Thursday, December 13, 2012

More from Adam and Elisa in Dominican- Biodiversity Restoration and Community Development Facilitators

Time flies! Work is rolling, friendships are blossoming and the beautiful vistas
are leaving us jaw dropped.  And to think, in a couple of weeks we will have
completed half of our internship abroad! Adam and I are realizing that the more we
weave ourselves into all kinds of projects, the harder it’s going to be to leave
come March.

Our approach so far has been to take advantage of any opportunity that comes our
way which means our weeks are flurries of activities running from meetings to
monitorings. These past months have been taken up by planning the big “Dia de
Campo” event which was a celebration of the reforestation project so far.  Adam
also tirelessly put together funding proposal to develop the forest industry in
Republic Dominican; while I spent a lot of time studying web design and planning
workshops.  A goal of ours is to ensure the continuity of the website updating
after we leave. So we have been offering computer training workshops to local
youth to teach them how to manage a website. In a couple of months we hope to have
trained a team of youth that will have a good foundation in web design and will be
able to promote their own region without relying on temporary interns.

On top of our outlined work plan, we also have been doing a lot of networking. One
of these partnerships is helping maintain communication between the Water Resource
PeaceCorps volunteers and ENDA.  Both organizations have worked together in the
past, so our role is to act as the intermediary to identify opportunities for
collaboration in the upcoming projects. We are also assisting the Incubedora de
Micro Empresas- The Incubator for Micro Enterprises  in Cotui  to develop a fruit
processing plant in a nearby community and working on various ecotourism ventures.

The concept of ecotourism is only starting to take off in Dominican. A number of
tour operating companies, including Colinas EcoTours, are actively working on
redefining  tourism in the country. For a country rich in biodiversity minus the
threat of any poisonous creatures; the time has come for the Dominican tourism
industry to turn its focus on the interior. A bonus from working in the ecotourism
sector is that we get to visit sites such as the Ruta del Cacao, and the wetlands
near Haitillo lake! Some of these tourist destinations are outcomes of  ENDA’s
forest management initiative so we are also promoting them via the website. In
parallel to our information gathering for the website, CATIE, the Centro
Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza – the Model Forest organization
based out of Costa Rica, is putting a 20 year legacy documentary together
highlighting all the Model Forest work that has been going on around the world.
We have had the fine privilege of accompanying the film maker to interview
involved members for the Dominican portion of the movie. 

Before the holidays start, we want to tie up loose ends and wrap up projects.  We
do look forward to some down time and getting to see more of the country.  There’s
also the highly anticipated the bachata legend, Frank Reyes, whose concert next
door at the De Melissa Car Wash has been marked in our calendar for weeks now!
It’s safe to say that yes in fact, we’ve caught the Dominican Latin Fever.

Elisa & Adam

Adam with his vegetation sampling partner.

Sr. Ferreira showing off healthy seedlings.

Tree nursery for reforestation project.

Monday, December 3, 2012

News from Salado Barra, Honduras – Mira Maude Chouinard, Biodiversity Restoration & Community Development Facilitator

Quite a few things happened in Salado Barra since Anna last wrote to you!  It is now the rainy season, and the workers of Falls Brook Centre’s local project – Proyecto Mangle – have been restoring and planting in the past few weeks.  All of the plants in our nurseries have to go into the ground before the dry season begins!

While Anna works hard in the kitchen and medicinal gardens with the hope of improving food security in the community, my individual work consists of monitoring and reporting the advancements and changes in the Biological Corridor (a project with the multinational Standard Fruit/Dole) and ensuring the success of the solar panel business that members of the community have started.  Together, Anna and I teach English and Environmental Education classes to kids in the community, and tackle the challenging task to revamp Salado’s ecotourism management plan.

A week ago, we were extremely lucky to have Dr. Ranil Senanayake, a systems ecologist and founder of the Analog Forestry restoration system, visiting us from Sri Lanka.  Dr. Senanayake has been involved in this project for a few years. His visit consisted of evaluating the progress of the Biological Corridor, the demonstration and restoration sites.  He also made sure to collect epiphytes from El Cacao (where Falls Brook Centre holds other projects), taught us how to put them back on trees to ensure their reproduction and proliferation.  Dr. Senanayake is an incredible source of information, and gave us the honor to evaluate one of our analog forestry designs.

