Agroecology Center: Sierra Chilaxha'
CCFC's Agroecology Campus is located in the cloud forests of the Sierra Chilaxha', 30 minutes outside of Coban. The primary forest, secondary growth, reforestations and gardens of these mountains are approximately 500 to 800 meters lower than the cloud forests of the neighboring Sierra Xucaneb and Sierra Cacquipec. This lower elevation makes this forest a high conservation priority.
The Chilaxha' forest is the perfect venue for teaching and experiential learning. Thanks to the collaboration of local farm owners, CCFC has access to a host of "outdoor classrooms" and activities. In 2010, 65 young women studied at the Acroecology Campus as part of CCFC's Conservation and Agroecology Leadership Training (CALT) Program. In February and March of 2011, North American student volunteers helped to construct a thatch roofed house that is housing 12 young women during CCFC's first CALT camp of 2012.
In early summer 2012, CCFC began construction on a new 12,950 square-foot Agroecology Learning Center on CCFC's Agroecology Campus. The center's two quetzal-shaped buildings will house CCFC's ever-expanding Conservation and Agroecology Leadership Training (CALT) Program, and we couldn't be more excited about the possibilities this new space holds.
Most importantly, the center will serve as "home-base" for young women participating in CCFC's 25-day CALT camp, which earns them a scholarship to continue their secondary educations. Lofted dormitories will sleep up to 48 young women, who will have a large kitchen and outdoor dining area at their disposal for communal cooking. Nearby, 4 classrooms will be outfitted with chalkboards, desks, and even laptop computers for activities such as teaching these young women about forest conservation, helping them plan more nutrient-rich family gardens, and beginning discussions about their potentials as community leaders. Better yet, the center's location on CCFC's Agroecology Campus provides a multitude of outdoor learning opportunities. From the model sustainable thatch-roof house-complete with solar panel, vegetable gardens, compost systems, sheep and rabbits-to beautiful cloud forests, caves, springs, and Mayan ruins, this campus is the ideal site for empowering young women to promote sustainable living and environmental conservation in their own communities.
With this new center, CCFC is also hoping to make the Conservation and Agroecology Leadership Training (CALT) Program more economically self-sufficient. With this long-term goal in mind, we have planned an industrial-sized processing kitchen in the new center that will provide young women with opportunities to add significant value to their harvests. For example, we plan to teach women to make jam, fruit leather, and fruit juice concentrate from their plums that otherwise spoil during the weeks when the supply of plums in their villages is much greater than the demand. Other promising products include roasted coffee, cardamom, honey, candles, and canned chilies. Alumni of the CALT Program will have access to this processing kitchen year-round, allowing them to put the skills they learn during CALT camp to good use whenever their own village's harvest is ready. The garden surrounding the center will also help CALT become more self-sufficient; in addition to fruit trees and bee hives for the processing kitchen, it will abound with a diverse selection of grains and vegetables to nourish participants during the 25-day camp. With ideas such as these, CCFC hopes to gradually move toward the day when participants profit enough from their own products to pay for their secondary school tuition, eliminating the need for scholarship donations. The goal of successful international development work is always to work ourselves out of a job!
Finally, the new Agroecology Learning Center will include offices, meeting rooms, an assembly hall/worship space, staff quarters, and guest lodging. As much as we here at CCFC hate being cooped up in an office when we're in the gorgeous mountains of Alta Verapaz, having office space and meeting rooms will allow us to work more efficiently, especially given that we'll be right here on the campus. Staff quarters will allow international interns and local program teachers to be more present during CALT camp, and guest lodging will help CCFC to host more service-learning groups. We would love for [YOU!] to come and see what the new Agroecology Learning Center is all about!
Update: On July 25th, we poured the first concrete column for the Agroecology Learning Center! We hope to complete the roof and floor of the larger building by the beginning of CALT camp in October 2012. Over the next year, we'll be seeking the support of donors and volunteers to help us complete the center incrementally, room by room. Donors can sponsor a column, a bunk bed, or even an entire room of the center. Volunteers will be crucial in the construction process, as we'll be cutting down each tree, sawing each board, and raising each wall by hand. Contact us to learn more about service-learning trips, or donate now via Paypal.
The Sierra Chilaxha' is a treasure trove of rare and wonderful bird species. Ocellated Quail (Cyrtonyx ocellatus) have been seen here. The Scaled Antpitta (Grallaria guatimalensis) can been seen foraging in the dense understory.