Wednesday, January 10, 2018

About Zamorano and the use of country systems

I posted this because today World Economic Forum @wef posted a tweet that said "Denmark is building a school where students have to grow their own food". I already saw such a school, way back, in Honduras, in Zamorano.

This is a copy of an informal memo sent to my colleagues Executive Directors at the World Bank in 2004, as extracted from my Voice and Noise of 2006.

About Zamorano and the use of country systems

Dear colleagues,

Traveling in Honduras recently, I heard on the radio the old rock band Enanitos Verdes singing about having to run the risk of getting up, in order to keep on falling, and it reminded me of our recent discussions about “use-of-country-systems” where I gave you my mumbo jumbo about having to let them go, since this is the only way they could learn how to ride a bike. 

I was on my way to visit the agricultural school Zamorano, cajoled (with no major effort needed) by one of its graduates—a friend of ours, Jorge Wong, and little did I know I was heading into true learning-how-to-bike land. The motto of this most amazing school is “learning while doing” and … Boy, do they! Boy, do they learn!

In Zamorano, kids have a school year of 11 months and are rigorously awakened every morning at 5 am—hellish but I tell you that it has been a long time since I’ve seen such a group of enthusiastic, happy, and feeling-good-about-the-future young faces. There are about eight hundred boarding students, of whom more than two hundred are girls. They come from many Latin American countries, from all backgrounds, and any differences are neutralized with education, companionship, and uniforms. 

Along with their formal academic classroom studies, the kids, from seventeen to twenty-three, are taught about every imaginable (and also some you-do-not-want-to-imagine) agricultural and farm chore there is, by being handled full responsibility for doing them. They grow crops, milk cows and in the industrial installations where they produce cheeses, juices, marmalades, sausages, and much more that they sell in Honduran supermarkets, the managers are the students from senior grades and the workers their younger friends. 

And Zamorano goes way beyond teaching knowledge. When I heard some kids explain to me about the biologic pesticides they develop and market all over Central America, could it be to make it the “Green Subcontinent”? It became clear that besides algebra, they must have gotten lectures on confidence building, communication skills, and character formation too.

Although I was told that in the dry season the landscape changes somewhat, El Zamorano as I saw it lay snuggled in a beautiful valley, where it has about 10,000 acres of land and great and functional facilities. This Zamorano seed effort is more than ready for some heavy-duty scaling-up, and they have already started doing so with some interesting and substantial extension programs, reaching out to their neighboring communities. Envying their tremendous educational expertise, I am already on my knees, begging them to branch out into my favorite Central American growth program—you bet, those who know me: educating doctors specialized in geriatric ailments and bilingual nurses, certified by schools and health authorities of developed nations.

In the last couple of weeks we have been reminded of some of Ronald Reagan’s “one-liners” (slogans), among them, “trust but verify.” It is clear that we face serious challenges when monitoring or verifying the results of our projects, but, frankly, after having been in Zamorano, I am convinced that it is exactly in the trusting department where we really are in the backwaters. We need not worry, though. Zamorano was founded three years before the World Bank, and so we still have a chance to catch up. 

Back in D.C., on my radio, Joan Manuel Serrat was singing about Africa—something about the world not letting it go, yet not holding onto it.