Going Deeper: Reflections on Work Learning Experiences in Central America

New at FRB this year were “work learning” experiences designed to combine North American enthusiasm for “doing” with an opportunity to experience overseas community leadership in action.  Local hosts directed our work and opened our eyes to new aspects of daily life we rarely think of in the U.S.

Transportation: Vans make transportation to cities easy but getting from cities to rural work sites is another matter; people and supplies jostled in the backs of pickup trucks. Road conditions, construction and/or aging vehicles sometimes meant walking the last hour or more up and down steep mountain trails.  A partner staff member always took the lead, for which I was especially grateful the morning he chased a coral snake off the path.

Food:  Program activities in some communities mean families no longer need money to be delivered in advance to buy food for guests but can be paid after the meal.  One mother of 4, on less than an hour’s notice and living several hours from a store, prepared a delicious meal of eggs, rice, and tortillas for 20 people, then sent her son fishing so that she could serve fresh trout to the three staying in her home overnight.

Water:  We carried our drinking water with us.  In one area, families each had a water filter that they began using after seeing the results of water quality tests on their springs and wells. However, if they used that supply to cook for us, there would be nothing left for family consumption. This meant our partner staff took turns carrying a five-gallon jerry can on their shoulders as we trekked to some communities.

Work: Mixing compost, using hand tools, wiring rebar into needed shapes and mixing cement by hand, we struggled to help in the construction of greenhouses and a training center. It was easier to play with the delightful children that surrounded us.  Regardless of age, North American stamina was no match for that of local people even in the routine tasks of daily living, such as pounding rice and grinding corn.

Memories:  Relationships are remembered long after the blisters and aches have gone. Those apprehensive about spending a night with a farm family over night now remember that stay as the highlight of the trip.  Women residents of the land bank were thrilled to have their stories recorded: “Usually people who come are more interested in the work.” What a delight it was to see our construction supervisor and a visiting farmer communicate without language, and to learn “You work slower than the last group - but we do not need to redo as much.” Morning sessions on culture included a description of the Mayan calendar as concentric circles of the person, agriculture and time.  A recent archeological discovery explains this in more detail:  http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/10/11639788-maya-calendar-workshop-documents-time-beyond-2012?lite

A seasoned Foods Resource Bank traveler described the weeklong experience in a single community as “going deeper,” with a chance to better understand and appreciate people in their contexts. Too, the quiet mornings of glorious skies, majestic mountains, sparkling dew, soft moist earth in my hands and sounds in a language my tongue can’t roll into filled me anew with awe for the Creator of this majesty and all of humanity in his image. Celebrating that is worthy of my best service, whatever that may be – even making compost!


by Bev Abma, FRB’s Executive Director of Overseas Programming

05/25/2012 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment