Agros Blog

Immigration and Nueva Esperanza

52,000 children.

According to stories in The New York Times and The Economist, more than 52,000 minors from Central America have been detained in a dangerous, desperate attempt to enter the US. The count is 52,000 since October, and 9,000 of those last month alone – a heartbreaking record. Compared to the 15,700 children detained in the prior year, authorities predict that this number will balloon to an unprecedented 240,000 by year’s end.

Alone, without parents, some are as young as five. Their mothers have sewn phone numbers of family members living in the US into their clothing.

These numbers startle, but let’s not allow statistics to sanitize the dialog. This is about children encountering a real-life chamber of horrors including rape, kidnapping and death.  We know how many have been detained, but we don’t know how many didn’t last long enough.

It is almost impossible for me to relate to this incredible tragedy.  I get anxious letting my seventeen-year-old son drive alone at night, even with his cell phone fully charged in case of an emergency.  I cannot imagine being so desperate as to send my child on a 1300 mile trek with barely enough food and water to last a couple of days.

Popular media has lost sight of the children, opting to focus on the political consequences for republicans or democrats instead of the heart-wrenching humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.

It reminds me of the Scribes and Pharisees arguing about violating the Sabbath instead of, as Jesus did, healing a person in need.  As I write, thousands of children are landing at the border of this country, famished, frightened and literally dying for some small act of kindness.  Do we really care how this will affect the next election?  Are we really that calloused a nation?

This tragedy demands immediate action to help these children, but it also demands a long term solution to the root causes of the problem.  These children risk their lives to come to this country because they live in extreme poverty with none of the opportunities we have in this country to make a living.   I just returned from a week in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, visiting two of our communities.  In Nueva Esperanza, Julio and his wife, Santa, hosted us in the home they now own after working tirelessly to pay off their land loan.  Their daughter Hazel (12) walks more than an hour one way every day to go to school, overjoyed with the opportunity to learn.

I noticed the entire family could not stop smiling and when I asked Julio why, he told me he how his life has changed. He told me how Agros had given he and his wife, Santa, the opportunity to be successful and he seized it.  With land and technical assistance for Agros coupled with his hard work he and Santa pushed hard to use the proceeds from every coffee harvest to pay off their land. “With our land loan paid, everything we make now comes to my family. I cannot imagine being anywhere else.”

We have a choice: debate policies and politics or force ourselves to look into the faces of these children piling up at our border. If we truly want to permanently solve this immigration crisis, then we must use our resources to bring hope and opportunity to desperately poor families where they live.

Julio and Santa are among thousands who have seized the opportunity to rise above poverty. Given the chance to work their own land in their own country among a community of neighbors, Julio and Santa would never send Hazel any farther than the community school.

Family by family and community by community, Agros has permanently broken the cycle of extreme poverty.  With your help we can stem the tide of this human misery.

Will you join me?

Work Study Students Help Agros

Agros has been very fortunate to have a strong working relationship with the student employment office at Seattle Pacific University. Students who are work study eligible at the college have the opportunity to take their work study funding and find employment with community organizations (as well as the typical on-campus placements.) At any time, Agros has three to twelve work study students from Seattle Pacific University working in various positions in the organization. Over the coming months, we will profile a number of these students. Agros is so grateful for the opportunity to work with these bright, energetic students. We couldn’t do the work that we do without them.

Name: Whitney Dickey

Major: Sociology with Christian Reconciliation Studies Minor

What do you love to do in your free time? Hmm… free time is such a novel concept in the life of a college student. When I do manage to get a spare moment I fill it to the max! I love to be outdoors; kayaking, hiking, swimming, playing catch, etc. I also really love baking and reading (not at the same time). Throughout the day, when appropriate, I usually can be found jamming out to one of my many Pandora stations (my favorite is my Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch station). But my favorite thing of all is being in relation to those closest to me, spending time with family and friends, and of course my dog Dakota.

What do you love about working at Agros? The environment at Agros is contagious.  The people that make up this organization are constantly caring for one another, creating a communal bond that is strong and reliable. I love that each one of us, from the CEO to the work study students, all have a vision for what the organization can become, how it can continue to grow, and they roll with it. Each person has their own unique skills that in turn work towards the common goal of encouraging those in Central America and Mexico; reinforcing the notion that their poverty doesn’t define them and their poverty doesn’t engross them. The fact that individual and communal empowerment is so huge in the work of the organization, I love that it doesn’t just stop in Central America and Mexico but it continues forward into our own office and to those we are in relation with in the states as well. There is a personal want and a personal gratitude for all Agros does that is lived out by the employees, donors, and recipients, going beyond what words can express, and to me that is beautiful.

