06 August 2012

Sugar Cane, Networking, and Employment!

I have been sick the last week or so, in bed and being taken care of by my good friends Michelle (Peace Corps) and Jorge (agriculture school teacher). It was not fun, but I am better now!

Before I got sick I spent a hot, exhausting day in the chacra- the sugar cane fields. The school owns a couple of hectares of sugar cane that they sell to a local sugar mill and is basically a cash crop to provide income for the school. There is definitely a certain level of gender separation of tasks, so I was the only female in the field. I practiced my machete skills by trimming and cutting down sugar cane stalks at least a foot taller than myself. After we cleared a section, the truck came by and we loaded our piles in the back. The guys kept handing me bigger and bigger piles and I'm happy to say I passed their tests, to the chorus of "mujer fuerte!" (strong woman!). 

With a load of sugar cane!

This day we brought the sugar cane to a local owner of a sugar cane press instead of the sugar cane mill. The machine squeezes the sugar juice out of the cane into something called "miel negra" (black honey) which drunk straight is a shot of sugar and quite good. The sugar cane husk is left to dry and then used as fire fuel.
The sugar cane press: insert on the right, husk comes out the left, miel negra falls into the red bucket underneath.

Last week there was an international conference/workshop here at the agriculture school on the self-sufficient school model that Fundación Paraguaya piloted with the San Francisco Agricultural School. They now work around the world helping other schools, agriculture based or not, adopt their model and work towards financial self-sufficiency. There were participants from Nicaragua, United States, Haiti, Colombia, Bolivia, Honduras, Argentina, and Paraguay who are all in various stages of founding or running schools for low-income students around Latin America. I was asked by the Haitian participant to help translate for him so I got to participate in the conference as well! At least on the days I was not too sick to leave my bed. It was amazing to learn about all of the other schools and network with people doing exciting work all over the continent. While it was weird to be sitting inside listening to lectures and discussions for 8hrs/day once again, I loved being able to discuss development theory and models with people who actually work in the field everyday and see the difficulties that arise when they are applied. I will hopefully be able to keep in touch with them and open new opportunities for myself in the future.

Here are some links (in Spanish) to information about the conference:

At the conference I also met up with Martin Burt and his wife, Dorothy, both alumni of University of the Pacific. Martin is the founder of Fundación Paraguaya and on the board of the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Pacific, the organization that is funding my internship through their Ambassador Corps Program. I was able to get a new and interesting perspective from them about the political situation in Paraguay as well as the agriculture school model. When the new president, Franco, took power last month, Martin was offered the position of Chief of Staff within the new government, taking a temporary leave of absence from the Fundación. Dorothy just got back from running a workshop on social entrepreneurship in Kyrgyzstan. What a great opportunity to be able to talk with such knowledgeable and inspiring people!

At dinner with Martin, Dorothy, their daughter, and two Fundación English teachers.
On a California related note, I was offered (and accepted) a job last week! When I return to California August 22nd, I will be starting an apprenticeship program at Pie Ranch in Pescadero, about 20 minutes north of Santa Cruz. I will be primarily working on their farm, but will also have the opportunity to help with some of the educational initiatives. I am so very excited to be employed in something that I love in a beautiful place! I will make sure to keep updating my blog while I am working there as well!

One more week in Paraguay and then on to my next adventure!

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