Members of our project also held a reunion between workers of Salado Barra, Omoa and El Cacao, with the intent to share, learn and evaluate each project’s successes, challenges and lessons learned.  Anna and I were pleased to see Brittany, the Falls Brook Centre intern working in Omoa, and to learn from her project.

On a leisurely note, we celebrated the Proyecto Mangle’s one year anniversary this past Friday.  We played games, organized a talent show, and were treated to a real feast composed of a freshly bought and killed pig, rice and beans, yuca, tortillas, and chimol.  Community members danced until the wee hours of the morning, celebrating one year of hard restoration work!

Que le vaya bien,

Mira + Anna

Mira loving the jungle

Environmental Education with some of the kids

Beautiful mangroves

Brittany MacGillivray - Community Development Facilitator in Honduras

After a long day of traveling, I arrived late in the day Sunday to San Pedro Sula, Honduras on October 14th. I was promptly greeted by a smiling and helpful compañero, who much like myself was eager to get out of the busy, loud, and smelly city, and head to the coast. Jumping right into things the next morning, most of my first week was spent being oriented to the office and all of the people involved with the project. Much to my devastation however, when you drive into the Barras communities along the beach, you are shown a reality that exist here that is a major problem: the garbage! Due to the ocean currents and the geography of the coast, garbage is constantly being washed up onto the, what would otherwise be beautiful beaches. As is indicated in the picture, one of the many problems that exist with this is the sanitary nature of the things (i.e., the discarded medical jar) that sit on the shores where people are living, where food is caught, and where children are playing. Roger assures me that in January we will attempt to clean some of this garbage up, and hopefully start a trend where beach clean-up becomes a regular occurrence.
Garbage that collects on the beach in the Barras.

Week two and three for me were spent in Copan Ruinas at a Spanish language school, which was a helpful and necessary venture. Following my language training, the first work day back in Cuyamel, another reality sets in: we are faced with a lot of hardships here before the restoration work can even begin. Specifically, due to the rain the night before, the office had been flooded, and soon after discovering this, the electricity went out for the remainder of the day due to a tree falling onto a power line several kilometers up the road. This will continue to be a constant battle for us throughout the next couple of months while rainy season is upon us.

Throughout the weeks to follow, many of the same problems were faced again, with issues regarding electricity, but more so with the rain. The road to the Barras gets washed out, which prevents us from getting into the communities and conducting our restoration work. Finally, toward the end of week five we were able to get into the communities. Thursday and Friday we had visitors from other projects in Honduras with us to help conduct a workshop with some of the women from Barra Motagua, and to begin an initiative regarding the exchanging of knowledge between projects. A local artist showed everyone how to make jewelry and other useful things, such as long-lasting candles and purses out of the garbage that they have on the beach. Teaching these skills to the members of the community is useful because it gives them the opportunity to participate in their own economic venture, making and selling the things that they are able to produce from the trash that cost them nothing to acquire and use.

The following week, I spent a day being introduced to the nursery that is being constructed in Cuyamel. It will be largely beneficial to the project to have the nursery in town, close to the office to help increase the protection and care of the juvenile plants, along with the already established nurseries at the schools in the two communities. The next day was a long day spent making our way into Cuero y Salado on a knowledge-exchange venture with the project in Barra Salado. The sharing of knowledge is a beneficial opportunity for our project, as it is not as well established as the project in Cuero y Salado. Specifically, it will aid us in our initiatives by allowing us to observe the progress and successes made in a similar project. These methods can then be implemented here, allowing us to further help those who live in these vulnerable Barra communities, and to further protect and restore the environment that exists there as well. On our drive back to Cuyamel we also stopped to visit the mangrove restoration project in Cacao, spending some time there being shown some of their ideas and efforts, as well as getting to see their very large, very diverse nursery.

Hopefully over the next couple of weeks the rain will allow us to get back into the communities so we can spend time applying our new knowledge, getting some trees into the ground, and doing some monitoring of the restoration sites.
Por ahora, eso es todo de Cuyamel.
Hasta pronto,

The group of participants from the workshop in Barra Motagua.