What are your plans for the summer? This summer I am planning on staying in Seattle to work full time as a nanny and as a continued resource development assistant here at Agros. That time will be shared with the continuation of course work for the first month and a half. I am planning on graduating a quarter early from Seattle Pacific University so I am trying to cram as many extra credits as possible in before the new year.

What is one important thing you have learned by working at a nonprofit? I have had my fair share of internships within the nonprofit sector, all having very different tasks and visions for what their companies are and what they should be. But throughout my time of working here at Agros I have found myself in a constant stage/want to take on more responsibility, and I have to constantly tell myself, “One second Whitney, you still have a lot to learn”. I believe that for these past couple of months I have really learned what it means to be patient and what it means to discern the involvement and dedication I want my life to have in whatever field I choose to work. Agros has taught me, in subtle ways, what it means to wait for good things to come but also what it means to take initiative and jump on the opportunities when they arise.

Whitney Dickey

Work Study Students Help Agros

Agros has been very fortunate to have a strong working relationship with the student employment office at Seattle Pacific University. Students who are work study eligible at the college have the opportunity to take their work study funding and find employment with community organizations (as well as the typical on-campus placements.) At any time, Agros has three to twelve work study students from Seattle Pacific University working in various positions in the organization. Over the coming months, we will profile a number of these students. Agros is so grateful for the opportunity to work with these bright, energetic students. We couldn’t do the work that we do without them.

Name: Sarah De Witt

Major: Communication with a psychology minor

What do you love to do in your free time? I’m an avid coffee drinker so I love exploring the city in search of new coffee shops. Other than that, a good book or an evening out with friends fill up my time.

What do you love about working at Agros? I love the people I’m surrounded by. It’s great working at a place where the employees are genuine and sincerely care about the work they do.

What are your plans for the summer? I plan on working here at Agros and enjoying my last bit of summer going to Disneyland with a few friends!

What is one important thing you have learned by working at a nonprofit? I’ve learned that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of generosity. When it comes to donating to assist in helping to improve lives, people’s generosity and support is outstanding!

Sarah De Witt

Work Study Students Help Agros

Agros has been very fortunate to have a strong working relationship with the student employment office at Seattle Pacific University. Students who are work study eligible at the college have the opportunity to take their work study funding and find employment with community organizations (as well as the typical on-campus placements.) At any time, Agros has three to twelve work study students from Seattle Pacific University working in various positions in the organization. Over the coming months, we will profile a number of these students. Agros is so grateful for the opportunity to work with these bright, energetic students. We couldn’t do the work that we do without them.

Name: Stefanye Spargur

Major: Communications

What do you love to do in your free time? ?Hiking, photography, water color, going to concerts, writing poetry, doing stain glass and mosaics.

What do you love about working at Agros? ?I love the environment in the office, everyone is kind and warmhearted, it’s a very nice, welcoming environment. Agros’ mission and the work done in Central America is wonderful, helping people has always been a big driving factor in my life.

What are your plans for the summer? Plans for the summer are to continue working, take some classes at the community college, and hang out with old friends. Go to some awesome concerts, and go camping with my family. Spending time with my family, and help teach summer school. Hopefully I’ll be able to get through one or two mosaic projects.

What is one important thing you hope to learn by working at a nonprofit? I hope to learn while working at Agros is the way the system works. I hope to be able to see the impact and change on others.

Stefanye Spargur

Work Study Students Help Agros

Agros has been very fortunate to have a strong working relationship with the student employment office at Seattle Pacific University. Students who are work study eligible at the college have the opportunity to take their work study funding and find employment with community organizations (as well as the typical on-campus placements.) At any time, Agros has three to twelve work study students from Seattle Pacific University working in various positions in the organization. Over the coming months, we will profile a number of these students. Agros is so grateful for the opportunity to work with these bright, energetic students. We couldn’t do the work that we do without them.

Name: Darcy Ma

Major: Business Administration: International Marketing, Finance.

