Education is the cornerstone to success, progress and knowledge. Globally 75 million people between the ages of 18 – 24 are unemployed. But there is hope.
In a relatively unknown part of the world, the principles and methods of learning have been redefined.
Escuela Agricola San Francisco de Asis, Paraguay. Converted from a monastery into an agricultural college for local campesinos (country folk), it’s a world wide success story.
Low cost education as lifeline
La Escuela’s principles are simple and innovative: Provide quality, low cost education and generate sufficient capital to cover all expenses. The students are all from very poor families and have no access to basic education. This school is a lifeline for them.
In order to offer affordable education, the founders, Fundacion Paraguaya concluded that the school would need to generate its own income. The solution? Dual purpose, small scale, on campus enterprises.
“These small enterprises offer students the opportunity to learn technical and business skills in a hands-on way. This ‘learn by doing and earning’ approach to education means that students graduate with both the technical skills and the business experience they need in order to succeed in responsible jobs in the formal agricultural sector or as self-employed entrepreneurs.”
Three grades, three age groups per grade. Working on a rotational basis. One class spends a week in the field where activities include tending the extensive sugar cane plantation, animal husbandry and organic vegetable production. The other half partakes in a regular academic program. Once a week the kids go on a door to door sales run, as well as set up a beautiful stall at the premier natural goods market in the capital city.
Organic food production, hospitality and management skills
An on-site hotel and conference centre is operated by the students, teaching valuable hospitality and management skills. Agro products include eggs, fresh veg, dairy, meat and sugar cane to name a few. Overall, the school accumulates sufficient capital to cover running costs, and build a pool of investment profit.
Entrepreneurship is a much spoken about concept. A somewhat romantic one at that. However, serious grit and determination is required to follow the path less beaten, and to make a difference in human lives using this engine of growth is an admirable undertaking.
Most developing countries are faced with similar challenges. Indigenous peoples are forced from their tribal lands and their sacred connection with nature is lost. Unfortunately this is often due to bad deals by the government, combined with the lure of big money corporations.
Agricultural colleges needed
In South Africa the ruling party is rigorously punting land expropriation bills as a remedy to this exact situation. It would be more feasible and advisable to focus energy and resources on agricultural colleges in order to prepare the recipients to receive land, armed with management skills and first hand business acumen. If not, it’s comparative to buying your kid a car before they’ve obtained their driver’s license and letting them loose on the N2.
Collectively we’re all required to play our part in ensuring land is managed appropriately. Therefore, transferring vital skills to rural youth is paramount. There are a few South African colleges slowly awakening to the value of the model developed in Paraguay. Private NGOs are nurturing and in some cases providing funding to these schools, but there is a need for it to be ramped up in the face of a country facing severe food security issues.
Although South Africa and Paraguay may be an ocean apart, with vastly differing histories, we can draw a number of comparisons. Poverty alleviation is activated through education and skills transferral. Agriculture impacts on all aspects of human life, therefore, people require access to land and resources to be successful and happy.
Paraguayans are happiest people in the world
And the proof is in the pudding; though poverty is rife and basic services are lacking, in 2014 Paraguayans were indexed as the happiest country in the world with 87% of residents scoring high on a Gallup poll. Most rural people have a few hectares and a roof over their heads. This promotes self-sufficiency and ultimately enables self worth.
Gallup’s Positive and Negative Experience Indexes measure life’s intangibles – the feelings and emotions that traditional economic indicators such as GDP were never intended to capture. Interestingly, the top 10 countries scoring highest on the positivity index were all in South America. These citizens generally have access to land and water. Agriculture is the anchor of the continent.
Still, youth unemployment needs to be addressed. Implementation of agribusiness colleges is a proven solution. Youth education also has to be prioritized in order to create responsible farmers and earth custodians. Collectively, as a concerned world nation, our voices must and will be heard. Because as the saying goes; a rising tide lifts all boats.
Words and photography by Brett Shearer