For rural subsistence farmers time is a precious commodity. Waking up long before dawn and resting long after dusk, doing back-breaking work for 15 hours a day, to earn just enough money to sustain themselves and their families, is an unfortunate norm. Despite this, we were incredibly lucky to have inspired 12 rural villagers to gift to us some of their most rare commodity - time.
Our latest visit to Los Medios was one of the most exciting yet. We were invited to attend the handover and first basic training session for two new community committees. The two committees are responsible for the management and day-to-day running of the Community shop and Community Savings Fund.
Both the shop and the savings fund are projects that are jointly run and administered by the Department for Social Prosperity, The Bavaria Foundation and Corporacion Interactuar.
The shop is part of a network of local, rural shops that jointly are known as ‘Tiendas de Paz’ or Peace Shops. The idea of the Tiendas de Paz project is to incentivise persons violently displaced from their homes to return to the land that was once theirs. The idea is also that with a village shop, the community will not only be able to restart their lives in their native villages, but will be able to become and remain self-sufficient. Farmers from the village and surrounding areas are encouraged to bring their produce to the shop, to be distributed both in the village and throughout the surrounding Tiendas de Paz network. More than just aid, this project is about empowerment and autonomy.
The Community Savings Fund is an assembly and committee managed pot of savings, that are released, up to $1m pesos (roughly USD350) per loan, to support local, rural production projects. The money is loaned at a low interest rate solely to inhabitants of the village who need capital for any kind of agricultural production project, for example - to buy higher quality feed for animals, or to buy new machinery to be used in the production of panela (unrefined cane sugar). Loan requests are approved or denied by a committee, based on a number of factors. The Fund is again aimed at promoting self sufficiency in Los Medios and encourages campesinos (country people) to look for and capitalise on opportunities they face in their working lives.
The handover process, which took place in an empty classroom in the Los Medios school, was quite chaotic and very loud. Both old and new committee members were vying for their voices to be heard as they expressed the trials and tribulations they face, as well as the successes and pride they felt in themselves and in their community.
We were able to identify various points of weakness and difficulties faced by the committees, varying from inaccurate bookkeeping, to gaps in technical knowledge for the computer software used in the shop, to hesitance to standardise and commercialise agricultural products for wider distribution outside the Tiendas de Paz network. To address these issues, we have arranged a series of training sessions and hands-on workshops funded by your donations, that will allow the new committee members to develop their theoretical skills in real-life situations. We are also in the process of doing an agricultural assessment of produce in the area, to determine the scope for transformation of agricultural goods into higher value products - for example transforming raw block panela (unrefined cane sugar) into a ground or powdered version, which would demand a higher price when sold.
Despite the skills gaps, the community is improving rapidly. The proof was all around the village and became glaringly evident, as I said at the beginning of my report, with the arrival of every single one of the committee members.
What the inhabitants of Los Medios lack in financial or business skills and discipline, they make up for in enthusiasm and determination. They are determined to push through a change in their community which will allow economic and familial security to become a long term reality and they are determined to learn new skills to do this. We at Together for Colombia are determined, with your help, to continue to help make this a real possibility and we are sure you are too!
As ever, we and the inhabitants of Los Medios are eternally grateful for all that you have given so far.
To read the latest blog entry on our visit to Los Medios, or to get in touch with any questions or comments, please visit our website at www.togetherforcolombia.com.
Until next time…!
We hope this message finds you well and that you are enjoying the coming Summer. We have raised a considerable amount of money for the ‘A New Beginning’ project since our last report and for that, I’d like to say THANK YOU!!
We continue to be surprised by the tenacity that the community of Los Medios shows. Not only this, but the warmness and kindness of the people of Los Medios is something that we at Together for Colombia enjoy every time we go to visit.
The lives of the families of Los Medios have been changing for the better since we were able to start helping them move back to their homes. As you are well aware, the community which is mainly focussed on Panela production, received specialised training in the sugar-cane growing and panela production processes. They acquired invaluable skills from an experienced agronomist Dinora Patricia, which have allowed them to modify their business processes to increase efficiency and revenue.
For example the dynamic performance training inspired harvests of sugar-cane (which take a year to yield) and frijoles beans (which only take four months) to be alternated, to allow the less nutrient demanding frijoles crop to regenerate the soil. This regeneration process means the next sugar-cane crop is of a better quality and can therefore demand a higher price in the panela market. Additionally the community can supplement their income by selling the frijoles yield, which comes in 3 times a year.
The Los Medios community has seen further reaching developments as well, including a higher matriculation rate in the local school. There are now 94 students and 5 teachers at the school, which is a great increase from previous years. Students are coming from neighbouring villages to enrol in what was once a desolate and empty building, but what is now a blooming centre for education.
Over and above the amazing developments already achieved, we still have some progress to make. The ‘campesino’, or rural, mentality needs to be continuously moulded to allow for increasing change and innovation. With our help, the community has begun to learn new ways of production and generation, but they understandably are still hesitant to completely renovate their practices. With your help, we can continue to show them small changes, that do not compromise the integrity of the community, people, traditions or product, but that will help them to learn and develop into more entrepreneurial business owners.
