Bounty of farming brought to El Salvador
The hillsides surrounding 18-year-old Selena Marisol’s home in El Espino, El Salvador, are covered in corn planted by her family.
Although her parents and grandparents plant, weed and gather the corn by hand, Selena knew nothing about vegetable cultivation before starting a small garden this year with other students who are part of the Grand Junction-based Foundation for Cultural Exchange’s scholarship program.
Seven American delegates, including five Grand Valley residents, visited the huerta casera, or home garden, Saturday in Grand Junction’s sister city.
The small, steep plot lies on land owned by Selena’s family and contains cucumber, radishes, onions, green peppers, yucca, beans and pineapple. Mango trees, coffee plants and stray corn stalks surround the garden, which Selena waters by hand each afternoon and in which the 10 scholarship students work together every Sunday.
“Growing vegetables is a way for us to take care of the environment and eat more healthily,” said Saul Guadalupe, 18. “It also helps us financially, not having to buy all the food we eat.”
The Foundation for Cultural Exchange supports 23 high school and college scholarship students in and around El Espino through donation commitments made by more than 30 individuals and organizations, the majority of which are from the Grand Valley.
Three of the delegates currently visiting El Salvador are also sponsors and have had the opportunity on this trip to meet their students.
In addition to attending monthly meetings and corresponding regularly with their U.S.-based sponsors, scholarship students are each required to participate in a community service project. The Healthy Vegetables Home Garden is the newest addition to the community service program, which also includes a water filter project and leadership workshops.
“This is a scholarship program, not a scholarship fund, because our students are acquiring life skills, not just collecting a check,” said Anna Stout, Foundation for Cultural Exchange president.
The idea behind the Healthy Vegetables Home Garden came from the students themselves.
“None of us had ever done anything like this,” said Eliza Yamileth, 18.
Together, the 10 scholarship students put together a project proposal and a budget, and bought $20 worth of seeds with their own money.
Their plan is to sell the vegetables they don’t take home, then put whatever money they make back into the scholarship program.
“Our goal, our idea is to have a bigger plot to share and some of us also want to have small plots at our homes,” Selena said. “We really hope it bears a lot of fruit.”
The American delegates ended their fourth day in El Salvador by experiencing one of the scholarship program’s monthly meetings.
The small patio of second-year university student Jonathan Josue’s house was replete with plastic lawn chairs, where students, guardians and delegates spent a hot, humid afternoon, strengthening the new relationships that have budded in a matter of days and will continue developing throughout the trip.