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June 7, 2010

In the week that we’ve been in Yorito, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit two ¨huertas¨ or small gardens kept by CIAL members and supported by FIPAH.  The first was particularly moving.  A 15 minute motorcycle ride with one of the FIPAH staff Ivan led us to a poor neighboring town called Jalapa.  There we visited a family of 8 children with one of the older daughters being in charge of a small huerta.  A few cucumber plants were already growing and there was a handful of carrots but the plot was mostly empty.  What little that was there had been ravaged by a pig that broke through the shaky fence in a fit of hunger.  We planted about three rows of soy beans and we created some supports for the cucumbers out of tree branches and some string.  Carina, one of the older daughters, was doing most of the work with Ivan´s guidance.

A few things really struck me at this visit.  First, this tiny huerta and a few wandering animals had to support a family with 8 children.  The fact that that was all they had was daunting.  Secondly, Carina made it her personal responsability to participate in a youth CIAL with FIPAH and learn to make a better garden.  Meanwhile, the other children, some as young as 7 or 8, took care of the even younger children.  FIPAH and this family overcome so many obstacles simply out of necessity. 

For the four of us here in Yorito, our main role is to serve as computer and English teachers.  Though FIPAH´s main mission is to support food sovereignty and to help local farmers perform their own research on their crops, they recognize that there are other problems facing these farmers and their families and FIPAH aims to support them and their children in any possible manner.  They have many different youth initiatives with the youth CIALs, schools, and other opportunities meant to prepare them as much as possible for the future.  This is what I admire most in FIPAH and the people here, taking responsability into their own hands and making a real difference.  Everything they do has a purpose, mostly empowerment, and their initiatives and actions affect people directly.  I haven’t heard a single complaint about the government or any institution in the 10 or so days I’ve been here in Honduras.  Instead, the people here are self reliant, reslilent, and incredibly grateful for what they do have.  Our work here has barely begun and we’ve already been treated with incredible hospitality. 

My second visit was just this morning.  Sarah and I spontaneously tagged along with Ivan again to visit a much bigger huerta where an experiment was to be performed with beans, half treated organically and half treated in the traditional way.  I’m not exactly sure about this particular family and its size.  They were definitely wealthier than the previous family but interestingly it was an older woman, possibly close to 60, toiling with us in the dirt.  For 3 hours in the blazing tropical sun we planted beans on a vertical plot of land on the side of a mountain where you had to worry more about slipping and falling than counting seeds and digging holes.  This difficult land is part of FIPAH’s purpose, learning what works best in conditions that are less than ideal.  As a result, this family will have better knowledge as to what is most productive on their land as well as a garden full of beans to harvest.    

In the next two months or so, we will be teaching a whole lot of English and computer classes.  But watching Carina work on her family’s huerta, learning how to plant beans, and working so closely with FIPAH is a completely different kind of education.  Again, learning to be self reliant yet grateful at the same time.  I forsee two months of a lot of lessons learned. 

– Monica


Hi Honduras!

June 7, 2010

Let´s start this post off with an excerpt from a song we recently learned:

“I arrived at the hotel/Asked about my reservation/Didn´t have it/Booked a room and went upstairs/Took off my clothes and sat on a chair…/There is a crisis I can´t stand it anymore… /Send my clothes to the laundry/Had it burned and shrinked/Had panties instead off boxers/Had a skirt instead off trouser”

I know what you´re thinking: “Um, what was that?” If this song seems ridiculous and irrelevant, that´s because it is. It´s one of the activities in the textbooks we have to use in our English classes, called “Hi, Honduras.” The textbooks were created specifically for the Educatodos rural education program. They were created by USAID´s Improving Educational Quality Project as a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh, the Academy for Educational Development, and Education Development Center, Inc., among other institutions.

I´d heard from people who had done this Nourish/FIPAH project before that the English textbooks were kind of dumb, but still I was unprepared for how criminally unhelpful they are in teaching English.

