How Students in Oaxaca Plant Hope

Written by Plant With Purpose on September 3, 2010 in General

By Kate Nare

This weekend, Labor Day weekend, is nostalgic for me. I relive fond memories from my childhood of running around barefoot, going to the pool, and having super-soaker fights with the neighbor hood kids. Basically, I made sure I squeezed every ounce of sunshine and fun out of those last three days of summer. Before I had to go back to school.

Since the school year starts for many kids next Tuesday, I thought I would repost an article by our Grant Writer, Aly Lewis. This entry shows how Plant With Purpose teams up with local schools in Oaxaca to equip teachers to teach sustainable projects that the students can implement at home.

I hope you have a safe and relaxing Labor Day Weekend, and happy reading!

Planting Vision in Oaxaca

by Aly Lewis

Three years ago I visited a small corn-farming community in Northern Nicaragua. Tasked with the assignment of teaching English for a day, I was paraded around chaotic elementary school classrooms while students in smoothed school uniforms—crisp white shirts, navy slacks or skirts, white dress socks hugging skinny brown calves, and black shoes—their dark eyes shining brilliantly in their curious faces, stared back at me.  They looked at me like I was an alien, a goddess, Britney Spears.  How could I teach them English?  How could I teach them anything?  I pleaded with God that I could be helpful, if just for an hour. 

Three years later I had a chance to visit a similar elementary school in Llano de la Canoa, Mexico on a Floresta Vision Trip.  But this time, instead of wondering what I could teach them or how I could be helpful, these students in their smoothed school uniforms—green sweaters, white collared shirts, gray slacks or skirts, white dress socks hugging skinny brown calves, and black shoes—had a few things to teach me. 

The landscape of Llano de la Canoa was speckled with dried, withered cornstalks—evidence of the year’s drought and failed crop.  For the families of the village, who make their living from growing corn and beans, drought and the failed harvests have been nothing short of catastrophic. Deforestation has left their hillsides barren and the land isn’t producing like it used to. Floresta is working with the community to implement projects that will conserve resources, improve family health and nutrition, and increase livelihoods, ultimately giving families a better quality of life. All starting with an unlikely source—the children. 

Through an incredible partnership, Floresta has teamed up with the local school to equip teachers to teach sustainable projects that the students can implement at home. The staff showed us newly constructed ecological latrines that protect the water supply and a small demonstration garden where the students learn how to grow their own food.  They explained how the colorful cistern collects rainwater off of the school’s metal roof, providing a consistent source of water for the school’s garden project and tree nurseries.

But things really got exciting when the students started to actually show us what they’d learned. Beaming with bashful pride, a group of students explained how they collect seeds from pinecones and bring their compost and other materials from home for their tree nursery. They showed us how they create a mixture of compost, soil, and sand, carefully sifting each ingredient through their makeshift sieve before mixing them together in equal parts—a half bottle of sand, a half bottle of compost, and a half bottle of soil.  Then they scooped their new concoction into a small bag and tenderly implanted the seed into its provisional plastic home where it will stay until it grows into a healthy seedling ready to be planted on deforested hillsides. 

Floresta has only been working with the school in Llano de la Canoa since 2008, but the students are already producing 3,000 seedlings a year with a 96% survival rate.  While the rows of almost lime green seedlings offer a tangible testament of the learning that’s taken place, the greater transformation cannot be seen. True to Floresta’s mission and desire to see communities become self-sufficient, the school principal proudly explained how “Floresta is teaching us to how to fish.” He is hopeful that the students will share what they’ve learned with their families, their neighbors, and, one day, their own children. 

I’ve been inundated with planting and gardening analogies, but it really is true that the Oaxacan pine seedlings the kids diligently plant in the small nursery beds are seeds of hope. They’re a sign of change and growth. More than just seedlings and water and vegetables, Floresta is planting a vision for a better future.  A future with less hunger and more trees, less poverty and more prosperity, less despair and more hope. 

And the school was just the first stop on our hopeful journey. That week I met countless families who are working toward this hopeful vision and experiencing the fruits of their labor now. Despite the remarkable success, there is still great need.  These stories of hope are mere markers to point us to the greater transformation yet to come.

Three years ago I visited a poor, rural village and felt hopeless.  I dreamed of doing something, anything, to be helpful.  Today, I can see that on my own I am not that helpful, but as a part of the Floresta family, I have the privilege of joining communities around the world on a much bigger and grander and more meaningful journey of transformation and redemption.

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