A FAO Greenhouse

A FAO Greenhouse
One of the members in my training group taking a look at a plot of lettuce

Another Visit With QBL

Another Visit With QBL
We visited the innaguration for a series of new chicken coops QBL financed in a small village in the low-lying andes mountains, 7 hours north of La Paz

Sunday, August 31, 2008

FAO urban agricultural project( soberania alimentaria)

This past week I had a great opportunity to visit some of the FAO’s star projects which they’ve implemented in a number of other countries. The idea is for families to grow their own food with family green houses. The context here is urban, something I haven’t experienced yet ( I have visited a number of rural greenhouses). The program is truly fascinating. Working with the local mayor’s office, families can apply for and receive all the materials for the construction of a green house. They also receive free training and technical support. The benefits are obvious- you remove yourself, at least partly, from radical global changes in food prices, you know the quality of the product you eat, you can create a small surplus to sell to neighbors or in the market, and you drastically better your diet by having a variety of vegetables.

After a first day of visiting the large plot in the middle of the city where the FAO has their research greenhouses ( far larger than family plots and unfortunately in the process of being moved because the city is about to build a judicial building there), and visiting a couple families’ greenhouses in the periphery of the city, I absolutely loved what I saw.

So I signed up for a two day intensive training course on how to set-up and maintain your own personal greenhouse. A number of beneficiaries had their greenhouses built, but still needed training. This would be the last training session, so I was lucky to find out about it when I did. I tagged along and has an inspirational experience.

We learned two forms of planting- hydroponic and organic. Some of the themes included how to maintain humidity levels, when to water, what ingredients and ratios you need for your soil base, how to diversify crops, how to create organic pesticides, how to maintain heat in below zero temperatures at night, how to clean and maintain plants, and probably coolest of all how to use all recycled materials.

In the context of the altiplano which is cold, high, and barren, these greenhouses are beautiful. It does have its uphill battles- families don’t like the change in diet from rice, pastas, and potatoes to more veggies. It takes work to maintain your tarp and produce what you need. If you don’t like what your growing you don’t see the incentive to grow. But for the families who carry through with it, they have seen great results overall.

Flood Assistance Through The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

A Rotarian from Rotary Sopocachi, Einstein, presented a problem to the club a couple weeks ago concerning flood victims in Beni, a amazonian department north of La Paz. Between Jan, and March of this year they received a second year of record floods. They lost everything.

The FAO already has a project they’re working on there to rebuild houses and start up some basic turism. Still, they have many things they aren’t able to fund as their mandate/ mission restricts them. Therefore we’re working on a much more comprehensive and truly sustainable project which would include the building of schools, solar panels, improving means of communication including an early alert system, and looking into alternative economic activities besides livestock and farming. Finally I have a truly good feeling about this project- as mentioned I’ve work on a couple other projects that haven't moved past a proposal like one that would have created a youth technical training and academic tutoring program in El Alto through Gregoria Apaza. Unfortunately, I learned you need to find the right organization to take something from ideas to action.
With the FAO it’s another story. No more meetings cancelled at the last minute or simply forgotten- no more closed access to and/or entire lack of important information. It's delightful.
My role is translation, investigation of prices, hopefully a trip to the site, fundraising in the U.S. including contacting and presenting the project to rotary clubs.
Essentially, the only thing we need now is some strong Rotary backing, something I hope I’ll be able facilitate.

English is Growing on Me

My class has grown! I now have at least 15 regular students. After changing my teaching times to the afternoon students who couldn't come because they were in regular HS classes now can. Thankfully the director of the CRP ( educational resource center) was either fired or left. Although he was a very nice man, it was probably for the better. The new coordinator is definitely on top of things in comparison and even provided me with some good teaching materials like video and cassette listening activities. So now I will be teaching a two and half month intensive English class. I’m trying to focus on themes like pronunciation and basic conversation because the kids are of all different levels. Some have had one year, some three.
Needless to say its fun! Although they have yet to take me up on Friday “party”day where they can bring in English music with the lyrics so the whole class can practice listening/ pronunciation, I hope this upcoming week will change that.
As my time here comes to an end I thought I’d update a brief list of some of the more memorable moments among the Rotary Community. Among house dinners, regular meetings, small conferences, and workshops, these are a few I enjoyed the most

The President of Rotary Chuquiago Marka invited me one Wedneday for a day of offroading! He’s a member of a 4x4 group and they have excursions every once in a while. So around 10:00 on Saturday we left in a caravan of some 50 SUV’s of all varieties. We traveled up toward la cumbre which is a slowly fading glacier block. The region climbs from la Paz among jagged mountains that create a border between the altiplano and los yungos, a subtropical low-andes mountain region. A great day! I'll upload photos- hope the link works!

Children’s Hospital
With Rotary San Jorge I visited the burn victim and cancer childrens unit to distribute blankets for visiting parents ( who sometimes traveled over 6 hours to be with their children and had little to no family or friend contacts in the city) and to spend some time with the kids. We had a great time but hard it was to see how much they were in need/pain. At least we were able to spend one afternoon and from what I understand, they received frequent visitors. After talking soccer with a number of the kids and their parents, I established my minority status in favor of The Strongest, long foe of Bolivar. A great Saturday afternoon!