Roger, Paula, Carlos, and I on our tour through the mangroves in Cacao.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jessie Lyon - Appropriate Technology Technician in Nicaragua

I write you from La Casita Solar, the restaurant of the Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa. The dining room is spacious and breezy, and in the kitchen Doña Adelina squeezes fresh oranges for lunchtime.  Mauro, the only man of this twenty person cooperative, hoes the vegetable garden beside the restaurant.  Nimia, the cooperative’s administrator, hosts a meeting in the gazebo by my table.  This is where I work and this is who I work for.

I arrived in Sabana Grande after two weeks of Spanish immersion in El Lagartillo, a thirty-family community southwest of here.  Four hours of Spanish grammar everyday quickly gave me the skeleton for a new language.  Soon I was squawking away with my teacher Rosa, and the other students at the school.  El Lagartillo is an exceptional place, grinning with pride for their school, a solar-powered library, a children’s drama program, stunning landscapes, a strong socialist history and their community band, Los Rusticos.
Five hours across the rural Nicaraguan badlands took me and my backpack to the side of the Pan-American highway.  After great confusion I found Sabana Grande and my host family and new roommates, a grandmother and her two grandchildren.  I fit so comfortably in this girly house, and before I knew it I had a rhythm to my days and a whole new life.
Working for the cooperative takes the schedule and pace of typical Nicaragua—relaxed, calm yet meaningful and demanding.  I contribute half my time to current projects started by the Mujeres and their partner NGO Grupo Fenix, and the other half to my own initiatives.  With fellow intern Benjamin Pedro, I build and install bottle lights and work to improve los fogones mejorados, a project in which three solar women sell wood-efficient stoves.  Last week I helped a group of students install a solar system in a local house and built a solar cooker with Reina and Rumalda, two members of the cooperative’s construction committee.  I am in the process of putting pictures and biographies of each member on their website, and organizing English and music classes for kids during their Christmas holiday in December and January.  Today I prepared plans and rootings for a medicinal herb garden.  My favourite project promotes local micro-enterprises for a youth group here.  I am applying for a small grant to start a bicycle rental company for volunteers and tourists.  Entering the world of funding has been an incredible and inspiring challenge.
So, life is grand, and I feel exceptionally lucky to be a Falls Brook intern.  Between work days, my friends and I travel to canyons, waterfalls and beaches.  We snack on fresh guava fruits and tiny bananas.  We follow the ups and downs of Sabana Grande’s baseball team.  Nicaragua remains generous and warm.  I am so looking forward to what is to unfold in the chapters ahead.
Romalda drills the frame for a solar cooker. 
Jessie helps Grupo Fenix volunteer Alex, improve his design for a new solar
Ben, Jessie and workshop attendees install a solar system into a local home.

Update from Chelsea Scheske - Organic Agriculture Facilitator in Cuba

¡Saludos desde Cuba!

I arrived in Pinar del Río a month ago and already I’ve seen, done, and learned so much.  In a typical week, Lina and I spend two days working in the office on tasks like data analysis for the diagnostic we’ve been doing for the project.  During the remaining three days, we bike out to the farms and work with our farmers.  I love that we have the freedom to pedal around the Cuban countryside, it’s a great balance for those days spent with our heads down in the office.

Lina and I have been hard at work implementing a medicinal plant project with the support of Professor Suarez from the University of Pinar del Río, Cuba.  This project is part of a larger program under the banner of PIAL (Programa de Innovación Agropecuaria Local).  The mission of this program is, in summary, to foster decentralized decision making in order to incorporate farmer knowledge and experience into agricultural innovation.  As most of you probably know, decentralized decision making is a huge part of food sovereignty, so as a food sovereignty enthusiast this is an AWESOME program for me to be a part of.  It’s really been great to have Lina here with me.  As she’s done her masters and will soon be doing her Ph. D on Cuban agriculture.  She’s accumulated a LOT of knowledge on the subject.  Cuban agriculture is organized much differently than Canadian agriculture, and with its numerous different cooperative structures it can seem a bit complicated at first.  Believe me, I’m taking full advantage of her conocimientos!