We have the next trip to Los Medios in the diary and will certainly be sending you an update as soon as we return. In the meantime, if there is anything you would like to say or comment on, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
As ever, we at Together for Colombia, and the community of Los Medios, are eternally grateful for your generous donations.
Speak soon and take care!
Happy New Year! We hope 2015 brings you strength, energy and passion to turn your dreams to reality! Corporación Interactuar and the families that returned to their homeland in Los Medios village after being displaced for years are sincerely grateful for your support throughout the entire last year. I am writing you to keep you up to date with the status of the project.
In December I wrote you about what 2014 has meant for us and the impact of your support on the community in Los Medios village. I told you about the major benefit panela growers in the region had: a half day technical training on the panela cultivation and growing process. Here’s how the day went.
The main points on the agenda included theory and practice on the generalities, current status and regulations of the sugar cane industry. The objective of the half day training was to develop, implement and strengthen a model of extension and technology adoption in the sugar cane sector.
The dynamic performance criteria meant to enhance the sugar cane production included: productivity, competitiveness, sustainability, equity.
The workshop included training on Good Agricultural Practices, a fundamental tool for an optimal development of the sugarcane cultivation. It includes instruction on fertilization, pest and diseases, increased productivity recommendations.
Good manufacturing and hygiene practices were another chapter on the agenda. Key points touched included food handling, industrial safety and occupational health, sugar cane regulations, production infrastructure improvement, emergency plans.
The trainer who delivered the workshop was Dinora Patricia, a dedicated agronomist kind and patient enough to answer every curiosity and guide our panela producers through the learning process.
This 2015 greets us with many challenges but also with the right team and tools to face them successfully. Our team now includes members from Brazil, Canada, France, India, Guatemala, Mexico who will bring their international experience in the campaign.
In order to improve our campaign and approach, we appreciate your feedback on the communication between us in 2014. Also, we would love to hear what made you stay close to us and support our cause and what we can do more to contribute to these projects.
Note: ‘A new Beginning for 71 families in Colombia is part of the Together for Colombia campaign that we developed in order to raise awareness on the social and economic reality of this country and involve the international community in changing it to the better. Keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter.
Looking forward to hear from you,
We hope December finds you happy and content with what you have accomplished so far. Let us tell you that a part of those accomplishments you had this year stands also in the support you have shown us throughout 2014. Because we realized that the power of ‘together’ is greater than we all thought, now, at the end of this amazing year, we want to share with you what we have done together for the families that courageously took the challenge of going back to the homeland that raised them after being forced to leave it behind.
The year of 2014 has been enlightening for us and these families. Here’s why:
All of your donations to this project in 2014 concreted in a series of activities that would help the community from Los Medios to improve the quality of their life in the village both in terms of social and economic matters. More specific, the panela producers in the village will benefit from a one day comprehensive training from an acredited agronomist.
After identifying the need to a continuously improving process of panela production in the region of Antioquia we created, together with our agronomist, a training session focused on the improvement of production processes in terms of technical issues.
Part of the objectives of this training are to improve the efficiency of panela peasant units, generate management tools that lead to projects with technological, economic, ecological and social impact and to upgrade the existing regulations in panela production – a very important issue for the panela producers.
The training will take place in Los Medios village this December. We will get back to you in January with a report on how the activity went, results and resolutions for the upcoming year. Since these families are constantly working to improve the quality of their life, we all appreciate your continuous support to the project. You can make your donation in the right box of the project page, or just by clicking here.
In behalf of the entire team of Interactuar and the families from Los Medios we wish you all a Merry Christmas with your loved ones and a Happy New Year!
Note: ’A new beginning for 61 families in Colombia’ is part of the Together for Colombia crowdfunding campaign that we developed in order to raise awareness on the social and economic reality of this country and involve the international community in changing it to the better. Keep in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or our blog.
The Interactuar team and the families from Los Medios thank you from the heart for your support. The gifts we received have found their destination and are now helping the micro entrepreneurs involved in the project to move forward.
The 71 families that are currently living in Los Medios have organized the community in various committees in order to take care of the good activity of the school, church, nutrition, law, economic and social issues in the village. The production of panela works better and better and thanks to your generous donations, the manufacturers have professional equipment to work in a safe environment and produce a qualitative 100% natural product. The Los Medios community is currently commercializing panela to the Granada market, the closest municipality, increasing the confidence level in the local economic activity. As the production of panela is the main financial resource that brings income to the families in the village, the purpose is to continuously increase the quality of production and extend the distribution market in other municipalities also to contribute to the community development. The focus now is to analyze the current economic situation of the community and to identify new markets and business opportunities to create various income generation sources for these families. The Los Medios community has come a long way thanks to your support. And it can go further with your help.
Note: ’A new beginning for 61 families in Colombia’ is part of the Together for Colombia campaign that we developed in order to raise awareness on the social and economic reality of this country and involve the international community in changing it to the better. Keep in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or our blog.
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