Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Lindsay Emi. Lindsay is a writer and student from Los Angeles, California. She is eighteen years old and a volunteer from Princeton University’s Bridge Year Program in Bolivia. She will spend six months in Cochabamba volunteering with Mano a Mano, and then attend Princeton beginning in the fall of 2017, where she hopes to study English and creative writing.

This is Lindsay’s 4th post; below are her first three posts:

  1. Mano a Mano’s Second Large-Scale Distribution Event in October: Ceremony and More Behind-the-Scenes
  2. My First Week at the CEA – Lindsay Emi
  3. An In-Depth Look at CEA’s On-Site Agricultural Training Workshops

November 28-December 4: Two Kinds of Visits to the CEA

By Lindsay Emi

This week, I experienced two kinds of visits relating to CEA (Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture) and its work—one on-site CEA visit with students from a local school in Cochabamba, and one visit directly to communities in the municipality of Capinota, to work on construction plans for additional greenhouses. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see the CEA functioning in two different ways, in two different places even, but with the same end: to deliver to communities and their members the education and tools that will empower them to make the most of their resources, live sustainably, and teach others in their community to live sustainably as well.

Overview of Mano a Mano's Center for Ecological Agriculutre (CEA).

Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculutre (CEA).

Students Visiting the CEA to Learn About Environmental Issues and Agroecological Principles

From its founding, one of CEA’s principal functions has always been to host and educate the local school-aged youth who visit CEA to learn more about environmental issues and agroecological principles. Dozens of students visit every month to tour CEA and its facilities, and this year alone, CEA has hosted over one thousand students of all ages. On Monday, we were especially excited to welcome sixty Grade 5 students of the Salvador School of Cochabamba, Bolivia to CEA, in collaboration with another non-profit organization called Arboles y Futuro. Mano a Mano staff Alex and Henry led smaller groups of these students on two separate tours; in these tours, they briefly explained the function and purpose of each demonstration at CEA, answered any questions, and discussed with the students relevant environmental issues or ecological principles.

The kids, all ten or eleven years old, were lively, enthusiastic, and engaged, if a little raucous. As soon as the buses pulled to a stop in front of the warehouses, the kids screamed, collectively, and immediately descended upon CEA’s small tire playground. But when CEA agronomist Camila and Salvador teachers rounded them up for a welcome, an introduction to CEA and its three rules (don’t litter, pay attention, don’t touch the animals), and a brief discussion of natural resources and their relevance in our lives, the students were attentive and full of genuine excitement to be in such a unique and interesting space.

Students playing on the tires at the CEA in August 2016.

Students playing on the tires at the CEA in August 2016.

Water is an Issue for Many of the Students in Their Neighborhoods

During the tour, I was particularly interested to hear Mano a Mano staff and Salvador students discussing some of the issues and challenges that their neighborhoods are currently facing, relating to the drought and water in particular. I saw that nearly all of the students in one group, in a show of hands, indicated that they have not had water available in their houses for several days a week in the past month. According to several students, many of their families and neighbors have had to build or commission water tanks, sometimes up to two or three, to just have constant access to water every week. Students also mentioned that their own plants or gardens were dying without rain or excess water available for irrigation.

I trailed both groups to take photos and document this school visit, and though I’ve been working at the CEA for about two months now, the students exposed both some of the gaps in my knowledge and my pretty sketchy Spanish. During the tours and the explanations of the exhibits, some of the children would wander over to me and pepper me with a slew of questions that I couldn’t even answer in English. “Are those rabbits in the tires? Why are they dead? Why are there whole eggs in the compost?” one ten year-old student Miguel asked me. During their lunchtime, I also fielded plenty of questions about where I’m from, what it’s like there, how I can look Asian and also be American at the same time, what I’m doing in Bolivia, my favorite things at CEA, and how to say things like “arbol,” “azul,” “parque,” and “otorrinolaringología” in English.