Right now we’re working with several local farmers to develop medicinal plant propagation on their farms.  This is pretty cool: in Cuba, every province has a specific farm dedicated to the production of medicinal plants.  Here it’s the Finca de Plantas Medicinales de Pinar del Río.  This farm supplies medicinal plants to the provincial medicinal plant factory, which in turn processes the plants for distribution among the population.  This includes isolating the medicinal element and expressing it in forms like tinctures, pills, ointments, etc.  The project we’re working on is in place to help supply the provincial medicinal plant factory with certain plants that are in high demand, and are not being supplied in great enough quantities by the provincial medicinal plant farm.  I think it’s so interesting that Cuba has a whole sector dedicated to the production and distribution of medicinal plants.  It’s cheaper than producing pharmaceuticals, many would say healthier, and it’s helping to keep traditional medicinal knowledge alive.  I’ve learned so much about “traditional medicines” since arriving.  In contrast to Canada, the majority of the Cubans I’ve met have at least some kind of knowledge of medicinal plants, and most grow them in their houses.  It’s pretty inspiring.

Working in Cuba is much different than working in Canada.  Because of the difficulty in getting certain supplies, sometimes it takes a LOT of creativity to get simple tasks done.  But the people here have responded to the challenge.  It’s seriously amazing to see what kinds of innovations these farmers have come up with!  Along with them I’m being forced to “think outside the box”, and in terms of personal development it’s been great for my problem solving skills.  For example: Need to cut the grass?  Here’s a machete!  Need a toothpick?  Use this machete!  Want a haircut?  Machete!  You get the idea.  By the time I’m done this internship I’ll be able to use a machete for absolutely everything, including shaving my legs.  It’s going on my CV, count on it.

Not only are we able to work with local farmers and medicinal plants, we’re using Permaculture and Analogue Forestry principles on all the farms!  For example, on Tony’s farm we’re implementing a permaculture design based on medicinal plants to demonstrate the benefits of using permaculture principles to grow medicinals, which are notoriously sensitive.  We’re using mostly tires and rocks, which Cuba has in abundance, to make things like raised beds, mandalas, and herb-spirals.  We think it looks pretty great (check out the picture!).  Tony is a Boccachi expert, and also an avid “lombriculturalist” (worm-culturist)… so yeah, we get along!  Lina and I are also trying a “mini-lombricultura” bin in our place with the worms they use in Cuba (California Reds).  We’ve had to be creative about finding supplies and constructing the bin, but so far it’s been a success, although the dueños of the casa where we’re staying aren’t quite sure what to make of it… they’ll come around!  Lombricultura is mostly used here to process manure in large quantities for application as fertilizer in agriculture.  Composting and recycling food waste are not popular, so if we can get this vermi-compost system working with the California Reds we’re thinking about creating a workshop to give at the farms or in the schools.  You know… changing the world, one worm at a time!  I’ll keep you posted.

Tony and Chelsea with the finished Mandala design.
On Sely’s farm (another farmer in our project) we explained the benefits of sowing with the contours as opposed to down the slope and put our mad A-Frame skills into practice, mapping out the contours on a particular field with a very steep gradient.  He planted his tobacco y frijoles there last week using this technique, and we’re hoping he’ll see an improvement in his yields.  We’re also using the living fence concept in this field as another way to reduce erosion and run off of nutrients, soil and water.  As well, we’re in the process of designing an Analogue Forestry Corridor on his farm using medicinal plants, fruit trees, forage, and root crops.

I could go on, but I’ve got to save something for next time!  In summary, I’ve so far had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people who have already taught me so much about organic agriculture, creativity, and resilience.  I’m looking forward to 4.5 more months of it!  So I bid you adios.  Learn lots and have fun!  And of course, toil hard.

Nos vemos,

Cutting tires to be used to make raised beds in permaculture design.

