Sunday, December 4, 2016

El Coyolar, Olancho with a group from New West

In the first week of November I was able to spend some time in a community called El Coyolar with with a church partnership group from New Westminster CRC (British Columbia). The community members and the group from "New West" were working on an addition to the education center in the community. This center allows high school aged youth to get an education without having to pay a lot of transportation fees to attend classes outside the community. Since there is still no electric power in El Coyolar, the computers of the education center are powered by solar panels and batteries.

Digging to set foundations for the new classroom (notice the existing classroom and solar panels in the background). I know it looks like we are doing a lot of leaning on shovels, but trust me we all worked hard and got plenty of blisters. Some youth from the community were the hardest workers of all. They will be able to say they built their classroom with their own two hands. 

Back in 2009 when I was volunteering with Diaconia Nacional (one of World Renew's partners in Honduras) I worked a fair amount in El Coyolar. It was motivating to return seven years later and see how the community had changed. Many of the houses had gone from having dirt floors and walls of adobe to having cement floors and plastered walls.
The leaders of the community also seem more organized. They have a documented community plan and are working toward meeting the goals they have established. They are busy trying to raise money by selling cattle as a contribution for the project of bringing electric power to the community.

 Back in 2009 I got to know Raul because he was one of our agriculture program promotors. He has a lot of good leadership skills, and he is still putting them to use. It was good to see a lot of the fruit trees we planted with Raul back in that time maturing and giving production. He has an experimental plot of corn using conservation agriculture principles that he learned from World-Renew / Diaconia Nacional. I was impressed at how much better this corn looked compared with a conventional plot just on the other side of the road.
The experimental plot of corn grown with plenty of compost and organic matter added to the soil

The corn right next door (50 feet away) looks stressed from lack of moisture

Raul is on the right with his daughter

It is clear that the partnership between El Coyolar and New West has made an impact on the people of El Coyolar and the people of New West over the past five years, and that the work Diaconia Nacional is doing in the community is helping people improve their livelihoods.

New West team cooking a special meal to share with the whole community (it was very good)

Landscape of the countryside of El Coyolar from a nearby hilltop

Pastor Andrew from New West was able to continue a Timothy leadership training for pastors during the trip. The pastors traveled from surrounding towns to El Coyolar to receive the training. Here he is with Arturo from Diaconia Nacional.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Project Management Training

One of the first things that I did when I started working for World Renew was to attend a week long project management training called PMD Pro (Project Management for Development Professionals).

It was a very intense training, held in Valle de Angeles, Honduras. Staff from many partner organizations around Central America attended including Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.

It was a good exercise to get me thinking, reading, and writing in Spanish again. The manual was 173 pages and the course culminated in an exam with 75 questions which you needed to pass in order to be certified. My engineering friends will be glad to know that the training included work breakdown structures (WBS), network diagrams, the critical path method, gantt charts, and of course, earned value (etc).

Many of us stayed up late into the night, and got up early to study for the exam. This shared challenge made for a good environment to get to know colleagues. It felt like we were in University again.

I am happy to see that this level of professionalism and rigor is being applied to development projects and programs that World Renew is involved in. The training provided a good framework for carrying out my job as a program consultant, and also provided some special tools that apply specifically to the complexities of community development. I´m also happy that I passed the exam.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Olancho and Olanchito

One of my first activities after arriving to Honduras and getting the family settled was to review the work of two of the partner organizations along with the Food Security and Agriculture Technical Adviser at World Renew: Angela Boss. We traveled out to Olancho, where Katie and I had lived for two years, to visit the communities where Diaconia Nacional is working. It was great to be welcomed by a lot of familiar faces in the communities. I was also impressed by the work that Cesar is doing with the producers in that area. They had set up test plots where they are experimenting with different planting and fertilizing methods that can conserve moisture in this dry valley and greatly increase corn yields. The side-by-side comparisons showed clearly that the new practices were making a big difference.
Experimental Plot, Dos Quebradas

For me it was great to see Cesar having success in his role with Diaconia. Six years ago I got to know Cesar because he was involved in many of the youth activities that the Honduran Christian Reformed Churches were doing in the area. Even at that time it was clear that he had good potential for leadership. He is from Guacoca, one of the communities served by Diaconia in that valley. We visited Dos Quebradas, Los Charcos, and La Avispa.

Cesar, Ag Program Coordinator, Diaconia Nacional
Showing off the results of worm composting

 From there we drove back to Tegucigalpa, then took a ten hour car ride to Olanchito to visit the communities where Alfalit works. Carlos, Alfalit's coordinator, took us up into the mountains on some pretty rough roads. We saw lots of tilapia and snail production.

Tilapia and Snail Pond

We also met a farmer who uses velvet bean as a cover crop, which allows him to get good yields while buying less fertilizer while not burning the hillsides to prepare the land. Carlos is a busy man. He has 11 communities to support in a variety of programs including credit unions, plantain producer groups, conservation agriculture, agroforestry, honey production, and more.

Hillside cornfield that used velvet bean cover crop with no burning before planting

 Later, on back in our office I was compiling data from a community agriculture diagnostic and I did some conversions to compare Honduras' average corn yield to what I am used to seeing in Minnesota. The results were so surprising that I thought I had made a calculation error. The average yield of corn in Honduras is between 15 and 30 bushels per acre, the US average is around 180 according to the USDA.
Needless to say there is a lot of room for improvement. Maybe it is an unfair comparison to look at farming the flat prairies versus the rocky hillsides, but it is clear from the work being done here that a few small changes can make a big impact which can help a lot of people have a more stable food supply, and better incomes.