What do you love to do in your free time?

A:  In my free time, I love to read books. In addition, I also love to play sports and exercise. Ultimately, I just love to be outdoors. Whether it is going on hikes, or camping, or just walking around enjoying the beautiful world that God has created.

What do you love about working at Agros?

A:  I have extremely enjoyed my time here at Agros International.  One factor of my experience that I have enjoyed is the friendly environment. This community is such a love-filled, grace giving and friendly community, and it has been such a blessing to be a part of it. Going off of that, the staff is absolutely incredible. They are some of the most patient, hard-working, supportive people I have met and it has been a blessing to work for them this past year.

What are your plans for the summer?

A:  I am planning on spending eight weeks in Shanghai, China, to visit family, tour the country, and study abroad. I am taking an international marketing course along with several Chinese courses, so I am very excited for my upcoming adventure!

What is one important thing you have learned by working at a nonprofit?

A: I would say that there are so many opportunities to use the business aspect of life to do so many amazing things for the community. Commonly, it is hard to think of the world of business having a good culture (because of the terrible examples we hear in the news), but to be a part of a business that works towards using the venue of business as an vessel to serve the LORD, it has truly been a blessing to be a part of.

Darcy Ma

Work Study Students Help Agros

Agros has been very fortunate to have a strong working relationship with the student employment office at Seattle Pacific University. Students who are work study eligible at the college have the opportunity to take their work study funding and find employment with community organizations (as well as the typical on-campus placements.) At any time, Agros has three to twelve work study students from Seattle Pacific University working in various positions in the organization. Over the coming months, we will profile a number of these students. Agros is so grateful for the opportunity to work with these bright, energetic students. We couldn’t do the work that we do without them.

Student Profile

Name: Lennox Bishop

Major: Global Development Studies (Intended)

What do you love to do in your free time?

I love to run, drink coffee with people whom I love, read, hike, visit new places, write, and make art of various types.

What do you love about working for Agros?

I love that it is a Christian organization and that I can express my faith within the office. I love that I have the gift of being a part of all that Agros is doing. I love knowing that through the small part that I contribute, positive and life changing things are happening for people in Central and South America as they adopt more sustainable ways to not only thrive but survive. In the process of reaching out towards our brothers and sisters in Central and South America, I have seen other’s lives be changed and have experienced incredible change within myself. I also love the fact that there has been grace poured out to me to grow as a worker and improve my skills. I have learned a tremendous amount about doing high quality work and have gained the gift of wonderful colleagues and friends in the process (I love many, many things about Agros).

What are your plans for the summer?

I am going to Nicaragua this summer to be a Photography Intern for the nonprofit Organization, Amigos for Christ. I am so excited!

What is one important thing you have learned by working at a nonprofit?

I have learned how to be better administratively, but most importantly, I have learned that within any organization, especially a nonprofit, every piece, even the small ones, are important. I used to feel like my job was fairly useless in the grand scheme of things, but have since realized that even though I only play a small part, it takes the dedication, passion, and work of many to make positive change in the world. Even the smallest motion forward can make the biggest difference.

Lennox Bishop

Agros Hires Engagement Manager

Agros International is pleased to announce the hiring of Guillermo Mario Jiménez as Engagement Manager. This position coordinates programs designed to engage individuals, businesses, churches, and community organizations in the organization’s mission. His primary responsibilities will be to develop meaningful travel experiences that educate donors and prospects about rural poverty and issues specific to Central America and Agros as well as to help develop a global community.This role is part of Agros’ Resource Development and Marketing team.

Guillermo received his BA in Philosophy and Business Administration from Houghton College and MA in International Development from Eastern University. He served as the International Experience Manager for River Church Community in San Jose, CA before returning to his home country of Honduras where he served as the Development Facilitator and Advocacy Coordinator for World Vision Honduras. He also spent two years with Servant Partners in Honduras where he pioneered their community organizing efforts in an urban slum of Tegucigalpa. For the past nine months, Guillermo has served as the Interim Partner Travel Program Manager for Agros. He is also the owner of Metanoia Organic Farm in La Paz, Honduras.

“The Engagement Manager position is new to Agros,” explained Anne Baunach, Director of Resource Development. “We have added this position to help us look more holistically at our travel and education programs as resources to help us in engaging individuals, businesses, and churches in a global community. We interviewed many candidates and selected Guillermo because of his multi-faceted background and experience working both in and on behalf of the poor in Central America. We are thrilled to have him managing this program for Agros.”