Frame built using farm resources, and used to measure slope to facilitate contour

Russell Vinegar - Biodiversity Restoration Facilitator in Costa Rica

A month into my time here at International Analog Forestry Network HQ in Londres, Costa Rica, and the internship is going well. The IAFN secretariat is not directed to work in the community, but rather to help coordinate, support, and share information between analog forestry efforts worldwide, and that is what most of my time has been spent working on, via the wonders of technology. Nevertheless, we’ve been putting effort into developing positive relationships with the people here and hope that Londres can grow as a nucleus of AF activity, which means we’ve also been ‘washing our hands in the soil’ on a regular basis.

Our office location here is relatively new, so we are still getting some key elements in place. We built a swank compost shed, and have been gradually working away at a nursery (for plants, though there are plenty of babies in town), placing posts, putting in support cables, tensioning it all up, flattening the beds, fixing the shade cloth, and now stocking it up with plants. It hasn’t quite been an exercise in natural building, as we have been working with concrete supports, metal posts, and plastic shade cloth, but hopefully we have created a more permanent and impressive structure than bamboo and palms would have afford us. It is intended to serve as a communal nursery to support increasing the number and diversity of trees in the community, filling public spaces, home gardens, farms and fincas. We are lined up to design some of the landscaping for the high school once it moves to its new site, and I have started the communication ball rolling to get the staff and students involved in the process. At a meeting at the elementary school this morning I found many eager collaborators do outdoor environmental education! They have a lot of great stuff going on there already (veggie garden, hydroponics, young fruit trees, budding butterfly garden, awesome murals) which I am eager to learn more about. I am doing my best to keep collaboration and continuity in mind as we go.

After a good sweat outside in the morning, I have taken to jotting over to the stream where some fallen trees have made a pleasant waist deep swimming hole. Laying back in the water, I do my best to relax and stay calm, but can’t help but constantly anticipating the nibbles of fish. Gazing up, a huge dead tree stands leafless overhead and reminds me of winter and Canada and senescence in the fondest of ways. Rain usually begins trickling about this time and so I hustle back to the office for lunch.

Carrying on with work inside in the afternoon, a few projects have been on the go. We are preparing the structure for a huge plant database we will be hosting online to serve as a resource for designers, somewhat along the lines of Plants for a Future but inclusive of the tropics and tailored for easy AF application. At this point it is more of a head scratching, detail fixin task, but the grunt work of entering the data lies ahead. Updating Wikipedia pages, and assorted website and translation work round out the gig. Research I’ve done into carbon markets, accounting, and ecosystem service payment for some potential projects has been mostly puzzling and disconcerting, but is relevant given the rapidly growing forest carbon sector. That’s all for now.
Nursery and growing plant collection - what up!?

A snippet of Milo's land, AF in action.
Suriname cherries - just another roadside attraction.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Update from Anna Hushlak in Honduras

It is 4:45 in the morning, still dark out and the sun is just beginning to creep up over Pico Bonito. The ocean is a steady rolling roar and as I reach out my arms to stretch, I can hear the Howler monkeys out the window doing the same. So begins another day in paradise. 

Mira and I are working alongside the Fundación Cuero y Salado (FUCSA) where we live in the Refugio de Vida Silvestre. While our days may begin with a quiet – well noisy if you consider the toucans outside – wake up, they are filled with a healthy bustle of projects and to-dos. So far, I’ve had my hands full with mangrove restoration, seed collection, gathering local knowledge on medicinal plants, sourcing out herbs for planting a demonstrative medicinal garden, employing the philosophies of permaculture to kitchen gardens, juggling environmental education and English classes, and of course making sure Sundays are dedicated to cheering on Salado’s soccer team (and by cheering I mean eating Eda’s pasteles). 

The projects in Salado are especially interesting given the community’s historic, cultural, and economic diversity. Formerly owned by Standard Fruit (now Dole) the surrounding area is being transformed from coconut monoculture to a biological corridor based on the principals of Analog Forestry. As the sun comes up, Mira is already out in the fields working hard, taking measurements, mapping, digging holes, and planting a mix of fruit trees. The legacy of agriculture in the area also drew in various different communities, leaving Salado home to a mix of Garífuna and Latino cultures. Given the isolation of the reserve – a bumpy hour and a half chicken bus ride from La Ceiba, followed by a grumbling 15 minute mototaxi, and ending with a 45 minute ‘train’ ride into the reserve – the community faces substantial economic development challenges. Still, within the community, Doña Irma and Doña Fatima offer tasty lunches of balleadas and fried fish, little pulperías sell eggs and juice, Jairo busily carves jewelry in the joyería, Martiza and Indio put together solar panels and the fishermen head out every morning in their wooden Cayucos.

