Getting to know the multiple facets of the Fundación Paraguaya has been exciting. This is especially the case when I got to be one of the first two interns to visit their newest undertaking: the escuela agrícola (agricultural school) in Belén, Paraguay.
This is the youngest out of three agricultural schools operated by the Fundación Paraguaya; it is part of the Fundación’s family as of July 2010. Most students attending these agricultural schools come from poor underprivileged families. Many of the students at Belén work for agriculture cooperatives, but want to improve their position in the cooperative and thus attend the escuela. Previously, SOS Kinderdorf, an organization most known for its dedication to creating a safe space for orphaned children, funded the school. However, the renewal of financial support tended to be uncertain, like for many NGOs. Thus, one of the goals of the Fundación is to make this school in Belén financially self-sufficient, following the model of their agricultural school San Francisco de Asis in Cerrito, Paraguay.
The Fundación has many plans for the improvement of the escuela. Currently, Belén is a post-high school vocational school, where the students between the ages of 18 and 25 learn about horticulture, fruit growing, agriculture, animal husbandry etc., as well as continue studying mathematics and language. But, with the Fundación Paraguaya now in charge of the school, there have been significant changes (and more to come). I spoke to one of the students, Fidelino, who saw a dramatic shift a month ago. Fidelino told me that prior to the Fundación taking over their school, they did not have Computer Science classes. Now, the students are learning how to use a computer and surf the Internet. One might ask: how important is IT to students at an agricultural school in Paraguay? Simple: Fundación Paraguaya does not want the students to simply graduate with a vocational degree but to also learn how to be rural entrepreneurs. IT classes are just the first step!
The Fundación Paraguaya is a versatile NGO that has a microfinance department, agricultural schools, a Junior Achievement program and more. These different departments do not just work separately, but there is some cooperation between the agricultural schools with the microfinance department through a new project in work: microfranchising. But more on that on my next update!
Afterthought: how would you explain the vast world of the Internet to people who have never really used the Internet? Anyone have best practices to share?