On Thursday I traveled an hour out of Asuncion, Paraguay to a small town called Cerrito where I spent the day learning about Fundacion Paraguaya's financially self-sufficient school. Since we are developing V3 of the Ushahidi platform with Fundacion Paraguaya as a partner and deployer of the product, I wanted to get a stronger understanding of all their initiatives to understand their technology needs and how we can help the most.
There are about 150 enrolled students in the school, ages 15-19, who study the core subjects (math, science, history, Spanish, English, etc.) but who also get an in depth education in vocational topics such as agriculture, hotel management (hospitality), and culinary arts. In addition to vast amounts of farmland, the campus boasts dorms, offices, outdoor gathering areas, banquet halls, a large kitchen, a canteen, and even comfortable lodging for 150+ visitors.
The students rotate through the various vocational tracks their first two years and select an area of concentration in the third year. The students are also immersed in entrepreneurial classes where they learn how to run a small business. When I asked about some of the difficulties the organization faces in running the school, one of the directors said, "There are challenges. You're dealing with teenagers. Also, pigs die, chickens die, crops rot. But these are real world problems and these kids get to experience them in a safe, controlled environment."
Many of the students at the school are children of Fundacion Paraguaya's micro finance clients. In most instances, the kids do not have access to proper education in their villages, and come to the Escuela Agricola San Francisco for an opportunity to escape long term poverty.
I spent the day walking around the 97 acre campus, interacting with and watching students garden, care for chickens, wash pig pens, and lay traps for insects. The harvest vegetables, and spend equal time in the classroom and in the field learning the ins and outs of sustainable farming, from crop rotation techniques to environmentally friendly fertilizer recipes.
The students sell the fruits of their labor every Tuesday in an Asuncion market, learning how to price items and balance accounts, in addition to gleaning sales skills. Upon returning from the city they analyze the day's sales, delving into market trends based on seasonality. The students also gain several other marketable skills in this endeavor around sales, communication, and confidence.
Like this, the school generates its own revenue through product sales and lodging/hotel facilities. I was lucky enough to have lunch on campus, a meal that was entirely comprised of foods from the school, including a delicious cheese cake with honey for dessert.
Fundacion Paraguaya recently introduced a computer science program and the organization is excited to involve interested students in the Ushahidi deployment. Students are already eagerly pursuing engineering projects on campus, such building chicken feeders and solar powered grills for cooking.
I was personally very excited about the school as I am a strong proponent of practical, sustainable education. "One size fits all" doesn't work when it comes to growing and developing young minds. Fundacion Paraguaya has recognized a void in their community and is tailoring education to best meet those needs. The graduates from Escuela Agricola go on to pursue a variety of professional paths, from attending university to opening small businesses back in their hometown. Fundacion Paraguaya has expanded this self-sufficient school model to Tanzania and is eager to spread the methodology to any region that needs it. Students flock to Escuela Agricola from not only neighboring countries, but from as far as Haiti. With the growing demand, they've opened two more schools in Paraguay and continue to inch closer and closer to their goal of tackling poverty from all sides.