Thursday, December 8, 2011

Farmer to Farmer Volunteer Works with Colombian Youth

On December 2nd, the Farmer to Farmer team sent our first Colombian-bound volunteer to the rural community of Anaime, located in the central-western department of Tolima. John Rushing of Cary, North Carolina is working with la Fundación Colombianos Apoyando Colombianos (Colombians Helping Colombians Foundation), an organization designed and coordinated by Partners of the Americas with the mission of improving the quality of life of Tolima’s citizens and helping provide employment and income-generating opportunities. A specialist in food technology and dairy processing, John is working with a group of youth in Anaime to assist them with a small dairy production enterprise that they have initiated through Colombianos Apoyando Colombianos. The group plans to focus on products including condensed milk, arequipe (dulce de leche), cheese and yogurt.

Students in the processing room in Anaime.
When John met with the youth for the first time, he found that their biggest challenge is limited facilities, and that the facilities they have access to do not meet proper sanitary standards. This restricts them to an informal market. On a positive note though, the local mayor has offered a location for construction of an improved processing plant. John was able to meet with the students to begin the initial phase of the new facility by providing detailed plans and a budget, and discussing the basics of dairy processing technology. He also worked with the youth on basic product development and marketing issues.

John has also gained valuable cultural experiences. Many of the students participating in the project were graduating from high school and John was able to participate in the graduation activities and parties. And he was also in Colombia for Día de las Velitas - Day of the Little Candles - which Catholic Colombians celebrate by placing candles and paper lanterns everywhere. He had some comical experiences, including trying to ask for a hand towel in Spanish and instead he was given everything but that: hand-soap, hand-cream and more. Finally, after just taking his shirt and performing the action of drying his hands did the store clerk understand what he was asking for.

As John's trip comes to a close, there are many follow-up activities planned and the Farmer to Farmer Program hopes to continue to support the work in Tolima and elsewhere in Colombia.

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