Upon our arrival, we were treated to an amazing ride up the mangroves into ‘Monkey Channel’ where we shared a tree of viscoyol fruit with a white faced monkey. We then headed back down the estuary and out to sea where we watched the sun set while rocking on the Caribbean. The community has been wonderfully welcoming and have invited us into their gardens and homes, taught us how to make tortillas (shaping them didn’t go so well), showing us how to properly place a fishing hook through the eyes of a fish, and a few of the young girls have even given me lessons on properly combing and pulling back my hair. Looking forward to the month to come, we are getting ready to host the community parcela kitchen garden competition, work with FUCSA to train local guides for improved eco-tourism, and of course eager to welcom Dr. Ranil Senanayake later this month. Enough for now, time to get back to work!

Que le vaya bien!

Anna + Mira  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Update from Adam Dickinson & Elisa Bernier from Dominican Republic
Well, it’s been a little over three weeks since we landed in the Dominican Republic, and plenty has been happening!  Here in the Dominican Republic, we’re working for an organization called ENDA-Dominicana (ENDA stands for Environment and Development Action, and is an international NGO based out of Senegal).  After landing in the country, we spent the first couple of days reviewing the documentation of the projects to get a better sense of what we would like to do.  There was a lot to go through, and it still feels like there are tons to learn. ENDA-Dom has been active in environmental and community development projects for over thirty years, so it’s no surprise that only a handful of people are aware of the full scope of their involvement throughout Dominican Republic.   

We also spent a good portion of the first two weeks figuring out our living situation.  Since our internships are based around the town of Cotuí, we’re primarily living at the apartment that our director rents there.  The apartment, we should add, is a palace compared to our modest digs at Falls Brook.  It is huge, has all the amenities one could want, and is in a brand new building.  It is also right next to one of the most happening nightclubs in Cotuí, the De Melissa Car Wash – so named because it is, in fact, a car wash during the day.  Many nightspots are similarly repurposed during the work day, which helps to explain why a town of 17 000 people has three massive car washing establishments.  Multi-functional landscape elements: THIS is permaculture.  We’re also renting a (far more humble) room in Santo Domingo because our work requires us to spend a day or two every week in the capital at ENDA’s main office.  The lady of the house has rented to interns before, so she knows what to expect from us. 

The main ENDA project that we’re working with is both super interesting, and very controversial.  ENDA has partnered with a large Canadian mining company, Barrick Gold, to carry out a reforestation and community development project in the area around the Barrick mine, near Cotuí.  The project itself is pretty extensive, as the area stretches from the Pueblo Viejo mine all the way to Los Haitises National Park, on the eastern coast.  The idea is to encourage landowners to plant trees on their land for the purpose of either having managed woodlots or agroforestry systems.  This would allow people to obtain an economic yield from the trees they plant, either from timber harvesting or the sale of fruits such as cocoa, plantain, or citrus.  Naturally, since the major corporate partner is a giant mining company, controversy has followed – there are protests against the mine every so often, and we’ve been told to keep a low profile when those occur.  We’ve also been shown around some of the other ENDA projects in the area – they’ve been supporting a bunch of small woodworking businesses and sawmills, with the goal of increasing local production.  While the Dominican Republic has incredible forest resources and an advanced management system, it still imports something like 90% of its lumber because the local industry has not been able to match demand.  Many of the difficulties that local industries face is due to the extremely stringent laws surrounding the right to cut down trees for lumber, which have been in place for over 50 years, since the Trujillo dictatorship.  Ironically, the result of these environmental protection laws is that lumber is imported from countries that suffer from overharvesting, such as Honduras and Brazil. 
Over the last week or so, we’ve been figuring out where we interns fit into all of this.  Our boss in Santo Domingo has urged us to get to work on spreading the word about the project, since there has not been a lot of publicity since the planting started last year, and the project staff have not had time to publicize their results.  In addition to the promotion/website work, we’ve been accompanying the technical staff of the project into the field to help with surveys and follow-up with project partners.  These visits allow us to interview involved members in order to improve dialogue between stakeholders and gather information to relay results publicly.  We’re also realizing there are lot of opportunities for collaboration through the network of interns in the area who are working on similar projects.  To make sure our outreach efforts continue after we leave in March, we are working on youth capacity building programs to teach them how to carry on with website updating and project promotion. 

