I spent the last month of 2014 traveling through Ecuador and had the chance to volunteer at the Rio Muchacho Organic farm for two weeks. Its run by a wonderful family, and was the best place for a permaculture adventure with a small child. There were almost always a number of kids from a few different families playing together all day long. They also run an environmental elementary school for the local children. I “helped” the amazing teachers at the school a couple of days, along with my 2 1/2 year old. Since I speak Spanish pretty well, this mostly consisted of me working on some extra enrichment activities around the local environment, farming, and getting the kids to turn their knowledge of their land into some short stories they wrote themselves.
Nicola and Dario are very humble hosts who have both earned lifetimes of experiential wisdom from their work with permaculture and community development in the area. If you are looking for a getaway and want a place where you can learn more about organic farming in the tropics, or see some permaculture systems that have been in place for 20 years, with a family friendly environment, I recommend you take a trip to see them. The school is always in need of donations and volunteers are welcome. They also seek long term interns for the coming year. If you are handy with building support both financially and in the form of board development, they could definitely use a hand in securing the future of their school programs. One thing I really loved about how they work, is they have each child in the school who is learning about sustainable farming, grow a vegetable garden at the child’s home and tend it for homework. Each year, the child recieves ten new fruit tree species to add to the families homegarden. By the time they graduate, the family has a homegarden with over 100 fruit trees and children who know how to make compost, sow seeds, tend livestock, and expand the sustainable farming to support the nutritional needs of the family. A brilliant way to make broad scale change in a community in the course of a generation.
This is not an easy place to work. Just in the time that I was there, the school children were deprived of basic water to water their school garden, drink during the hot days, and wash their hands, because someone stole the pump that was used to fill their cistern from the river. The farm also lost one of its bee hives to theft during the night. It showed me that people in the community valued what they were doing, so much so they wanted those resources for themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes people just don’t have good options and make poor choices. I ended up donating a new pump to the school, and helping with the cost of securing it from future thefts. More help is always needed. Dario and Nicola fund the salaries of the teachers, and the upkeep of the school through their own work running their farm and courses. In the long term, they really need help getting others involved in creating a foundation of support and other volunteers who can take these responsibilities over from them, and help to address pressing needs that are yet unmet.
Below is a description of the type of lives the kids in their school face, and how their school helps the community that they would like to share. Please see their website to get in touch about helping or volunteering in any way. http://www.riomuchacho.com
This young girl is kind and gentle, like all girls of this age, but her life will change soon. After finishing seventh grade, without your help, she will have few choices other than to leave her family to move to the city in search of a high school to continue her studies.
At 12 years old she isn´t ready to confront the urban world; it´s very likely that she will fail her classes, succumb to the machismo society, and end up pregnant at the age of 13 or 14. It´s possible that she will move back home to her parents´ house, or maybe she will stay in the city and work as a maid.
And her dreams will end there …
This is a lively, intelligent, dynamic boy, filled with potential. His dream is to become an engineer, although he´s not sure what kind, but he´s heard that engineers make a lot of money. If he was studying in a school with funding, he might not have this attitude or this dream. In Ecuador, government schools don´t have the prestige of being of high quality. It´s likely that when he moves to the city, he will live in the suburbs working as a servant, trying to survive with illegal activities, and will likely end up being a marginalized citizen.
And his dreams will end there…
With your help, Rio Muchacho can continue to make a difference in these children’s lives. Your support can change lives. Since this boy and girl are lucky enough to be studying at the most famous and recognized school in the region, the Rio Muchacho Environmental primary school, they have a chance of becoming respected professionals, of changing the face of their community and their country. We hope with the experiences they are getting at the farm, they will go on to get a degree in something related to agroecology, forestry, or environmental stewardship.
We are always needing help to maintain a solid team of educators to teach a curriculum of applied and practical ecology, to try to give these children a quality education. The vision of the school is to create an environmental mentality in the children so that they have the capacity to a) not move to the city, b) have a better quality of life than in the city, c) be prepared to teach adults.
We need financial support and volunteers to help us build a strong board who can help us assure the school´s sustainability; it receives support from neither the government nor any organization. The farm sustains the school with an annual investment of $15,000, the majority of which is to pay the 2 professors that tend to some 40 children from this community and others close by.
Why do we maintain a school for the community? Local agriculture is very harsh on the environment, and typically, farmers here employ toxic agriculture practices that are detrimental to the health of the people and the soil. Since 1989, Rio Muchacho Organic Farm has tried to spread the acceptance of organic production methods, but it wasn´t possible due to the overwhelming influence of the commercial chemical system, and the disappearance of traditional agriculture. Local farmers don´t plant crops to eat, but rather, they plant crops to sell, and with that money they are able to buy food in town. This type of food has more contamination, as well as inorganic packaging which ends up as garbage in the community.
