Agros Blog

Vision Trip to Honduras

A week ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Honduras with a group of Agros partners: two people from Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, three partners from First Fruits marketing, and my father. We arrived in the heat and humidity of San Pedro Sula unsure of what to expect. For three of the group members, it was their first trip to Honduras; for four, their first opportunity to see Agros’ work. As we discussed our expectations for the week, words like “excited,” nervous,” “unsure,” and “eager” peppered our conversation.

After an orientation with country manager Nohemy Tinoco, we boarded our van to Bella Vista, located in the hills outside of Santa Barbara. Here, we were able to see the new school program for sixth-to-ninth-grade students. Nine students and an energetic teacher welcomed us in English. With excitement, they told how they can now go to school without traveling several miles to Santa Barbara. Remarkably, the teacher takes a bus and then walks 3.5 miles to the village four days a week to make sure students are able to be educated beyond the sixth grade. Dedicated people like this make it possible to bring critical services to hard-to-reach areas, and change the lives of many.

Our day in Bella Vista was very busy. After visiting the school, we met with the community leaders in the midst of muddy coffee plantations. (We were visiting during the final weeks of the six-month rainy season.) After learning about their bumper crop, we divided into three groups to help pick coffee. We were provided a small half-gallon basket to put around our waist and began to pick the red “cherry” beans from amongst the green ones. After nearly an hour of picking the beans off the bushes, I had barely filled half a basket. I learned from Carlos (the farmer we were “helping”) that he and one other family member had picked 145 gallons of beans the day before. At the speed at which I was moving in the heat and humidity, I can’t imagine how long it would have taken me to pick that much coffee.

Picking Coffee

After a delicious lunch prepared by Gladys, a dear friend from the community, we attended a meeting to learn about last year’s achievements. I was excited to learn about the dozens of children in school; the coffee beans, plantains, and frijoles being harvested; and that electricity was due to come to the community in the next couple of months. I enjoyed seeing some new faces, especially Carlos and Marina’s baby, Carlitos, who had not yet been born when his parents spoke at Tierras de Vida in 2012. We ended by taking a group photo and having the children of the village accompany us to the bus. There were many damp eyes as we waved goodbye and headed back down the mountain to our hotel.

The following day started much the same as we boarded our bus to visit the Agros village of La Piedra de Horeb. We were greeted by the community leaders who quickly suggested to us that we leave our backpacks on the bus and travel light as we were going on a hike. Nearly 90 minutes later, through much sweat and assistance from the community leaders, we had traversed the 2.5 km trail and had gained 2,000 feet in elevation to reach the coffee nursery and fields. Thank goodness for the arms of support as we slipped along the narrow, rocky path. Community members make this trek daily to tend to their crops. Many of us consider it to be one of the most difficult hikes of our lives.

In the afternoon, we were able to see one of the tilapia farms where over 1,000 fish were being raised for consumption and sale. We tossed food to the fish and watched them eat. After this exercise, we participated in a farm school where Agros agronomist Florentino taught us how to take the stalks of the yucca plant and cut it down (with a machete) to make small pieces suitable for replanting. We learned how to group the cuttings and space them out in the rows that has been hand-prepared before our arrival. We huffed, puffed, and sweated as we planted just a few of these cuttings in the hot, Honduran sun.

Cutting Yucca for replanting

After a short hike back to the community center, we were able to observe the new multi-generational literacy classes being taught through a partnership with the ministry of education. A teacher makes the four-mile walk twice a month to work with a couple of community members who teach these classes on a regular basis. Children, teens, and adults sat in the plastic chairs eager to learn how to read and write. Lessons on a CD and workbooks helped them to learn these important skills.

Our hearts were full once again as the children accompanied us to the bus and waved goodbye as we pulled away.

With Agros’ growth project on the horizon, we began the next day with a presentation from regional director Joel Martinez who talked about Agros’ vision of regional development. The goal is to serve more than 5,000 additional people in the Santa Barbara region. Our next two days were spent visiting two communities under consideration: San Jose de Colinas and San Luis, both in the department of Santa Barbara.

Our first day was in Colinas, first with the mayor and many of the community members. They described their needs and how much an Agros project would benefit their community. They shared their dreams for a community where their citizens would not live in extreme poverty, where land ownership by more than a few was possible, and where their children would be healthy and educated.