Guillermo will start in this new role for Agros on December 31, 2013.

Message from Brisas del Volcán

On Sunday, December 15, Agros staff member Emily Bergstrom traveled to Chico, California to meet with supporters from Bidwell Presbyterian Church. Knowing that Emily would be with this group of faithful supporters of Brisas del Volcán, Honduras, the women of Brisas sent this note to Bidwell Presbyterian Church:

Dear Brothers and Sisters from Bidwell Presbyterian Church,
Greetings from Brisas del Volcán in the name of our father. This note is to let you know that we are working very hard to accomplish our dreams. We have been making payments on our land loans, so that one day we can become land owners. We give thanks to God for given you such a generous heart that is filled with love for us.

We, the women of Brisas del Volcán, have been praying for God’s blessing for you and your families. At the same time, we are praying that God’s wisdom and strength will fill our hearts so that we can honor your friendship and great love for us.

We always remember you fondly.

Your friends from Brisas del Volcán.

All of us at Agros International celebrate the special relationships that have been bridged between our supporters and the communities that we serve. We are so grateful to Bidwell Presbyterian Church for their faithful support of Brisas.

Agros is Hiring a Senior Accountant

Agros International is seeking to fill our Senior Accountant position. This position has primary responsibility for revenue accounting and reporting, as well as responsibilities for key portions of month-end closing processes and financial statement preparation. The position reports to the Director of Finance and Administration and works alongside the Program Accountant. Additionally, this position supervises student assistants and volunteers who are involved in gift processing, bank reconcilliations

This position requires a person who has intermediate Spanish reading and writing skills. A BA in accounting, finance or related field is required; CPA/CMA preferred.

A complete position description is available on our website at: http://www.agros.org/ag/inside-agros/careers/. Applications are being accepted until the position is filled.

Janet Stafford Joins Agros Leadership Team

Agros International is excited to announce the hiring of Janet Stafford as the Director of Finance and Administration effective December 2, 2013. Janet will be responsible for overseeing finance, accounting, operations, and human resources.

Prior to joining the leadership team of Agros, Janet was serving as a part-time CFO for two local organizations: Fortin Group and Nitze-Stagen & Co., Inc. Previously, she served as CFO for Magic Wheels, Inc., and CFO/VP for Matthew G. Norton Co. Janet began her career at Arthur Andersen where she was an audit manager th.

“We are thrilled to have someone with Janet’s background and experience join the Agros leadership team,” shared CEO Don Manning. “We look forward to being able to utilize her expertise gained in the for-profit setting to help guide our finances, accounting, and human resources work at Agros.”

Janet is also active in her community. She serves as Treasurer and Elder at Mercer Island Presbyterian Church and is in the bell choir. She also served as board member and treasurer of the Mercer Island Girls Lacrosse Club (with 185 members) and Island Choral Experience (a 200-member youth choir organization). Additionally, she has held various volunteer positions at Islander Middle School, Island Park Elementary School, and Mercer Island Presbyterian Church.

Janet was previously a CPA. She received a BS/BA in accounting with high distinction from the University of Arizona. She was recognized by the University of Arizona as the Outstanding Accounting Graduate.

Agros is Hiring Engagement Manager

Agros International is seeking to fill a new organizational position: Engagement Manager. This position, which is part of the resource development and marketing team, works with individuals, businesses, churches, and community organizations to develop meaningful travel experiences. The travel program is designed to educate donors and prospective donors about rural poverty, issues specific to Central America and Agros and help create a global community. Ultimately, the goal of this position is to transform hearts so that those engaged are committed to long-term financial support of Agros.

This position requires a person who is bilingual in English and Spanish. Superior organizational skills and the ability to be timeline driven are necessary. This position will require a great deal of collaboration with both internal and external partners and so the ability to work well within is team is critical. This position may require as much as 40% domestic and international travel.

A complete position description is available on our website at: http://www.agros.org/ag/inside-agros/careers/. Applications are being accepted until the position is filled.

View from the Field

CEO Don Manning recently returned from a visit to four villages in Nicaragua and brought back this update.

