The 2 books complement each other well: La Familia is more about the Velasquez family and their story, and Gaining Ground is more of a ‘how-to’ relating to Mano a Mano’s partnership-based approach to development. Both books tell the story of Mano a Mano.

About the Author, Mary Martin

Mary Martin received her Ph.D. in Social Work from the University of Minnesota in 1978. Since 1988, she has been a professor at Metro State University in St. Paul, MN:

  • June 2003 – Professor Emerita , Metropolitan State University
  • 2002-2003 – Director of the Urban Teacher Program
  • 1993-2003 – Professor of Social Work (Chair from 1996-2001)
  • 1988-1993 – Associate Professor and Family Studies Coordinator

From the Book

PREFACE

The excerpt below is taken from the preface:

“When Joan and I were in graduate school, we often lunched at El Amanecer, a Mexican restaurant on the West Side of St. Paul, Minnesota. The name and place of the restaurant has changed several times, but our lunches continue. We talk about our mutual obsession with issues of race and culture and our complicated personal lives–marriage, divorce, children, and grandchildren.

Very early our conversation veered southward to Latin America, a part of the world to which we both are drawn. The cross-cultural story of the Bolivian family Joan married into became even more intriguing as Mano a Mano emerged. After hearing a particularly good tale of U.S./Bolivian cultural complication and resolution within the Velasquez family and/or Mano a Mano, I often said, ‘We have got to tell this story!’”

BACK COVER

La Familia, back cover.

La Familia, back cover.

“One day in the fall of 1967, Segundo Velásquez watched a tiny, fair-skinned young woman struggle to carry a tin bucket, full of water, down a dirt road on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Like any other well-mannered young man, he caught up with the petite Minnesotan and, though she was a stranger, took her heavy bucket.

Segundo’s brief encounter with Joan Swanson White was the start of a deep and lasting connection, a chance meeting that grew into a complex, shared struggle to bring U.S. resources to bear on the profound needs of rural Bolivia.

In La Familia: An International Love Story, Mary Martin (above taking notes in Bolivia) provides a moving account of childhood challenges, intercultural pitfalls, and the ultimate creation of grassroots international partnership—Mano a Mano—at its best.

All proceeds from the sale of this book go directly to Mano a Mano.”