Meeting the mayor of San Luis

We traveled up into the hills to a small village within Colinas called Monte Vista where we met with nearly 150 citizens eager to learn more about Agros. The charismatic principal rallied the crowd to first join together to say “Welcome Agros visitors” in English and then to share their enthusiasm for the possibility of a partnership where they could own land. Children sat nestled among their parents. The dream of how an Agros project could benefit the coming generation became real as we looked into the eyes of these beautiful people.

The next day took us to the village of San Luis where we met with the mayor and community members. Again we heard the impassioned pleas of the community members who talked of their needs and how Agros could help them achieve hope and dignity for their citizens. The most impassioned plea came from a 28 year old woman named Rebecca who had grown up in San Pedro Sula and had traveled to Cuba for her medical training. Rebecca was doing her social work year in the municipality of San Luis. She expected to see 8,500 patients in the course of that year including helping to deliver 230 babies. She is the only medical doctor in the community of more than 15,000 people. She shared that she had fallen in love with the people and didn’t know if another doctor would replace her when she had to leave for her second social work year. The look of hope in the mayor’s eyes as he shook my hand and asked me to return soon almost broke my heart.

As I reflect on another amazing week observing Agros work and dreaming for the future, I am hopeful. I saw the work that Agros is doing in Bella Vista and Piedra and am convinced that the Agros model works to sustainably bring people out of poverty. I saw the abundance of coffee in Bella Vista and the growing tilapia of Piedra. People have the skills, land, and determination necessary to work their way out of generational poverty. I also know that the four communities that we have served only scratched the surface of the millions of people living in poverty in Honduras. And so, after talking to the mayors of Colinas and San Luis and hearing their pleas to help their communities, I am confident that Agros’ regional approach is the right one. We will begin to move the needle on poverty in the department of Santa Barbara as we serve 5,000+ people. I come back enthusiastic to ask others to join with Agros in this work.

The changes are incredible

The following was written by Ann Edwards, an Agros supporter and member of a Journey With a Village partnership with the Agros village Brisas del Volcán.  Ann recently travelled to Brisas del Volcán, and reflects on the incredible changes she’s seen in the village over the last four years.

One of the benefits of traveling to Latin America as part of an Agros Service Team is the long plane ride home. Before life as we know it consumes us, we have time to reflect, ponder and listen. While the geographical distance between us increases, the relationship and love that we share with our village friends stays constant. And the lessons that we have learned continue to reshape our thoughts and actions as we resume our lives.

Such was my experience in mid-March when I traveled to Honduras with a group of 12 to visit the village Las Brisas del Volcán. While I have had the pleasure of visiting on two other occasions, each trip reveals the things that are constant and the things that have changed. The constant for me is always the warmth and friendliness of the people. We are met with smiles, hugs and kisses, primarily from the women and children. This trip, there was a noticeable difference with the men, as they too came forward and greeted us with affection.

Each trip begins with a tour of the property and the changes I have seen over the past 4 years are incredible. The land is very hilly, rocky and difficult to cultivate but the jungle slopes of several years ago have been replaced with acres of plantains and revitalized coffee plants. The men are so very proud of their land and what their hard, back-breaking work has provided for their families and their futures. We spent the rest of the week sharing a variety of activities, sometimes with just the women or children and sometimes “helping” the men in the fields.

While the agricultural changes were truly amazing, the most impressive changes for me were the changes I saw in the people. For the first time, I saw men holding and playing with their children; grandpas helping their young grandsons with the craft projects. The children were able to sit attentively, listening to the lesson and waiting for their turn, so different from the chaos we encountered on the first trip. All of the children are now able to attend school as their parents can afford uniforms. The younger women are stepping up to leadership roles and shared their ideas for micro loan projects from making and selling tamales to raising pigs.

This is now a community of men, women and children who have land to work, enough to eat, and a sense of hope because they have experienced the transformation that previously had only been a far off dream.

I was also impressed with the Agros staff that spent the week with us in the village. We were well hosted by Joel, the country director, who communicated his thorough understanding of the economic needs of the community in order to be self sustaining. Jose Lino is not just an experienced agronomist but he is a delightfully friendly gentleman who has won the respect and trust of the men. And Nohemy has been so effective in teaching and encouraging the relational changes that were so evident. All of the staff seem to have found a good balance between providing instruction and assistance and then letting the community make their own decisions and changes.

