Monday, June 21, 2010

All about BALSAMO

So technically we call this project the "BALSAMO" project, but in reality our real partners are the community members in a small county called San Lucas. We are working with four small family group communities (caserios) in this county, which is located in the municipality Cuisnahuat, which is in the Sonsonate department (our equivalent of a state). BALSAMO itself is a micro-credit and agricultural organization working in rural communities here, who we´ve worked with for several years now, mostly utilizing their know-how, their transportation, and their contacts in the community.

We began the summer with some basic needs assessment strategies. Initally we met with BALSAMO to discuss the potential projects they saw a need for in the communities they work with. Our history with BALSAMO mainly consists of square-foot garening projects, so we went into the meeting with this in mind.

Early meeting with BALSAMO staff Rosi, Carlos & Alvaro

Not long after working with and getting to know the BALSAMO staff we were able to go out to the community we decided to work with (San Lucas) and meet a few times with the community leaders to discuss the needs of the general population there.

Meeting Center in caserio Los Conces

Waiting for our first meeting with community leaders

We were able to decide on a few needs to address this year: the high rate of undernutrition for the children of the communities and a limited access to health care facilities.

The back of the truck, often how we get around, even in the rain

To build trust and foster a good partner relationship with the community members we started off our projects with a celebration, inviting all community members to come get to know us, have some delicious arroz con leche, dance, and laugh at us.

Kassandra Bellingham, one of the project leads, dancing with a community member

Our skit about a jealous husband during the inaugral celebration

We´ve began our large-scale intervention for undernutrition through a coordinated family garden project. The goal is to implement square-foot gardens in the home with trainings on well-balanced meals, incorporating fruits and vegetables, and cooking methods in cases where this hasn´t been a usual thing. Most families we visited average one meal a week that has any vegetables, and one meal a month including meat (almost always chicken). A regular day will usually consist of beans and tortillas for all three meals, with rice at lunchtime.

The current status of the project is looking very promising. We´ve surveyed a large percentage of the population and now have a running list of the types of fruits and vegetables they commonly grow and eat there, as well as their understanding of a balanced diet, a healthy lifestyle, and clean water. With this information we plan to organize all the foods that they have and customizing a food pyramid to fit their resources, that way they can learn to vary the foods that they eat, and incorporate the fruits and vegetables that have been lacking, by growing them in their own yard. With river rocks, local soil, sand, and dried plant products, community members are being taught to create a small family garden in a way that can produce great quantities of healthy food year-round.

The past two weeks we spent working in the four caserios doing garden demonstrations. They were great successes, and many community members are interested in having their own family gardens.

The Montes home, where our first garden demonstration was held

Bringing up river rocks for the box around the garden

Building the box

Teaching the right mixture of soil, sand, and plant products

The next phase of the project now begins, visiting the homes of interested community members, building or helping build the gardens on a large scale, and teaching the nutrition basics for an improved nutritional status of the family.

We also are now starting the work on the health access portion of the needs we assessed. Interventions for this problem include disease prevention workshops, a health fair at the local school, and a small pharmacy provided for the community. Stay posted for updates on this amazing project!