Let´s bear in mind first that these books are required and provided by the Educatodos program for use in rural classrooms where there is one teacher for every subject, who most of the time is learning English with her students as she goes. I´ve only seen the ninth grade textbooks, but the earlier ones either completely gloss over basics such as alphabet, pronunciation, greetings, numbers, etc., or they teach it so badly that two years later the students retain none of it. They jump right into dialogues on random and weird topics such as “Visiting Mexico,” “Latin Americans Play Cheerful Music,” and my personal favorite “Bumping Into Things”. They make no attempt to translate the dialogues and the few grammar lessons come with little or no explanation.

And by the looks of it, they weren´t even proofread. Just by casually leafing through I found typos like breackfast and desease. Even when they do manage to spell things right, the writing is sometimes grammatically incorrect and almost always awkward, giving the reader a very strange impression of the language.

The only ways I can see the books being useful are for (1) vocabulary, but the words they introduce are hardly the most common or useful, and (2) pronunciation, but even in classes that have speakers to play the accompanying CD, the students tend to tune it out, since they have no idea what´s going on.

What infuriates me the most is that these books were created by USAID, and designed specifically for Honduras´s Educatodos program. And yet, they fail miserably at both teaching English and at being culturally relevant. Someone from one or several of the collaborating institutions, which all supposedly specialize in educational development, created these and okayed them for publication and distribution. But practically anyone who speaks English and has ever been a teacher or student could have done a better job. Either the authors really are that ignorant, or they simply do not care about the education of Honduran youth.

I wish we could just laugh at the cheesy songs and awkward dialogues and silly typos, but since students are required to pass tests very specifically derived from these books, they have to be used, despite their being a real hindrance to the students´ learning of English. Many of the students identify English as a skill that would be very useful in their future careers, and I am sure it is a subject for which there would be a lot more enthusiasm if the classes weren´t all based around these counterproductive textbooks.

As much as I would love to furnish each classroom with all new textbooks and have a big bonfire to destroy these ones, that is neither feasible nor helpful, since the students need to study from these specific books in order to graduate. Our plan now is to spend our class time going back to the basics, and creating documents to accompany each lesson to leave behind for future classes. Outside of class, we´ll work with the facilitators to try and fill in some of Hi Honduras´s gaping holes. We can translate the dialogues and explain grammar points in each lesson. Hopefully we can leave behind a set of resources that allows the students to both pass the required test, and also learn some English along the way.

Finding Our Way in Jesús de Otoro

June 7, 2010

¡Hola a todos!

We have been in Otoro for almost a week now, and the heat is setting
in! Arriving here from La Ceiba was a welcome change, not only because
it meant that we were finally starting our journey with FIPAH and the
communities, but also because of the immense differences we noticed
between the two places. Jesus de Otoro has an incredible sense of
community and we appreciated the absense of big city pollution and
run-down buildings. We are even starting to get used to the new sounds
of los gallos waking up, which are impossible to ignore, all
throughout the night!

All of the FIPAH staff have been incredibly warm and enthusiastic
about our presence, too. While this week has been a sort of whirlwind,
bumping our way through the ¨roads¨ to a different isolated,
mountainside community everyday (and even getting stuck in the mud
sometimes), the whole team is really appreciative and has big plans
for our two month stay here.

Tuesday, we ate the very beans that we had picked, shelled, sorted,
and prepared only hours earlier. This seed is a new hybrid that was
created by the director of this FIPAH site, Omar, and has been
incredibly popular and successful with FIPAH farmers and has spread
throughout the region.
Wednesday, while Marianne was making her way down here, Leslie and I
went to a community, El Campenario, and were introduced to the
greenhouse that Nourish helped build in ´08 and the students who have
been working very hard to maintain it. We were both amazed and excited
about how well the tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, parsley, zuchini and
carrots were growing! After gaining some more perspective on how
susceptible crops are to changes of the weather, we understand how
valuable a greenhouse is. For example, on Thursday we (Marianne now
included!) went to a ´parcela´(small plot of land) with the intention
of planting maiz seeds, but couldn´t because the land was too wet from
the heavy rains of the day before. Yesterday was an exciting day
because we taught an impromptu English class to about 50 students,
from ages 8-12 (although age is difficult to even guess), as well as
an audience of community members peeking in through the doors and
windows. We were introduced to the entire community, who were very
grateful to have us there to teach, and we were equally grateful for
this incredible opportunity. We are planning to teach classes there
every Friday and work in the school garden, that Hugo (FIPAH member in
charge of all the youth CIAL groups) is initiating with the goal of
introducing vegetables to the children´s diets (now consist mostly of
beans and rice).