And now that I’m home…. I think about my friends in Honduras, knowing a little of how they spend their days. I can pray for them specifically by name and by need. We are all so much more alike than we are different and my greatest frustration is my inability to communicate on a deeper level. So, I keep studying my Spanish and look forward to the day when there will be no language barrier!

Partner Stories – Apple Physical Therapy

Randy Johnson, Founder and CEO of Apple Physical Therapy, compares his involvement with Agros to falling in love:

“When you fall in love, you don’t fall in love with a part of a person, you fall in love with them as a whole person.  I fell in love with the total Agros process.”

Apple Physical Therapy is currently involved in the “total Agros process” through a Journey With a Village partnership with the Agros village of Nueva Palestina in Chiapas, Mexico.

Randy characterizes his experiences in Nueva Palestina as “life-changing” and cites one devastating story in particular that brought home to him the significance of Agros’ work and the tremendous importance of Agros’ mission.

apple pt - storyOn his first visit with Agros to Chiapas, Mexico, Randy and his two sons, both in high school, were playing an icebreaker game with members of the Agros village Nueva San Pedrito.

One of Randy’s sons introduced himself and described his mother and siblings back in the United States.  As he was talking, a young man in the circle broke into tears.  The interpreter asked why the man was crying and he responded that his tears were “a mix between happy and sad emotions“.

The young man was grateful for the opportunity to work with Agros, but the mention of family made him weep because the previous winter – before Agros began to work in his village – he lost his young son.  He and his wife had no food, money or jobs as winter was approaching, and fearing starvation they gave up one of their young sons for money in order to buy food for the rest of the family.

Randy and his sons were devastated when they heard this story.  The utter desperation experienced by so many rural poor families brought home to them the life-changing impact of Agros’ work.

Today, Apple Physical Therapy is committed to a long-term partnership with families in the Agros village of Nueva Palestina.  In just 14 months, Randy has seen a profound transformation in the village: economic, physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation.

apple pt - groupAs a self-employed entrepreneur, Randy is especially inspired by Agros’ commitment to empower entire rural villages to work their way out of poverty through sustainable entrepreneurship opportunities.

In Agros villages, individuals, families, and groups of neighbors are encouraged and trained to start small businesses to increase and diversify their income.

Randy describes this economic activity as an upward spiral of positive capitalism that empowers families to send their children to school, find more and greater income-generating opportunities, and improve the stability and security of each family’s livelihood for generations to come.

Randy so believes in the Agros model of development that, following his last visit to Nueva Palestina earlier this year, he came away with a vision of helping Agros develop 100 more villages in Chiapas!

Apple Physical Therapy is a physical therapy provider with a wide variety of outpatient physical therapy services and locations throughout the greater Puget Sound area.  They distinguish themselves by consistently championing values of service and community involvement.

Visit Apple Physical Therapy on the web and let them know you read about them at the Agros website.

A coffee that helps you sleep at night

Camano Island Coffee - Logo

“If I were to ask you what the single largest commodity in the world is, you’d probably reply immediately: “oil”. But if I were to ask you what the second largest commodity in the world is, would you know the answer?

More money changes hands in the buying and selling of coffee than any other global product – save for oil. For those of us coffee lovers in the United States, we make up the largest consumers; drinking one-fifth of the world’s supply. However few of us realize that the farmers who actually produce the coffee live and work in conditions that have been described as “sweatshops in the fields”. Most rural coffee farmers around the world are caught in cycles of poverty and debt due to receiving prices that are far less than actual production costs.

In response to this crisis, coffee producers, buyers, traders, etc.. have established “Fair Trade” standards that are meant to insure that coffee is purchased under equal and fair conditions. To be certified as a Fair Trade coffee importer you must meet strict criteria; paying coffee farmers at specific prices per pound, offering sufficient credit to farmers, and providing agricultural assistance where needed. Fair Trade for farmers means better health care, education, community development, and living wages for their labor. In fact, the “Fair Trade” designation and standards are used for more than just coffee…here is just one other example: Fair Trade Sports.

For more than a year now, Agros has benefited from a key partnership with Camano Island Coffee Roasters (CICR). CICR is a certified organic, shade-grown, and fairly traded coffee company. In fact, they even purchase and roast coffee from Agros villages! They also offer a nationwide coffee club, where subscribers receive two-and-a-half pounds of Fairly Traded (and delicious) coffee delivered direct to their home. The benefit to Agros is that subscribers can designate that $1 of the subscription prices goes direct to Agros. It’s a win-win for all: the farmer, Camano Island Coffee Roasters, Agros villagers, and you.