You may be surprised to know this, but one of the hardest aspects of development work is not developing a solution to a particular problem, like increasing crop yields. It is getting the farmer to adopt the solution. If it is a proven solution, if it is guaranteed to increase his income, why in the world would a farmer not adopt the practice? To answer that question, let me ask you one. When was the last time you backed out of, say, a New Year’s resolution? Within six months, only 44% of those who make New Year’s resolutions are still in the game. So, I’ll ask you again. Why would any of us not adopt better eating habits or stick with an exercise regimen when we know these things increase both the length and quality of our lives?

This is why Agros hires people like Urania Gutierrez, our human development specialist in Nicaragua. Urania’s job is part marketing expert, part psychologist, part life coach and part customer service representative. She has the unenviable job of convincing families to accept levels of risk beyond anything they could have imagined, and work harder than ever before, in the hope that doing so will improve their health and increase their incomes. Despite the odds, Urania is extremely successful in her work. Once you meet her, you will understand why. Her winning smile, bright eyes and kind heart make it hard not to instantly like her. Yet it is her expertise at building relationships, and her willingness to doggedly walk beside the families, that produces results.

Without Urania and our other human development officers, the proven Agros Development Model would just be a slick and glossy book sitting on a shelf. If she ever becomes a personal trainer, I would be the first to sign up. With her help, I might actually keep that New Year’s resolution. Fortunately for Agros, Urania is committed to our villagers.

View from the Field

CEO Don Manning recently returned from a visit to four villages in Nicaragua and brought back this update.

Boris knew there was a problem long before the rest of us. Sweating and sticky from the short, steep hike through the shaded coffee fields, I emerged into a cleared, cultivated plot of peppers with several other visitors from the United States. The deep green plants stood about two to three feet high in neat mounded rows. To my untrained eyes, the field looked magnificent, each row beautifully symmetrical and carefully covered with plastic to keep out the weeds. Drip irrigation lined the field and tightly strung twine, like clotheslines, stretched the length of each row supporting the plants. I could not spot a single weed in his entire field. To think that these three young men standing proudly among their crop had done all this back-breaking work by hand just amazed me. I shared their pride. An enterprise loan from Agros had provided the needed capital for these hard-working young men to start their crop.

As the young men told us about their work, Boris Corpeño, Agros’ Regional Director of Economic Development, listened intently. Periodically, he bent down and examined the dirt, rolling it between his fingers; or gently inspected the plants, lifting the leaves and examining the growing peppers. When the young men finished talking, Boris waited until others had asked their questions. Then he asked a simple question: “Do you have everything you need to be successful?” The three men quickly responded yes. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Do you need more advice or technical support?”

Boris has the look and continence of a wise and kindly grandfather. His gaze was intense, but his eyes sparkled with a hint of amusement. Without in any way demeaning the three men or their impressive efforts, Boris began to ask them questions. Did they know that by spacing the plants further apart they could increase their yield? Did they know that putting up barriers between fields would reduce the spread of disease? Did they know why some of their plants were diseased? The young men knew the answers to some of his questions and were skeptical about others. With confidence, they let Boris know that they had the disease problem under control. They would not replant until all the existing plants were destroyed and removed. Boris probed further. Did they understand that the disease was also in the soil and any new pepper crop planted in that field would be infected? As Boris pushed them, their resistance and skepticism ebbed until one of the men said a bit sheepishly, “I suppose we could use some more technical assistance.” Boris had won them over. More importantly, he had expanded their horizons. Getting four or five healthy peppers per plant was no longer acceptable. Now the young men wanted ten or twelve healthy peppers per plant. As they began to mentally convert the greater yield into their potential earnings, the skepticism disappeared and smiles returned to their faces.

Over the past year, Agros has invested in technical expertise and competence. Not only have we hired full-time expert agronomists like Boris Corpeño, we are reexamining every aspect of the Agros model with the help of experts in multiple disciplines like health, nutrition, land selection, and microfinance. Within the next six months, these experts, working in collaboration with our staff, will identify specific techniques, processes, and strategies for expanding our work and improving our results. Like the three young men proudly standing in their field, we want to push beyond our current success, and like the three young men now armed with the technical expertise from Boris, we will expand our reach and improve our methods. We will, both metaphorically and literally, increase our harvest.