Students’ Favorite Parts of the CEA

Salvador students found their tours to be a fun and worthwhile experience. I talked with several kids, asking them about their favorite parts of the CEA, what they’d learned, and what techniques they might bring back to use at home. The predominant answer was, of course, “los animales,” “conejos y cuys,” “chanchitos”—but they told me they’d enjoyed the agricultural and water-conserving exhibits of the CEA as well. Many of them talked to me about their family’s gardens, the orchards at their houses and complexes, or their family’s horse ranches in Santa Cruz; they told me that they planned on using some of the techniques they’d seen or even actually starting gardens at their houses after touring CEA. “I liked the bottles in the fruit orchards,” said Salvador student Emilia, referring to our low-cost system of drip irrigation that uses recycled two-liter bottles. “We keep a lot of plants at our house, and trees too—” she said, and proceeded to list for me the dozen or so types of trees and fruit trees that are grown at her complex—“so that’s something that my family and I can use.”

Mano a Mano co-founder Segundo Velasquez showing simple drip irrigation using a bottle at the CEA.

Mano a Mano co-founder Segundo Velasquez showing simple drip irrigation using a recycled bottle at the CEA.

After the kids finished their tours of our demonstration center, Camila led a hands-on tree planting activity with the students. At CEA, we were excited to serve as a site to work with the students in one of Arboles y Futuro’s educational activities in accordance with the principle that every student should receive a theoretical and practical environmental education directly in the field, learn and understand ecological goods and services, and plant at least one tree. Using their new knowledge from the tours and materials provided by Arboles y Futuro, the students formed pairs and worked together to plant saplings around some of the crops, the agroforestry plot, and the walkways. I loved seeing their enthusiasm and care as they crumbled the dirt with their hands, carefully brushed soil and compost around their sapling, and punched down the topsoil. As we’re currently adding several new trees around the CEA to enhance the space, by participating in their educational tree-planting activity, the students also got to contribute toward a small part of our community center development project at the CEA.

Traveling to Capinota to Scout Locations for Potential Greenhouses

Later in the week on Friday, Mano a Mano staff traveled directly to the municipality of Capinota to scout locations for potential greenhouse projects in various communities. I wrote about the on-site portion of workshops with the Capinota farmers in last week’s installment, and was particularly excited to be able to travel with Mano a Mano staff–Mano a Mano Internacional director Ben and Mano a Mano engineer Victor–and assist with documenting the visits.

In Capinota, we visited several different communities, including Mollini, Salto, Corral Mayu, Cárcel Mayu, and Paloma Pampa, and met with various representatives of the communities. I was there mainly to tag along and observe, and I took a couple of photos as well. There were a lot of different factors at play in our visits—discerning whether the altitude was sufficiently high enough for an adobe greenhouse or whether shade netting might be a better option, seeing how many communities and families would be served by a greenhouse in a certain location, and scoping out potential sources of water—for instance, nearby water tanks or small ponds—that could be used to irrigate the plants in greenhouses. There was also a lot of discussion about the training that the farmers would be receiving prior to or during the construction of greenhouses. Several farmers had already attended one or two of our workshops in November and December, and more will return or attend our on-site workshops to learn about proper greenhouse agriculture, horticulture, and management, among other topics.

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.

By the end of our one-day trip around Capinota, Mano a Mano staff decided that we may construct up to fifty adobe greenhouses in Capinota in the next year, in accessible, central locations around which different communities are based. Eight new communities, along with dozens of families, will maintain and benefit from these greenhouses.

Learning About Mano a Mano’s Partnership Model

This was my second time doing a little bit of traveling with Mano a Mano (the first time being the water reservoir project at Wirkini), and I really enjoyed it. Ben calls it the best part of our work. Although I wasn’t extremely useful in any negotiations or decisions, I had the opportunity to learn about what it takes–the active effort, collaboration, and communication with the communities–to initiate and plan a Mano a Mano project, in its earliest stages even before the hard work of construction begins. And I did also get to enjoy Capinota’s scenery, hang out in the back of a truck, take photos of some beautiful mountains and small communities, and even share a lunch of potatoes and locotos with some of the community representatives. In the next year, I hope to visit some of the same communities again to assist with greenhouse construction or just to check on the progress and success of their new projects. And of course, I’m looking forward to seeing many of the farmers, their community and family members, students and others that we’ve worked with back at CEA for later workshops, educational activities, or just as visitors to our new community center.