The folks at CICR are great people, their coffee is excellent (full disclosure: I am a CICR coffee-loving subscriber), and their commitment to the Fair Trade movement helps assure that coffee farmers reap the true rewards of their work.

Click here for more information, and go to Camano Island Coffee Roasters for their external website.

It was a moving experience

Agros International is featured in this article at Modern Woodworking. The focus is on the “Journey With A Village” partnership between Pacific Crest Cabinets and the Agros Village “La Esperanza” in El Salvador. Here is an excerpt:

“I’ve been in third world countries before, but when you add appalling living conditions with desperation and lack of hope, it’s a very, very discouraging outlook. I remember the women and children wouldn’t look us in the eye, and the men all had a downtrodden attitude. There was one public bathroom and one water faucet for more than a thousand people. I saw two little boys playing in the dirt pretending sticks were cars and making car noises. I had a flashback to my own childhood when I would go outside and play with my toy cars in the dirt and make the same noises. But what was different was that I had the potential of realizing the dream. I started wondering about these little boys and how old will they be when their dreams get crushed — when they realize they’ll never have that car or that truck and they’ll never have anything – that they are poor and they will always be poor and basically there’s no hope in life. To be honest my heart was broken.
“The next day we visited two fairly new AGROS villages. The people were living in their little tin houses in the remote parts of El Salvador, and frankly, they still had nothing materially, but they had everything that you need to be happy in life because of hope. Each of these farmers was proud to share his story and show us his field of beans and corn all planted by hand. I remember one woman who was so exuberant about the chance that the village children would now have an opportunity to live a dream that she could never realize herself. It was very moving. This woman said she used to go to sleep and dream about opportunities or ways to make things better for her family, but now she could dream with her eyes open. It was a moving experience.”

Read the entire article here

Blessed or Unblessed?

The following is from a letter written by a 23yr old college student who recently went on a service team trip to the village of Nuevo Renacer, El Salvador.

“I pray that this e-mail finds you well and at home relaxing. If you are at work and struggling to get back into the swing of the daily grind like myself, I feel your pain. I have learned, however, that my previous definition of hard work was severely inadequate. This El Salvador trip has been a powerful, life-altering experience for me, and it has led me to realize how many blessings I take for granted. Being able to make a living off of my skills in corporate finance, which adds pretty much nothing to the wellbeing of society, seems ridiculous to me now. If you’re in education, health care, or ministry, the transition may be less of a shock, since you’re continuing to serve those in need.

The images that the Lord has shown me on this trip have sparked a fire of thankfulness in my heart. Lance Armstrong’s statement of appreciation after his bout with cancer seems so fitting in this perspective: “I take nothing for granted. I now have only good days or great days.” For me, it’s usually a bad day if not the end of the world when my boss asks me to come into work on the weekend, or when my professor assigns and extra chapter of reading. When I woke up this morning dreading the return to work, I remembered the villagers and recognized what a spoiled brat I must be in God’s eyes.

The pursuit of happiness, prosperity, and wealth that has haunted my life experience thus far, seems rather trivial in light of the struggles that our friends in Nuevo Renacer deal with every day. Switchfoot has a song on their latest album called “Happy is a Yuppie Word.” When asked about the meaning behind the song, the lead singer replied: “In 1991, when Rolling Stone interviewed Bob Dylan on the occasion of his 50th birthday, he gave a curious response when the interviewer asked him if he was happy. He fell silent for a few moments and stared at his hands. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It’s not happiness or unhappiness, it’s either blessed or unblessed.’” I love that. In our society, we too often confuse happiness with material accumulation and getting the things we want. I know now that the way to peace of mind and heart is to realize that the Lord has blessed me beyond my needs in order that I might be a blessing to others. This trip has been a great window into that realization…”

~ John

John’s words reflect the essence of what so many Agros Journey With A Village partners encounter when they travel to an Agros village. The restoration of hope, dignity, and gratitude is not reserved only for those living in a rural village, but it is also for those who are willing to serve and give of themselves. Gratitude is one of the highest and most healing of human expressions, no matter where you are on the economic ladder, no matter what country you live in.

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