Later that day I caught up with Boris sitting at a table punching away on his computer. “Que paso?” I asked. He was drafting a specific plan of action for the three young men with whom we had visited. Boris smiled and looked at me, and said, “I love my job.”

Agros International Seeks Director of Finance & Administration

Agros International is seeking a Director of Finance and Administration to join our team. This is a great opportunity for someone wanting to help Agros achieve its mission by providing leadership, oversight and evaluation of the organization through planning, organizing and directing the various financial functions. This person is an integral part of the Agros senior leadership team, reporting directly to the CEO and having regular interface with the Board of Directors as well. This position has the simultaneous role of regular “hands on” duties as well as big picture strategic thinking. Thus, the successful candidate will possess the dual skill set of being a broad and big picture thinker along with one who can execute and successfully navigate details.

A copy of the position profile is located on our website at www.agros.org. Select “Inside Agros” and then “Careers”.

Recruitment for the position is being handled by LuAnn Carlson of Corporate Strategies and Development, LLC. For more information about the position or to apply, please contact LuAnn at 206.972.6967 or lcarlsonatcsdseattledotcom.

Ken Churchill to join the Resource Development team at Agros

I am excited to share that Ken Churchill will be joining the Agros International team on April 22, 2013, as the Senior Major Gifts Officer in the Resource Development department.

Ken comes to Agros with an amazing resume, a passion for Latin America, and a calling to ministry focused on serving the poor. Ken grew up in Argentina where his father was a missionary. He did his undergraduate work in Spanish and Education at Biola University and his graduate work at both Talbot Seminary and California Graduate School of Theology. He began his career as the pastor of Bible Brethren Church in Glenora, CA.

When Ken left the parish ministry, he went to work for United Parcel Service (UPS), where in four years he rose through the ranks and quickly became the Manager of Public Affairs for the Pacific region. Subsequently, he became the Vice President of Public Affairs for UPS and spent time in Washington, D.C., leading their government relations work in Latin America and Canada. Since 2003, Ken has held the role of Talent Management Specialist at World Vision, where his work focused on helping existing work groups evolve into synergistic teams. Ken is fluent in Spanish (with an Argentinean accent).

Ken has been described as a “proven servant leader with a style that stresses ‘come alongside, equipping and releasing,’” as “powerfully effective at coaching individuals and diverse groups of people for purposes of collaboration, alignment and synergy,” and as having “exceptionally strong teaching/public speaking gifts that motivate, guide and transform.”

Ken will be working alongside many of our donors, helping them to explore opportunities to support Agros’ work. We are very excited that he will be joining our team. Please join us in welcoming Ken to Agros!

Job Opening at Agros International

As many of you have heard, David Carlson is leaving Agros at the end of December. He has felt God’s calling to a new adventure, a position as the Chief Development Officer for the International School of Entrepreneurial Leadership.

As we look back on the 18 years that David spent with Agros, we are so grateful for all he has done. As the first paid staff member, he has helped to build this amazing organization. We are grateful for all his contributions. We are also excited for David and for the International School of Entrepreneurial Leadership as he helps build this organization.

It is now time to begin looking for someone who will fund raise to support Agros’ work in Central America and Mexico. We have opened the position of Senior Major Gifts Officer and have retained LuAnn Carlson to help us in finding this new member of the Agros team. A copy of the job description is currently posted on Agros website at: http://www.agros.org/ag/inside-agros/careers/.

If you know of anyone who might be qualified for this position, please encourage them to apply. For questions, please contact either Anne Baunach, Director of Resource Development at (206) 528.1066 or LuAnn Carlson, Senior Partner, Corporate Strategies & Development, LLC at (206) 972.6967.

Tierras de Vida is Coming Soon

Would you like to learn more about the work that Agros is doing in Central America and Mexico? Would you like to meet two of our villagers, Marina Martinez and Carlos Sarmiento, from Bella Vista, Honduras to learn about how Agros has helped them?

Join us on Saturday, October 13 for Tierras de Vida [Lands of Life]. This annual event celebrates the work that Agros International and shares a vision for the organization’s future. This year’s theme is ‘Hope in the Hard Places’ and will focus on the life-transforming changes that are happening with families living in Agros’ villages.

Event details:
Date: Saturday, October 13, 2012
Time: 6:00 p.m.
Location: Seattle Sheraton
1400 6th Avenue, Seattle, WA

Additional details and registration information are available at www.agros.org/tdv. You may also email dedekatagrosdotorg or call the Agros office at 206.528.1066.

