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Agricultural orienation at La Bastilla, an ecofarm in Nicaragua. photos: TAMF
Agricultural orienation at La Bastilla, an ecofarm in Nicaragua. photos: TAMF.
In Nicaragua, Teach A Man To Fish Is Making A Difference

We all want to make a difference. We want inspiration, fulfillment, the knowledge that someone, somewhere has been touched by our interaction. One of the best and most compelling ways to achieve this satisfaction is by volunteering to work with and teach children in a place where education is largely stagnant: the third world. Each year thousands of people volunteer internationally through hundreds of organizations, determined to positively impact the lives of those less fortunate than themselves.

There are dozens of organization that charge these people  thousands of dollars for ‘volunteer vacations’.  Is it worth that much, should I pay to donate my work to an organization? Many people have decided that it’s worth it.  

I am a college student, young and passionate, gripped by desire for exposure and experience. I don’t want a vacation. I don’t want another spring break. I want a purely unique and simple opportunity to help. I want to witness poverty, and commit myself to reversing it. I want to interact with hungry and deprived children, and do my best to clothe and feed them. I ask for nothing in return, why should I be charged for the goodness of my own intentions?

Teach A Man To Fish, or TAMF, is an international, charity-driven organization that works to ensure education for impoverished children in developing nations. They work with preexisting schools to teach students valuable entrepreneurial and technical skills, and create new sources of income. The goal is self-sufficiency; in time all TAMF sponsored schools will educate their students for free.

Volunteering: The Real Deal

A huge part of what TAMF has been able to accomplish is due to collaboration with volunteers.

“People actually make a difference here, that’s why they volunteer,” says Lindsey Crouch, Project Officer at TAMF. “We bring volunteers in for a variety of reasons, almost everyone has a skill or something they can offer to the community. The volunteering is low-cost, and it’s an incredible opportunity in an incredible place. Why not?”

Farm work, passing on the knowledge, is key to Teach a Man to Fish.
Farm work, passing on the knowledge, is key to Teach a Man to Fish.

In Nicaragua, TAMF has partnered with La Bastilla Technical High School in a region where only 20 percent of young people currently attend secondary school. Centered on a coffee plantation in the town of Las Colinas, La Bastilla directs much of its education towards the coffee industry, which provides the areas main economic stimulant. Production at Bastilla began in 2009, and the school is well on its way to becoming self-sufficient. Here, volunteers teach English and entrepreneurial skills, assist with farming, help to develop an eco-tourism program, and assist the capacity of La Bastilla’s seven budding businesses.

Volunteers are expected to cover the cost of their flight, from wherever they depart, as well as contribute 105-115 Euros per week to cover the cost of food and accommodations. A small portion of volunteer’s contributions also goes to directly benefit the school. Although intermediate Spanish is encouraged before volunteering, Spanish lessons can be arranged with local instructors.

Picking Themselves Up By Their Bootstraps

“We support the community so that they become self-sufficient and have a sense of ownership,” says Crouch. “In Nicaragua, the school is centered around the coffee estate and we teach students entrepreneurship through that lens.”

The operators of TAMF strongly believe that education is the solution to poverty. Although TAMF partnered with La Bastilla just three years ago, the school has already made a heavy impact on the community. All seven of TAMF’s entrepreneurial operations in Las Colinas are up and running. Students learn how to manage, budget and maintain at La Bastilla, and then they are asked to implement those concepts in Bastilla’s various businesses.

Rainbow over La Bastilla Farm, Nicaragua. click to enlarge.
Rainbow over La Bastilla Farm, Nicaragua.

Currently, students and volunteers are producing and retailing eggs, dairy, livestock and coffee. The school also maintains a bee farm and a vegetable garden. Soon, TAMF plans to work with La Bastilla to open a bakery and broiler business. The entrepreneurial endeavors at La Bastilla have been met with great success; so much so that TAMF predicts La Bastilla will be fully self-sufficient by 2013.

“We’re almost there,” says Crouch, “Things are running smoothly and the community has really taken to what were trying to accomplish. We’re 60 percent self-sufficient now, and we’d like to expand.”