And that’s not all!  We’ve also been meeting amazing people.  Our co-workers in the Cotuí and Santo Domingo offices have been amazing friends and supports over the last weeks.  We had two very memorable couchsurfing experiences with wonderful, generous hosts while we were finding places to stay and becoming acquainted with the Dominican life.  The project partners that we have met in the villages around Cotuí have been incredible and welcomed us into their homes from the beginning.  We’ve also met some international interns from Canada and Korea, and have heard of others from Japan and the United States in the area.  All in all, I think we’re in for a really wonderful few months!

Naomi Krucker – Organic Agriculture Facilitator in Mexico

After about 2 months in Mexico the fruits of my labour are really starting to blossom! Upon arriving in Mexico I was put in charge of a preexisting ‘garden’ that had been let go. ‘Let go’ was a bit of an understatement, however the jungle I had been gifted is now a lush Garden of Eden, full of a variety of different fruits and vegetables. Conquering the many obstacles along the way has made the fruit we are now enjoying even more delicious!
The community I am part of is called the Kibbutz, located near the town of Queretaro. We are aiming to be a sustainable community and a big part of that is growing all our own food. This is the first time they are growing organically here, so this process is very new for the community and sometimes challenging.  Climate differences, compost, and insects are some of the challenges I have been battling over the last 2 months, but I think I am coming out on top! I work right now with one other member of the community in the gardens, but have begun promoting an internship/ volunteer program here. I should mention the Kibbutz is also a religious space that host events, and welcome volunteers from all over the world to be a part of the community. The 30 hectares is covered in beautiful fields, architecture, and orchards of all the fruits you can think of. I feel very privileged to be a part of this ‘utopia’, as we call it.

My main goals here are: 1) grow enough food to sustain the community and visitors 2) Also grow enough food for 25 other families a month that will receive baskets of vegetable, this project is called ‘Club Agricola’ 3) Host a series of workshops centered around agriculture (chicken raising, organic pest management, permaculture,… and more to come!) 4) Eventually sell produce at an organic market in a nearby city .

More recently I have become involved in the promotion of volunteers with the emphasis on growing organic food. I would like to take interested students under my wing as interns for the remainder of my time here to have them grow and learn to farm organically! I have also been putting a lot of the permaculture skills I developed at FBC into practise here at the Kibbutz! I think an intern/ volunteer program focused on the gardens is a good way to ensure that the gardens continue after my time here is done.

Apart from work, I have made some incredible friends who have made it their job to expose me to every Mexican thing they possibly can. I have already travelled to many different cities, participated in some wild traditions and holidays, and eaten some things I didn’t even know could exist. I very much feel like a part of the community I live in and can’t imagine leaving in a few months!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ian Thompson - Environmental Educator in Honduras

Working at the Regional Centre for Environmental Documentation and Interpretation (CREDIA) in La Ceiba Honduras is very different from working at the Falls Brook Centre. Instead of waking up every morning to a fresh, crisp morning for farmwork amidst a swarm of hungry blackflies I wake up much earlier with the heat of the day already spilling treacle-like through my window. I then set off for the CREDIA office where I do the majority of my work on translating documents, helping with attracting envrionmental and scientific tourism, or writing proposals for projects. So far I have worked on designing a greenhouse made out of plastic water bottles and a strategy for getting more young volunteers involved here at CREDIA. There have also been opportunities to meet NGOs from all over Latin America at international conferences hosted by CREDIA. It is very interesting to see the various perspectives on environmental issues and how different places choose to address these issues.

