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.

Pepper Project Success

peppers948.jpg

In five Agros villages in Nicaragua, 102 families have combined their efforts and produced nearly 50,000 pounds of Tabasco chili peppers for export. Through agricultural loans and technical training with Agros, these families from the El Edén, Nuevas Esperanzas, San José, and San Marcos villages have already generated $7,500 in profits. The farmers obtained a favorable market price by joining together and negotiating a contract with a Nicaraguan exporter.

The pepper project improves families’ year-round income, and is also an opportunity for families to apply the agricultural and business techniques they are learning. With the help of Agros staff, farmers are using a new drip irrigation system, testing new fertilizers, and exploring different methods to minimize and control insect infestations.  The success of this project is boosting farmer’s confidence and encouraging them to apply new skills to other crops and projects as well.

In San Marcos de Belen, Luis and his family are waiting to build their new house, and in the meantime, the family bikes three miles each day to arrive on time to help with the pepper project. Luis works hard at the project and appreciates the equal effort and responsibility from his neighbors.  He remarks proudly, “I am very happy with the work ethic of Agros; we have to work to gain results.  This gives me pride and dignity and the opportunity to leave something behind for my children.” chilecortando.JPG

$1,800 worth of eggs and other news from Spring Village Updates!

eggs in guatemalaHere at Agros, we are committed to connecting our supporters with stories, information, and progress made by the inspiring individuals we work with. We do this through a variety of channels: this blog, enewsletters, Facebook, Twitter, our video gallery, and our quarterly village updates.

Every quarter we publish pdf updates on the work and progress of each of our active villages. These updates come directly from Agros’ program staff working in-country and contain the most up-to-date information about projects and programs currently underway in Agros villages along with quotes and profiles of individuals.

All village updates can all be found by mousing over the “Our Villages” tab on the Agros website and clicking on any village to then view and download a pdf.

Here are a few examples of what these updates contain:

  • This spring, many Agros village members have made impressive progress starting new projects and expanding their existing ventures. For example, over the past three months, the women’s chicken project in El Milagro, El Salvador has sold a remarkable $1,800 worth of eggs! The group has used profits to pay loans, purchase supplies, put aside savings, and help their families. We invite you to read more about the women of El Milagro and find stories of other dedicated and successful village members by looking in the Spring 2009 Village Updates.
  • This spring’s update on La Providencia, Guatemala, profiles Ramon, a community health worker. Each week, Ramon dedicates two days to provide health care for community members and he also administers the village’s supplies of medicine and first aid equipment. The success of the leadership in La Providencia is evident from their support for Ramon as well as the recently completed construction of a three-room school supplied with 200 desks and six teachers for 186 proud elementary students.
  • In El Edén, Guatemala, five families recently completely paid their land loans, and many more families are quickly moving towards paying off their loans by investing in successful small business opportunities.

There are many more examples and stories of lives being changed. Enjoy exploring and reading.

Earthquake in Guatemala

Many of you may have heard that there was a 6.8 earthquake off the coast of Guatemala.  We’ve been in touch with key staff in Guatemala & El Salvador and they assure us that everything is ok – none of the villages or villagers have suffered damage.  CNN has more on the earthquake itself.

More Than Words from Nicaragua

Sunset over NicaraguaI returned this past Sunday from a 6 village visit in Nicaragua. Perhaps ‘visit’ is too tame a word. In reality, the trip was more of an expedition. Through videography and still photography, it was 16+ hour work days trying to capture stories, scenes, and experiences of the communities served by Agros Nicaragua. From Managua to Matagalpa to Rivas, we drove through stunning landscape, humble yet dignified communities, and met with a people who are simply some of the hardest working men and women I’ve ever met.

New Land for La CeibaWe visited four Agros villages (El Edén, Aduana Dos, Futuro del Manaña, and San Marcos de Belen) and two communities who may one day start their own sustainable Agros village. In each community we interviewed 3-4 people in depth, and then shot a variety of still photos of each person. We are now working on logging the video footage and translating the interviews, and once this is complete we’ll publish it all here on the Agros website in a series of photo essays (stay tuned for this) and short videos in our video gallery.

Father and son from San Marcos de BelenThere is much I want to say about the people we spent time with… to tell of their determination, focus, faith, and commitment to create a new future for their children… but I do believe that there ARE times when the cliché is true: a photo is worth more than words. So to that end, I’ve posted a small sample of these photos here in the Agros Photo Gallery. Please take a look.

(Note: these photos were all shot by Trevor Snapp, professional photographer extraordinaire – be sure to check out Trevor’s website here).

Also, several of you recently and generously contributed to the Agros Nicaragua Truck Appeal letter we sent out (Agros staff were in urgent need of a new truck)… and let me assure you that over countless miles of pavement and gutted dirt roads, the new truck is greatly appreciated by ALL of the Agros staff! Your generosity enables the staff in Nicaragua to continue to serve and reach these communities no matter how remote. Here is a photo of the truck in action:

Truck in Nicaragua
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