Perhaps the most valuable resource for La Bastilla students is the on-site Ecolodge. This diamond in the rainforest is a fully operating hotel nestled into the mountains near La Bastilla. Perched at a lofty 1,200 meters, the beautiful and environmentally friendly bungalows here afford guests fabulous panoramic views of the verdant jungle. Camp on the deck for a meager $10 per night, or rent a room from $40 a night.

A product of the partnership between TAMF and La Bastilla, all profits from the Eco-lodge are reinvested into the school and the advancement of the community. Currently, the Ecolodge is La Bastilla’s most profitable endeavor. Students working at the lodge are given an opportunity to apply their newly found entrepreneurial know-how, and the picturesque lodge also gives them a practical glimpse into the fields of hospitality and tourism management.

A Glimpse Into Life On The Farm

Had you been at La Bastilla in February, life would have moved quickly. Students returned from their Christmas holiday on the 6th for a full week of hands on interaction with the on-site coffee plantation. They wouldn’t return to the classroom for seven days, and 17 new students participated alongside volunteers in prepping the initial coffee-growing cycle. Students learned about the life cycle of the coffee plant and received a valuable introduction to the crop that provides a vital economic stimulant to the surrounding regions.

Dinner of volunteers, by candlelight.
Dinner of volunteers, by candlelight.

The classrooms were reintroduced on the 13th, alongside a new itinerary; now students spent the first half of their day in the classroom, and the second half applying their knowledge around the farm. It was time to embark into the first project of the year, an on-campus greenhouse.

Aside from physically erecting the greenhouse, students learned that by building and implementing a greenhouse, crops could grow out of season, which would enable them to take advantage of higher market prices.

While students worked to build the greenhouse, volunteers Harry and Kristy, two accountants from International Development, worked in the classroom to teach basic business skills and rudimentary English. These classes were held mostly for the older students, who quickly caught on to the entrepreneurial concepts.

“The accounting classes started with an introduction to the financial statements and then some basic bookkeeping,” writes Harry. “We even managed to start our case study with the students (aptly named ‘El Chicken Shack’) and so they learnt how they would account for items which they will almost definitely be dealing with in their lifetime. Rachel and Neysi (one of the teachers) are going to continue their accounting tuition and also give the lesson on business which we didn’t have time to do. Also Neysi now has all the material so these classes can continue to be taught to students in the future, which is fantastic.”

Having completed six weeks of business and accounting courses, the students at La Bastilla turned their attention to a new project: El Ruta de Coffee. This government-hatched scheme is an initiative to increase tourism in the mountainous coffee-intensive regions of Northern Nicaragua. The nearby town of Jinotega hosted the event, and students manned a booth promoting both the Ecolodge and the school itself.

Students sold strawberries, cookies and coffee, and conducted interviews with the local media; they even sang the national anthem to kick off the festivities. For the students at La Bastilla, El Ruta de Coffee provided yet another hands on exercise in promoting and developing their businesses.

Cozy hut in the jungle where TAMF volunteers live.
Cozy hut in the jungle where TAMF volunteers live.

The event at Jinotega gave students a glimpse into Nicaragua’s budding tourism industry, which represents 5.8 percent of the GDP, nearly as much as coffee itself. With the Ecolodge in mind, students understood that increased tourism in Northern Nicaragua would directly benefit the school.

TAMF: A Global Sensation

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

This simple and effective slogan has helped spur TAMF into operations around the world. In addition to Nicaragua, Kenya, Uganda, Bolivia, Paraguay and Rwanda have all been touched by the TAMF objective.

Throughout the developing world, TAMF’s effort to help others help themselves is visible through a reduction in poverty and in increase in quality of education. TAMF strives to afford young people in impoverished countries the same opportunities presented to those in the US and Europe.

Indeed, we should all embrace the TAMF mentality; together we could make a difference. People helping people is a powerful idea, and we have the opportunity to make the world a better place.

So buy your plane ticket to Nicaragua, Kenya or Rwanda. Don’t think twice, jump in headfirst and embrace the unknown. By investing yourself in others, you will discover the meaning of compassion and inspiration.

 

Peter Sacco is a former editorial assistant at GoNOMAD.

 

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