Children’s Painting Festival
For months Rotary Sopocachi planned a childrens painting course in one of this cities main plazas along with a midday cookout. I visited 9 schools to meet with directors about the event and make sure as many students as possible could participate. We hosted over 150 children and their families along with many Rotarians from other clubs.
Students competed in different age groups and all were up to win a series of prizes at the end of the day. I converted myself into the MC, announcing time changes, helped distribute drawing materials, answered questions, and selling food tickets for the cookout. With my Rotary sopocachi cap and two posters taped to my front and back I corralled lost children and recruited new participants, as well.

Rotary National Conference

In May we had a four day conference which had been the central topic for most of the weekly rotary meetings I had been going to since I got here. It was a national conference and representatives from every part of the country were present- over 300 people. It was somewhat unsure what the turnout would be considering the political situation dividing the country here but was a great opportunity to exchange ideas, for me to plan trips to make presentations all over the country and to listen to varied accents. It featured inspirational speeches from Rotary International's regional representative and a number of informational speeches about Rotary's programs. One day was the orientation for new officers and involved sharing ideas about the district's goals for the next year. Got an idea of the heirarchy of the organization and some of the successes / challenges that face clubs in the next year.

One of the best days was when they invited reprensatives from the UN and the head of the Museum of Natural History to make presentations on The Effect of Climate Change and Climate/ Health Policy in Bolivia. From there we spent the afternoon discussing projects from all over the country and ended with a "rain of ideas" ( the spanish version of "brainstorm") about creating a national agenda for addressing those issues. One table was to be only english speaking- a large contigent from California, Oregon, and Canada were in attendance. The rest were to be loosely topic based- waters projects table 1, education table 2, etc. etc. What happened, however, was that all the tables converged into the English Speaking table and we presented over 60 projects in English- I was the in house translator. Basically we just read a profile of the project- sutainable water projects, malaria eradication 5 year plans in Beni, health policy in schools, etc. It was a great exchange although I'm not sure about how and if they'll come to fruition- each project would have to apply through the Rotary international matching grant program in which co-sponsor clubs in the U.S. France Japan etc. and the foundation provide the bulk of the funding.

On saturday we had a "dia del campo" which was a big ole cookout. A beautiful day and tons of fun after all day everyday Rotary for four days- One highlight was the talent show. On one level it was formal in that Rotarians danced traditional dances in traditional clothing typical from each region here to welcome all the guests. The other part was open mic. For those of you who know me or of me, I couldn't resist. Indeed it was my ambasadorial role! So I sang John Prine's Paradise/ Muhlenburg county on guitar- it's been a while so I was rusty but it was an overall success. Bluegrass was something a bit foreign to many in attendance.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How many Bolivias are there?

President Evo Morales won recently in what historically should be considered a landslide with some 67% national support for his administration through the Referendum Revocatorio.
At the same time many of his political enemies- the prefects of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando also won by a substantial margen, all over 50% with Costas from Santa Cruz winning some 70%

The biggest issue is the IDH or the tax revenue generated from oil/ gas which was “confiscated” by Morales to support his national social security system that gives about 240 bolivianos monthly to citizens over the age of 65.

In the macro, you see the battle between autonomy and nationalization. But the nuances sometimes aren't that easy to nail down and a long history of transitioning since 1996 from a national to a descentralized government has meanth new changes and new political dinamics. This transition has had support from the World Bank, the U.S. and others. Still, Hugo Chavez has been closely allied with Bolivia which has helped it's ability to create/ support health and education programs/ support for nationalization. It also means having leaders at least rhetorically against the U.S. and the "west." Still, although Venezuela is giving millions to Bolivia, much of it still comes through lones with interest. Nationalization is an ambiguous term as well because it still allows for private management that is essentially contracted out. Just like the "nationalization"of the largest telecommunications company ENTEL still allows for the management to remain and for non-state agents to run the business. As most issues here, the argument is over distribution of wealth.

Morales may have a political mandate but doesn’t appear to have a blank check.
Before the vote airports were closed by groups protesting against Morales in Santa Cruz, Tarija, and Pando. Now the prefects of Tarija, Santa Cruz, and Chuquisaka have declared they will create blockades leaving the country to Argentina and Paraguay in protest of the IDH. There have been threats in the past weeks that civic groups including some newly "youth civic groups" will take state offices and departments. At times its hard to see these "youth groups" in a serious light. They have no respect for law - they've burned police cars in Santa Cruz anddon't appear to support an intellectual agenda usually forwarded by a "student movement."In Tarija the customs office was "taken"for a short period and groups alined with MAS have said they will defend state offices. Still, I need to read up on these youth groups and excactly who are the "civic groups."
Morales recently declared that if oil ducts, state oil field, etc. are taken or damaged, etc. they will confiscate all municipal funds if political leaders from those regions participate. That includes if people are injured.
Again, the issue is the tax revenue generated from Oil/ Gas revenues, the IDH. They want some 166 million dollars to be returned to their local governments that has been used for Morales Renta Dignidad plan.

We shall see how it goes. But the rhetoric is somewhat tense with groups being clear in not ruling out violence.