Marina Martinez (back left) and Carlos Sarmiento (back right) will share their story of becoming Agros villagers in Bella Vista, Honduras at Tierras de Vida on October 13.

Marina Martinez (back left) and Carlos Sarmiento (back right) will share their story of becoming an Agros villager in Bella Vista, Honduras at Tierras de Vida on October 13.

Reflections on Kurt Meyer

Kurt Meyer.  I met him almost 30 years ago in Guatemala when we were both young men.  He heard about my dream for helping the rural poor in Guatemala through land ownership, and instantly responded with his heart.  Over the years, he poured himself into the Agros cause in so many ways – as a board member and president of Fundación Agros in Guatemala, as a dreamer, friend, and encourager.  And most of all, as one whose love of Jesus translated into loving the poor.

Kurt and I sharing some moments in the Ixil in 1998.  Photos courtesy of Mike Yukevich.

Kurt and I sharing some moments in the Ixil in 1998. Photo courtesy of Mike Yukevich.

For many years Kurt ran a successful business growing and exporting bromeliads – plants that grow and thrive without roots in soil, such as orchids. His plants and flowers were of high enough quality to be in great demand in Europe.  Not surprisingly, Kurt had an encyclopedic knowledge of flora of all kinds.  On our many trips from Guatemala City to the Ixil Region to visit our Agros villages, Kurt would sometimes abruptly ask whoever the driver was to stop in the middle of nowhere.  Then he would leap out of the car and go over to the side of the road, and excitedly show those of us who followed him out of the car some rare or not so rare variety of bromeliad or other plant, give us its Latin genus name, and tell us all about its scientific classification and related orders.  Every trip with Kurt was a learning experience – not just about his beloved world of plants, but about life as well.

He was a sophisticated man with elegant manners.  He spoke Spanish, German, and English with equal fluency.  He and I shared a deep love for classical music, and every so often he would ask me to bring with me on one of my trips a particular recording he could not find in Guatemala.  These were, of course, pre-Amazon.com days.  He also had his share of suffering in life.  Along with thousands of others of German descent, he was deported from his native Guatemala during World War II.  He did not like to talk about that experience.  In more recent years, he lost his beloved wife to a sudden illness, and his only daughter in a tragic plane crash.

Kurt and I on the same trip the Ixil. Photo courtesy of Mike Yukevich.

Kurt and I on the same trip the Ixil. Photo courtesy of Mike Yukevich.

Kurt’s roots in agriculture helped us in so many ways as we built the Agros village model, and helped the people to become successful farmers.  Early on, he dreamed of building a training center in the Ixil Region where Agros villagers and others could learn the best in methods and practices to enhance their production and their lives. He even drew sketches laying out what the center would look like, with training classrooms, living quarters for visitors, and demonstration plots.  That dream was realized with the inauguration of the Agros Ixil Technology Center in Nebaj in 2007.

Kurt Meyer died early morning January 29, 2012, after suffering a series of strokes and heart attacks during recent months.  He leaves behind three sons, Kurt, Dieter and Helmuth.

Celebrating the Culmination of Two Years of Work with the World Bank in Chiapas, Mexico

Snapshot 2012-01-06 00-52-07After being recognized for our innovative work relieving rural poverty, I am excited to share that Agros has wrapped up a very successful two-year collaboration with the World Bank.  In 2008, Agros was selected along with 100 other winners from a pool of over 1,800 applicants to receive $200,000 from the World Bank Development Marketplace Competition – a competitive grant program that identifies and funds innovative, early-stage projects with high potential for development impact – to implement our project proposal.

Our project, “Land Ownership for the Rural Poor in Mexico,” was designed to purchase land for two rural farming communities in Mexico, and has since resulted – with support from other generous partnerships and foundations – in the formation of Santa Fe Ajké and Nueva Ilusión.  Not only was this a big step for our Mexico office, but it was also a huge achievement for Agros: our innovative model was recognized by a prestigious institution, and we benefited from the expertise and support of the World Bank staff that came alongside us for this project.

