agriculture in Colombia

Rineicha Otero in Colombia – Day 4

Tuesday 8/20/2013

Today I visited Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali, where I met with the director of the university’s social responsibility office.  During this meeting, I learned about current programs established to target social issues in different communities throughout Cali.

A two-week program has been created in collaboration with Gonzaga University (Washington) to focus on production of agriculture and to create an association that will promote farming to youth.

Fe y Alegria (Faith and Happiness) was established in Venezuela, but its model has been used for many years in Colombia. It is a learning center dedicated to inclusive learning (meaning people with disabilities and different ethnic groups). Over 6,000 youth have been reached. Programs are geared to visual communication, psychology, sociology, and art in communications, among many.  Fe y Alegria also targets adults who want to learn some technical skills. One of the amazing aspects of this center is the peer-to-peer education. It provides leadership opportunities to members of the community.

Comuna 18 focuses on communication and politics related to students. Visual communication is used to express the personal experience (what they see and feel) of students throughout Cali.

The director had interest in what I did back home. I explained the different programs in extension, including 4-H. She showed great interest in possible collaborations in the future.

After lunch, I met with one of the board members of San Jorge, Johnnie. Johnnie is originally from a city called Neiba, a middle class community that was surrounded by a displaced community. During his time in Neiba, he learned about the challenges faced by these families. Johnnie decided he wanted to influence a positive social impact. At the time, his business was declining and he was looking for different options. Johnnie ended up moving to Cali, to help a friend, and when asked to help the San Jorge community, he did not hesitate. He has become one of the leaders in the community.

Johnnie lives in the community center, where he opens the doors for youth to come throughout the day to read, learn math, and draw. “They absolutely love to draw,” said Johnnie.

Johnnie also stated “I have never been so happy and never laughed as much, as I have in the past three years; we are strong and look out for each other.”

His passion for this community is very evident. His respect, solidarity, and generosity reflect the community’s principles.

Rineicha Otero in Colombia – Day 3

Monday 8/19/2013

The day has finally arrived; I was able to visit the San Jorge community. San Jorge is a community composed of displaced families. The community is comprised of 400 peoples, 125 being youth of diverse ages.  Ginna has been working with this community to empower the women and children economically. There are three lines to Ginna’s project Amarte (Women), Panita (Youth), and Historia (History of Community). Amarte focuses on the economic empowerment of the women in San Jorge. They have been receiving the support to become entrepreneurs of a community artisanal company. So far, they have created bracelets, bags (using recycled materials), and sandals.

During my visit, I was able to meet a group representing the National University of Colombia. The group was composed of students and professors of the school of business, focused in marketing. The marketing team is teaching the women how to use recycled materials for the packaging of the products.

The women are so proud of their work and put a lot of detail, care, and patience into each of the products made. “Quality versus quantity, and great customer service is the goal,” Doña Erminia states. “However, it is very important to understand that we are not looking for riches but for a better way of living”, she says.

San Jorge is such a giving and humble community. At lunchtime, they begin to gather spoons, plates, and cups from all of the houses in the community. They begin a community sancocho. Sancocho is a meat stew with plantains, cilantro, potato, and yucca. Delicious!

Everyone completed a task to make the amazing stew; some chopped cilantro, others peeled potatoes and plantains.  Once done, they mixed them into the large pot already placed on the high flame.

After lunch, it was time to burn some calories. I prepared a team-building workshop for the youth of the community. It was a diverse age group, and once the balloons came out, I had their attention. I went prepared with the expectation that the children would learn from me, but I was so wrong. I learned so much from observing their interactions and listening to their conversations. I asked what they had learned, and they spoke about leadership, communication, and the importance of working together to achieve the task at hand. It was very rewarding to work with such a wonderful group.

I learned so much about this community. The people that make up the community are resilient, unique, rich in culture, warm, and welcoming. This community hopes to be the model for other displaced communities in the country. Sustainability is the mission for the community, and all are working strongly towards accomplishing their hopes.

Rineicha Otero in Colombia – Day 2

Sunday 8/18/2013

I wake to find another gorgeous day in Cali. The clear skies and fresh air made it for a great day to have a walking tour. Ginna and I walk over to a near by lake known as Humedal El Cisne La Babilla Tomasa, where you can sit and feed the ducks or simply enjoy a good book. I watched families take strolls and ride their bicycles on this early Sunday morning. Families rode their bicycles on the road, since some of the roads were closed every Sunday for physical activity.

We later joined our friend, Cesar, in Colseguros, his hometown, where the homes were decorated with marble tiles, smooth stones, and large window openings with railing, instead of glass. The living room area has constant fresh air coming through, rain or shine. His home was decorated with artwork created by his family—once again, echoing the creativity of the Colombian people. The artwork focused on religious interpretations, objects, and nature; they were breathtaking.

At about 1 p.m., we visited Alameda where the “Galleria del Mercado” buzzed with shoppers. There were fruit, vegetable, meat, poultry and flower stands.  As we walked around, vendors would scream out “a su orden,” as you order.  We purchased some ingredients for lunch.

We later walked to “La Loma de la Cruz,” known for its steep hills and beautiful views of the city. La Loma led to San Calletano, where you can see colonial homes. We then moved on to San Antonio, a barrio that has conserved its traditions. The San Antonio Church reflected a typical barrio and Sunday afternoon.

Today I had the opportunity to experience Cali as a local would. I walked and ate my way through the city. I can totally get used to this!