This was the reason that we thought to have these children grow up with a background in ecology. With the consent and participation of the community, construction of the Environmental School began in 1993. With the help of volunteers, the Environmental Curriculum was organized, with local, practical, and applied contents, and a vision of using agroecology to promote ¨Sustainable Prosperity¨ (We do not aim for development, but rather, prosperity).
Productive Projects are practical exercises performed by the students in their houses to apply what they´ve learned from the organic farm in the Environmental School. Each student from the fifth grade must replicate in his/her home a banana circle associated with coffee, cacao, and fruit trees, and they must organize an area of permaculture with 22 edible plants associated with passion fruit (whose cultivation is dedicated to exportation). This permaculture model is known as M-22, where there is a large production of food for the use of the family and for feeding the animals, as well as products to sell at the market.
Our STORY: In 1992, in the Rio Muchacho community in the province of Manabí, Ecuador, there was a serious problem with education and many children didn´t go to school. This is a community of 300 people, spread out over an area of 12km next to the river in the Rio Muchacho valley. The closest city, a touristy beach town called Canoa, is about 16km away and is connected to the community by a rough dirt road.
The location of the school is rich with biodiversity due to the merging of two contrasting ecosystems – the rainforest and the tropical dry forest. This is a prosperous place to farm and make a living, as well as a beautiful place to live in contact with nature. The montubios are members of the ethnic group that live in the interior zone of the coast, and there´s no doubt that their homeland is rich in fertility and beauty.
UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE SCHOOL: the use of dry composting toilets, banana circles, a garden, classrooms constructed with local materials (bamboo, tagua palm leaves); the furniture is designed and constructed by a local carpenter. In addition, the school employs the Montessori Method, including education in human values and yoga practice before class; maintenance work of the school is performed by the students and, taking advantage of volunteers from all over the world, they learn diverse subject matters such as English, theater, yoga, environmental art, conflict resolution, etc.
ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION SYSTEM: Each year, around 35 children from the community and others close by travel by horse for 1-2 hours to get to the school. Classes are held Monday-Friday, from 7:30-12:30; the high school includes Saturday mornings. The school has become famous in the region, and is known for the quality of preparation the students receive, on the basis on an alternative education:
• Love, affection, and contact are the basis of understanding between teachers and students.
• We have students from preschool (4 years old) through primary school (up to 12 years old)
• We use the Montessori Method for a sensory education
• The first class in the morning is Olympic sports
• Next is balance, relaxation, and harmony exercises, as well as yoga and meditation in the light
• Stories, songs, and practice of human values (1 value every 2 weeks)
• Open classrooms surrounded by vegetation
• 30 minute classes for each subject. Copying is not allowed.
• 4 directed activities: non-competitive sports, mattress, legos, and traditional dance
• Library: 30 minute reading daily, older students read to the younger ones
• Daily research: TV cable with applied materials: drawing, writing, spelling (this resource was broken and awaiting repair in 2014)
• Weekly research: (no internet in 2014) with applied materials
• Wednesdays: on the farm, practicing responsible agriculture, agroecology in action
• Applied grammar: 10 words from the dictionary, with a sentence for each
• Environmental math: solving problems with compost bathrooms, banana circles, animal compost, consumption and recycling of water, food production
• Seed guardians: edible fruits, planted seeds
• Reforestation: production of fruit, medicinal, and forest trees
• Nutritional sovereignty: 10 fruit trees per year per child, or per farm
• Permaculture: vegetable beds, banana circles with coffee and cacao for every family
• The children learn to use composting toilets
• Connecting water used in the kitchen to the banana circles
• Monthly fieldtrips for explanation and observation, 10 each year
• Productive projects: associated farming, Creole chickens, honey, guinea pigs, humus
The dream is that with broader support, we will be able to achieve our dream of a community school that due to the richness of this education center, the students leave gifted with extraordinary skills and stand out because of their vivacity and quality. The school is a work of eco-architecture and an example of self-management in which the community worked to create its own resources, with environmental and agro-ecological ideals, and a varied curriculum enriched with global flavors. The school is an educational oasis within the means of the area and an invaluable opportunity for the children.
CURRENTLY the school has children between 4-12 years old, and 2 professors. The school is state-accredited, which does not mean that the state finances it. Due to the fact that it is in a rural zone with a poor economy, the parents are unable to pay the fees that a school requires. Instead, their participation is in the form of handwork and maintenance, and occasional self-management activities; the school is sustained thanks to the support of a 10% tax on tourism to Rio Muchacho Organic Farm. Sometimes this situation can be risky due to the lack of tourists and funds to pay the basic expenses of the school. The recession has had a toll on our ability to cover basic costs so we are now seeking broader support to remedy this situation.