Through our partnership with the World Bank, Agros was able to expand to a new region in Chiapas, Mexico—the Guatemala border region in Comitán.  Chiapas is one of the poorest states in Mexico, and Comitán is infamous for ethnic and economic persecution of the vast number of Guatemalan refugees who fled there during the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.

While visiting Comitán in 2007 in order to prepare for the establishment of Santa Fe Ajké, one man recounted to me the community’s 10-year struggle with the Mexican government to connect to a local water system. Instead of providing for the families’ basic need for water, politicians ignored the obvious urgent needs. Abandoned by both the Guatemalan and Mexican governments, one member said he felt as though the community was “not here nor there,” like citizens of neither country.

Thankfully, with the generous support of partners such as the World Bank, First Fruit Foundation, SG Foundation, and the individual networks that comprise the Santa Fe Ajké and Nueva Ilusión JWAV groups, several families from the group I visited in 2007 started the first Agros community in Comitán: Santa Fe Ajké.  From the beginning, the hard work of its community members has been evident in their motivation to continue despite two years of challenging weather, including drought and torrential rain.  For Nueva Ilusión it has been a long journey to find productive land at a reasonable price, but in June 2010 the land was finally purchased. These two communities have accomplished all of the goals set forth in the project agreement, including:

Santa Fe Ajké

  • Defined vision and values, plus a three year village development plan
  • Established seven distinct crops for food security and income generation
  • Built 20 houses and 20 latrines
  • Established a water distribution system
  • Received their promissory notes for their land loans

Nueva Ilusión

  • Defined their vision statement and new community name
  • Selected and purchased land
  • Defined vision and values, plus a three year village development plan
  • Established four distinct crops for food security, two which are sold for income generation
  • Built has 20 houses and 20 latrines

Looking ahead, Santa Fe and Nueva Ilusión still have critical steps to take that will create sustainable, long-term growth.  Though the work with the World Bank has ended, Agros will continue our work for several more years in each of these communities to ensure that they are on the path to land ownership and lasting success. You can follow these communities progress along their journey in the Village Updates by going to the Our Villages tab on our website. Thank you for your continued support!

The Evolution of Agros’ Monitoring and Evaluation System

Agros is an organization dedicated to continuous learning. One of the most important ways we learn is by closely following the results of our work through a system of program Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). Though there is unanimous agreement of the importance of M&E among development professionals, there is no single industry standard for how it should be done; monitoring development work requires responsive growth as technology improves and experts develop increasingly refined understanding of best practices.  Agros’ M&E system is relatively unique due to its emphasis on participatory methods of evaluating; in contrast to top-down systems, Agros intentionally invites the reflections of the families it serves through focus group dialogues.
5.2 Christina M&E5.2 Christina M&E2

Agros formalized its Monitoring and Evaluation system in 2006, though an informal system that included Quarterly Village Updates started much earlier. Our journey toward the practices that exist today began in 2000, when Agros contracted an outside consultant to evaluate the effectiveness of our program.  As a result of that evaluation, we expanded our program model, designing a more holistic approach to sustainable development, including our current five-component development model.

In 2005, with support from a University of Washington graduate student, Agros began laying the groundwork for what our M&E system is today, which includes participative biannual family surveys and focus groups with village women, men, and leaders to measure twenty impact indicators and learn more about the outcomes of our work. In the last two years, Agros began tracking eight of those indicators on an annual basis, for closer monitoring. Conducting M&E not only enables us to continuously strengthen our program, but also allows us to share with our valued stakeholders like you the ups and downs of development work.

In this avenue of stakeholder participation we are thrilled to share with you that, as a result of combined efforts from our staff and generous long-time partners, Agros will be launching a three-phase effort to refine and expand on our existing M&E system. In the first step of this process, an M&E expert consultant will be hired to review Agros’ work and reporting requirements and provide guidance to improve the M&E process.

As a result of the improvements to Agros’ existing M&E system, Agros will be empowered to deliver:

  • More manageable and reliable data
  • More effective programming with improved ability to identify strengths/weaknesses
  • Increased transparency and accountability in communication to supporters

At Agros, we take monitoring and evaluation practices seriously.  We are excited to continue to improve how we evaluate our work, while upholding the participatory values that define us. Our goal is to better serve rural families in Central America and Mexico, and to provide you with more information over time about the impact you’re helping to achieve

Check out our annual indicators on each village update—click on “Our Villages” at the top of the page to get started!

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