I also help with tours of the botanical gardens for school kids who come for a visit where they can learn more about the natural world that many city dwellers never see. Creating these links between people and their environment is very rewarding. Also, on a few occasions I have had the opportunity to help with puppet shows about protecting the wetlands. These have been performed in smaller communities for kids and we've been overwhelmed by the positive reactions we've received. One group even started their own environmental puppet team right after we left and have already begun producing shows!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Waheema Asghar - Biodiversity Restoration Facilitator in Costa Rica

Turrialba is treating me very, very kindly.  Where to begin?  Ive written down a few headings that I think have been the most important for me.  Here goes…

Location: Turrialba
Turrialba is a wonderful small all around Tico town.  Ive met some foreign tour guides and they like to call Turrialba their home.  Its peaceful, friendly, kind, gentle and is surrounded by mountains and the view of Turrialba volcano that shows off its white plume of smoke daily.  Its an hours drive to San Jose, and people head down to the capital over weekends very easily and cheaply.  Its 2.5 hours away to the closest beach on the Pacific coast.  Theres an ancient ruin nearby, Guyabo national park that many tourists don’t know about.      

Weather: Perfect
At first I was wishing I were closer to the shore, but the weather is absolutely perfect here.  Its more rainy and humid closer to the shore.  The weather in Turrialba is mosty sunny and warm around 25C-27C.  Its supposedly monsoon season but there hasn’t been any  inconveniences for me.  I would equate it to Canadas normal rainy days.  Except here, during the afternoon you may have some days with heavy rain that lasts 10 minutes and then the clouds soon flutter away.  The rains are great, cools everything off, and are fun to watch.  The mist they create between the mountains are spectacular, worth taking shots of.

Work in CATIE is wonderful, I most enjoy seeing the diversity of work that goes on around me.  That’s the advantage of working within a university.  There are students who are doing their phds and conversations with them are intriguing.  Then there are those working in Climate Change, The Bosques Program, seed banks, research and so many other neat departments.  I have been working with Felicia Granados who is consultant for CATIE who is helping CATIE receive Blue Flag distinction which is a nationally recognized program. 

This internship so far has been largely a learning experience.  I have learned a lot already in my twenty two days about the local culture, customs, ways of work and lifestyle.  Establishing relationships is very, very key and was something that was mentioned to me by Felicia early on.  To work with others, earning and maintaining trust first is more important that tackling anything else.  This is what I have been working on.  I will be heading out to the farms on my own and meeting the worker (98% of which only speak in Spanish) and become a familiar and trusted face by the workers.  To receive the Blue Flag distinction, the workers need to diligently enter in data about daily water use, diesel/gas use, electricity etc.  Because this data is of no use to the workers in their duties (and is added work), it often gets neglected making it difficult to prove the environmental initiatives that the farms are in fact taking.  Being a face for the program allows the workers to be conscientious of what needs to be done, and be done regularly.  Though being present on a farm does not seem like much work, it is very important in maintaining the bridge and motivating the team to continue with their good work in helping with record keeping.  Slowly it will become standard protocol, but the program is new and so is the additional record keeping.  Beyond that, I manipulate, extract the data received and take whats needed to input into the final report to the Blue Flag program.  I enjoy that my work involves being on the farm (which is beautiful), botanical garden (which is breathtaking) and indoor work, it’s the perfect balance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lina Johnston - Organic Agriculture Facilitator, Pinar del Rio, Cuba

I arrived in Pinar del Rio just over 3 weeks ago, and it has been a truly eye-opening adjustment period! The first phase of our pilot project to develop organic farms devoted to producing medicinal and culinary herbs involves interviewing many farmers. Most of my time has been spent biking out of the city centre to sub-urban farms, meeting many extraordinary farmers, and observing their farming practices. Not only has it been great to explore the incredibly green and lush sub-urban areas of Cuba, but it has also been inspiring to witness the commitment to organic agriculture and community development among farmers here. Greater production of medicinal plants, or what Cubans call “green medicine,” is not only a commercial endeavour for these farmers, but also, and more importantly, a way to support community needs for medicine. 

In addition to this project, I will be working with a farmer to develop his property using Permaculture design principles to cultivate medicinal plants, and will be helping to design a local community garden in a nearby neighbourhood.  

Oxen-- animal traction (Los bueyes-- la tracción animal)

Worm Humus (Lombricultura