Cultivating beans for brains

A coffee grove in central Antioquia.

“When you have a good teacher, you can transform,” candidly states Sergio Fajardo, the ex math professor turned governor of Antioquia, and the leader of the aspirational “Antioquia, la más educada” (Antioquia, the most educated) campaign.

Fajardo’s project aims to renovate Antioquia and problem solve, key social issues which affect the department such as inequality, violence and corruption, through strengthening its educational platforms. The government therefore, approved and will begin construction of so-called Parques Educativos (Educational Parks) in public spaces most affected by violence. They will serve as symbols of change and provide communities with a safe place in which to unite and learn. “Educational Parks are a messageof hope,” says the governor addressing the people of Uramita, where a park is currently being built.

Building beautiful buildings and offering cultural, recreational and educational lessons, free of charge, will give dignity to the poor and allow them a space to have limitless dreams for their future. Each building is designed according to the town’s spirit and personality, capturing the essence and traditions of a specific place. More importantly, a town must earn its parque; as it is not a handout from the government. A mayor must submit a proposal as to why their particular town deserves an Educational Park and what they plan to do with it in order to help their community improve. So far, 80 Parques Educativos across Antioquia have been approved, four of which have already been completed and opened to the public: Vigía del Fuerte, Támesis, Titiribí, and Tarso. One student from Támesis, Paula Castañeda, asserts that the Educational municipalities, opens many opportunities for all and prevents students having to go to other towns to improve their quality of life.”

This initiative has reached the ears of international support groups. Doris Sommer, director of Cultural Agents Initiative of the Department of Literature and Romance Languages at Harvard University, has found that “the Educational Parks are an opportunity to install a new way of teaching through exploration and experimentation.” A new learning technique called Pre-texts will soon be offered at the parks. This methodology – already used to train teachers at Harvard University – aims to stimulate interest in the reading of complex texts with the in- tention for the student to interpret and fully understand them using fun and in- novative techniques. The first workshop at the Titiribí Educational Park has already been completed, when 25 teachers attended a training course.

It’s not just education that Fajardo is passionate about; he is also an avid fan of Colombia’s coffee culture. Wanting to use the national pride of Colombia, Fajardo, with the help of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, FNC), created the Antioquia: Origen de Cafés Especiales project. This project looks to boost the quality of coffee in the region with an Antioquia-grown special variety. The coffee will ultimately encompass and recognize the traditions and landscapes of the origins of the coffee, adding an important positive feature to a final cup. Furthermore, it will give farmers the chance to increase their profits due to the superior coffee they are growing.

The Parques Educativos will provide the space in which instructive classes regarding the coffee process will be given to farmers of all ages. Lessons include training in science and technology and new farming methods, technical support to ensure the quality of coffee production, and courses on how to improve the process of planting and harvesting, the importance of soil types and how best deal with climate change. Jose Ortiz, a farmer and community leader in the village of San Luís, believes “the Educational Park is one of the best things that has happened to our town, because we see an opportunity to improve our quality of life.”

The production of a specialty coffee has the potential to further develop Antioquia by creating new job opportunities in areas such as marketing, research, quality control, testing and eco-tourism. In this regard, Luis Fernando Samper of the FNC claims: “Our alliance with the government of Antioquia allows us to expand our efforts and reach more growers than before. This fits into our regional ‘Denomination of Origin’ strategy communicating the diversity and the expanding promise of Colombia’s specialty coffee portfolio.”

“Transformation is our political project,” states Fajardo of the support he has received from all levels of government, the FNC and especially local businesses trying to promote their specialty coffee. The governor also sees educational transformation as essential in turning around communities, ensuring peace and better skills, for generations to come; even if this means powering brains with beans.




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