By Nada Hourie Salman
I came from Lebanon in September of this year and had the incredible opportunity to accompany students and teachers from EARTH University in their daily quest for justice, sustainability and knowledge.
I can say that I returned to my country a different person and with a better view of the world around me.
I want to share with you an example of the admirable work EARTH has carried out in La Florita, a community near the University.
La Florita is a five-year old community where every farmer was granted by the government three hectares of land to manage, cultivate and sustain his or her family.
As part of the program, fifteen years after the initial grant the state will verify that the owner has indeed accomplished what was expected and has managed the farm well. At this point the government will give the owner the title to the property.
EARTH is helping to ensure that the owners are successful and that their farms are sustainable, thereby improving their quality of life.
It does so according to the values and vision cherished by this University which are: social conscience, sustainable development, enhancing the entrepreneurial spirit, and academic excellence.
All of these values are embodied in the actions EARTH takes in La Florita.
Students and teachers visit every farm regularly and listen to the farmers. They try to identify their more urgent needs, find resources, develop solutions and accompany farmers in their daily life.
Among their most successful achievements is the installation of a bio-digester on every farm. A bio-digester is a simple system that costs only $250 to install. Excrement from cows and pigs are mixed with water and enter a polyethylene bag where it ferments for more than 30 days.
After that period, the bio-digestor will start producing biogas, which is collected and used for cooking. The byproduct is also collected and used as an organic fertilizer.
The bio-digesters that are installed in La Florita are producing up to 4 hours of fire from methane per day.
Now, just by installing that bio-digester, life is changed on the farm.
The head of the household on the farm does not have to wake up three hours before her husband to collect wood, burn it and prepare breakfast. There are no smelly and harmful fumes in the living quarters. No pain in collecting and carrying heavy pieces of wood. And the excrement, which was considered a problem turned out to be the solution because all of the odor-producing bacteria decompose inside the polyethylene bag, producing biogas.
There is more time for the head of the family to be productive, to implement projects and plan.
The environment is also benefiting as producers are not cutting trees for fire burning stoves and the methane is burned thus reducing its harmful effects.
As for the social, here is what I think are the major achievements EARTH University has accomplished:
Farmers value the technical and social support of EARTH’s teachers and students. They anticipate EARTH’s regular visits, and are prepared to analyze their situation and rethink their plans.
Through continual dialog, farmers have a clearer idea about their problems; foreseeing upcoming consequences and acting accordingly. Also, the fact that they know that students are not only there to help but also to learn from them boosts their sense of responsibility.
The Institution does not tell them how to manage their farm, but gives them the technical support and the know-how and accompanies them in their different chores. With all these tools at hand, the farmer takes control of his life and that is probably the greatest achievement.
The farmer is motivated and his or her entrepreneurial spirit develops. This positive attitude is beneficial not only in meeting their basic needs, but it also helps to keep them away from other problems like drugs and alcohol. Demonstrating this crystallization of their entrepreneurial spirit and sense of belonging to a community, recently the farmers in La Florita united to build a community center, a playground and a soccer field. They succeeded in implementing this project with help from EARTH, other NGOs, institutions and companies.
On the students:
Students are taught to communicate, listen and respect others. They are also motivated to help. Therefore they become more sensitive to issues facing rural farmers, as well as to issues pertaining to the environment. They are given the tools to become humane entrepreneurs and decision makers for the future.
Their field experience enhances their feeling of belonging to a community, and to a nation. In their community work, they have to apply their moral and ethical values as well as their knowledge. By making the farmers benefit from what they have learned at EARTH they feel fulfilled.
Education and knowledge is the key. Once empowered by knowledge, people are bound to take the right decisions. On the positive side, change is definitely on its way otherwise we wouldn’t have a university like EARTH and movements all around the globe fighting for a sustainable environment.
I for one intend to spread the word around me at the scale I can reach, armed with the knowledge I acquired here at EARTH.