By Alba Castillo, KF 16, Paraguay

 Before this month, I had never ran an organized race. But when I heard of Fundación Paraguaya’s (FP) 5K to celebrate their new initiative in Tanzania, I was in! Yes, I said Tanzania – over 6,000 miles away from FP’s headquarters in Asunción. I will go into more detail about this great venture in a bit. But first, back to the 5K.

The race took place at FP’s financially self-sufficient and award-winning San Francisco Agricultural School, a.k.a. Cerrito, for the Low Chaco town it is located in.

Cerrito's store is strategically located along the side of the highway.

After a 2 hour bus ride, the Cerrito campus is just a short (1k or .6 mile) walk away.

The night before the race, two friends from the office and I stayed in the hotel located on Cerrito’s campus. After a combination of bus-riding and a little walking, we arrived at our destination. And while our room was getting set-up we toured the campus, talked to some students, saw a few farm animals, and admired well-tended herb and vegetable gardens. Since it was Sunday, we were only able to peek into the facilities where students process milk, yogurt, a variety of cheeses, and the ever-present dulce de leche.

Cerrito is committed to 100% organic products for the benefit of our health and of the environment.

A beautiful Chaco sunset.

Cerrito is a co-ed agricultural boarding school for students between the ages of 15-21 who come from poor farming families. Its curriculum integrates the usual high school subjects with the running of small-scale, on-campus agricultural businesses. These businesses also generate enough income to cover all of the school’s operating costs. This combination of academic and practical instruction helps students develop technical and entrepreneurial skills that will greatly increase the chances of a successful and stable financial future for themselves and their families. It can’t be overlooked that even the hotel serves as a type of ‘classroom’ where students can learn inter-personal and customer service skills, as well as catering and rural hotel management.

Cerrito students also sell their products in Asunción's weekly farmer's market.

The morning of the race was clear and sunny and charged with lots of positive energy. It was nice to spend time with employees from many different branches and with their families in such a relaxed atmosphere. We all picked up our respective t-shirt (yours truly was in the Leopardo group), stretched our limbs, and we were off!

Ready to go! Here with Kristen, Laura, Luis (KC), and Nancy (previous KC).

Queue the Rocky music.

You have got to be asking yourself: how does all this connect back to Tanzania? Well, with the help of FP’s sister institution, Teach a Man to Fish, the model used in Cerrito and 3 other agricultural schools run by Fundación Paraguaya will be replicated in 25 rural and semi-rural schools in Tanzania over the next 5 years.

To begin with, the “SEGA Girls School” in Morogoro, which works with adolescent girls from marginalized groups, will replicate FP’s model used in the Mbaracayú School for Girls. In addition, the co-ed “Njombe Vocational Training Centre” in Njombe, which works with rural youth, will replicate the model used in the San Pedro Agricultural School. More schools will be selected in the coming months.

Fundación Paraguaya’s Tanzania office, located in Morogoro, about 120 miles west of Dar es Salaam, opened its doors October 4th. While FP will be operating out of Tanzania, it will also work with institutions in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda.

This type of collaboration is not the norm as far as development aid is concerned. And it is an example of the South-South cooperation emerging throughout the developing world that challenges the “traditional” North-South donor-recipient relationship. What makes this collaboration even more unique is the absence of direct government involvement that would raise questions about ulterior motives and diplomatic interests. The questions of accountability and social performance measures, however, should always remain.

The longer I’m on the field, the more I realize that when it comes to poverty elimination (or even alleviation) and development there simply is no “silver bullet”. And granted, Paraguay and Tanzania have different histories and different cultures. But Fundación Paraguaya is implementing a well thought-out combination of tools that seem to be making a difference. Only time will tell the long-term impact of the financially self-sufficient agricultural school model and its mix of academic, technical, and entrepreneurial instruction. My hope, of course, is for this approach to have a lasting positive impact that benefits not only the participating students, but their families, communities, and countries for generations to come. Only time will tell.

Alba is a Kiva Fellow working with Fundación Paraguaya in Asunción.  To learn more about this great organization please visit Fundación Paraguaya’s partner page, or join their lending team. New loan profiles for the month of November are already up and fundraising! Check them out and lend to one, or two, or more of their dedicated borrowers.


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