Tuesday, November 3, 2009

javier alvarez: a positive outcome

John Estrem, Executive Director of Carmen Pampa Fund, reminded me recently that the success of the UAC-CP shouldn't be measured so much by the outputs (e.g. number of graduates), but by the outcomes--the work of our graduates, for example, and their response to the mission of the College. Of course, with numerous graduates and thesis students spread throughout Bolivia, it's difficult to effectively capture and measure outcomes; it's a tedious task that often requires the sharing of unique and individual stories.

Javier Alvarez, a 2007 UAC-CP Agronomy graduate, is one of many of those stories.

Javier Alvarez in his office in La Asunta in July 2009.

Since April 2007, the 38-year-old Charazani native has worked for ACDI/VOCA--a branch of USAID that supports rural development. Javier is stationed in La Asunta, South Yungas, where ACDI/VOCA is focused on two projects: 1. The implementation of social projects (potable water, bridge and school construction, etc.); and 2. The implementation of productive projects (farmer associations for crops and livestock).

Of the four projects that ACDI/VOCA is currently focused on--plantains, coffee, stevia, and apiculture (bee keeping), Javier is in charge of the latter. The organization's concentration on these four crops was determined after doing a technical study last year that identified the needs and capabilities of local farmers, Javier told me.

"What we do is this," Javier exlained. "we work directly with farming communities in the South Yungas." The process begins with beekeeper training that Javier provides to farmers in rural communities twice a month for 3 or 4 months. "We do the training in the most practical way that we can by coming to farmers in the countryside. As they are older people, and they learn by doing, we concentrate on the practical part more than the theoretical." The workshops also bring farmers on field trips, of sorts, so that they can meet with other beekeepers. "In this way, they learn farmer to farmer--they learn better..they can speak in their own language. And they can learn first-hand whether its worth it, the difficulties, the success, etc."

Javier's ACDI/VOCA project has contracted with FUNDACOM (a honey business owned and operated by UAC-CP graduates in Coroico) to build bee boxes for their training program.

After the basic training program, farmers form associations made up of people who are fully dedicated to the project. "The training allows us to see who has real abilities to implement the program. Some people like it, others don't..so this is how we do the workshops in each community."

"Interested families can receive up to five bee colonies," Javier said. Seeing the look on my face, he anticipated my question before I had the chance to ask. "Why five? Because we did an analysis of the flowers in the sector. We could give each family 10 - 20 colonies, but the bees depend on the flowers for their alimentation..and we decided that the five colonies can be divided in their lots. Fifty columns for one sector is a lot, so we have determined that five is a sustainable number."

When I talked to him in July, Javier was working with six communities (about 90 families, he estimated). "Once the farmers have their product, the idea is that they will be able to work with ARCo (another USAID branch) that has more strength in commercialization. Whether it is ARCo or us, we will help them guarantee a market so that, in the end, they increase their family's income." Javier said the work is a way to help foster economic and social justice for Bolivia's rural poor.

Once he had finished explaining his work, I asked Javier how he interprets the mission of the UAC-CP. He explained that the mission of the College has a lot to do with human formation. "We learn how to transmit our knowledge to the people in the countryside so that they can also develop in the same type of way. More than anything, we are trained to help contribute to rural development. In my case, those of us with this project [UAC-CP at ACDI/VOCA] are working to help farmers implement successful production so that they can improve their income."

"I believe that I am realizing the mission [of the UAC-CP]," Javier told me, pointing to ways in which the College infused him with values of responsibility, honesty, and respect. "These are the values that we need to spread throughout the communities we reach. It is our duty as graduates of the Colege to help community leaders learn these values so that justice exists for people. And by people," Javier continued, "I include women, too, because in the countryside there does exist a problem with the marginalization of women. They are valued very little and that's not good. So, more than anything, our work is to insert the human values we've learned into rural communities. That, for me, is most important."

"Thanks to God, things are going well for me in my work," said the married father of two. "I've earned my place in this world...and I feel good because I think I'm supporting people that really need."

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