Today we are looking forward to going to Doña Luisa´s radio program, a
weekly broadcast that discusses FIPAH´s objectives and projects.
Tomorrow we are off on a weeklong adventure to La Mercala with
Domingo, another FIPAH staff. There is an ambitious plan for us to
conduct interviews with 12 youth CIALs, we´ll see how it goes!

We are getting all settled in, and will write more when we get back!
¡Vaya pues, hasta pronto!

Maya and all of us

In Yorito

June 7, 2010

I do apologize for the lack of posts since we got to La Ceiba. We´ve been in our respective regions for a week now. The Yorito team (Sarah, Anna, Caitlin, and Monica) arrived here last Monday, and we´ve spent the past week getting to know the FIPAH staff, having meetings to schedule our workshops and classes, and goign to our first English classes (we don´t start our computer workshops until this week, because the computers are arriving tomorrow).

So far everyone we´ve met here has been exceedingly nice to us, from our neighbor Luis who has a standing offer to play Monopoly with us or show us around Yorito when we have down time, to Doña Francisca whose  baleadas (traditional Honduran tortillas, beans, and cheese) we eat every night, to everyone on the FIPAH staff who have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome and help us understand better what it is FIPAH does.


I´m excited to really get into our workshops, and I can already tell that the weeks are going to absolutely fly by.

going to our first English classes, planning our computer workshops, and getting oriented in our new home, we´ve had a few opportunities to hang around the FIPAH office or accompany FIPAH facilitators on their trips into the community, in order to learn more about FIPAH. The more I learn about this organization, the more excited I am about the work they do, and the more honored I am to get to be a part of it at least for a while.

Hasta pronto!

Live from La Ceiba!

May 29, 2010

After a long day of travel,  we´ve arrived in La Ceiba!

Fredy, the general administrator of FIPAH, greeted us at the airport with his smiling face and adorable children. Seeing Fredy and driving through La Ceiba, I feel like I just left. I had the privilege of working with FIPAH last summer as well in Yorito, and I can´t believe a year has already passed. Much has happened since the Nourish team left in July: a new president, Porfirio Lobo, took office; the Honduran soccer team made it to the world cup; and FIPAH has begun expanding its work into a new region of Honduras, the state of Lempira, to name a few highlights.

This morning the six of us (Anna, Sarah, Monica, Caitlin, Leslie, and Maya) came to the FIPAH office to learn a bit more about FIPAH´s history and current projects (Coming soon: a photo of Fredy´s map of Honduras complete with layered timelines and acronyms for all the stages of FIPAH´s development. It´s magnificent.) More importantly, we needed to discuss the World Cup. What will be the fate of el equipo catracho (the Honduran team)? As Fredy says, on July 16th Chile will be our first victim!

Monday we´ll divide into two groups, one bound for Yorito and the other for Jesus de Otoro, and head off to the regions where we will be developing our computer, internet, journalism, and photography workshops over the next eight weeks!

I´ll leave you with those details for now, but don´t fret, we´ll be posting again soon with more updates and FIPAH news!

Hasta pronto!



May 23, 2010

Welcome to the Nourish en Honduras blog! Check in here throughout the summer for updates from the UNC Nourish International team working with the Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers, FIPAH!

Although we haven’t even left our homes in the U.S. and Canada yet, here’s a glimpse into FIPAH’s work in the trailer for Saving the Seed, an amazing film created by two students on last year’s Nourish project with FIPAH: Claire Kane and Scott Turner.