Immersion trip Colombia

A Collibri Foundation delegation and Burundian coffee farmers travelled to Colombia for a week to discover the coffee culture and our education projects. The journey of a lifetime. Read all about it.

On Saturday 25 February, the aeroplane landed at Bogotà where Marcela and Magda of the FNC (Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia) were waiting for the delegation. It was the start of an intensive and extremely instructive trip. The people of Collibri Foundation could see the concrete results of the three projects that had been started in 2004 for themselves. The Burundians went back home with a bag full of experiences they can immediately use in their own country. Armed with sun and mosquito milk, we started our tour at Puente Nacional.

 

The schools

At the Las Delicias school in Puente Nacional, we did a project between 2010 and 2012 focusing on the use of computer programmes to produce coffee in a sustainable way. The international delegation's visit clearly was the event of the year for this community. We were all impressed with the importance attached to our visit. You could feel the whole community's gratitude. All the people here are very proud and feel they have contributed to the success. 

"The two Burundians in charge of training could see how the Colombians worked to keep young people from leaving the countryside. And how they could motivate young people to work in the coffee chain", says Edith of the King Baudouin Foundation. "For the Colombians, it was interesting to hear that their future is actually looking quite good. They were proud to show how they work."

First we visited the Colegio Delicias Sede "D", a satellite school of the Colegio Delicias. The big school established 8 smaller satellite schools to offer all students the opportunity to go to school. In this region, most pupils go to school on foot, so by restricting the distances, much more children can attend school.

At the Colegio Delicias we received an impressive welcome with national folk songs and the flags of the three countries. It was fascinating to see that problems concerning the coffee production are integrated with the maths, physics and chemistry classes using the IT tools from the project. Of course, this is a major advantage for a school mostly children of coffee farmers attend.

"After school, adults can also attend training courses. The Colombians organise education in a very structured way and really want to make progress", observes ambassador Kris.

Two days later, we visited the Florentino González school. Here, Collibri Foundation has been running a project since 2014. Again, we received a heartwarming welcome with a traditional dance by the students. And each member of the international delegation received a gift: a bracelet made by the children and representing the flags of Colombia, Burundi and Belgium, local candy, drawings, photos, local products and of course ... coffee!

Afterwards, we were taken on a tour of the school where we got a demonstration of the use of Google Earth to measure the grounds and the coffee plantation.

"We attended a lesson at the Florentino González school on how to calculate the optimal yield of a coffee plantation by means of Excel and Google Earth", says ambassador Kris. "A striking example of how coffee was the main theme of the trip. You also noticed that the Colombian and Burundian coffee farmers are real soulmates. And they are very interested in each other's approach."

On day 6 we visited the El Bosque school where we started our first education project in Colombia in 2004. We were welcomed by enthusiastic pupils with flags and speeches by the teachers and the principal. Again, it became clear how important the project has been for the coffee farmers community. It really offered a structural solution for young people to flow through to a job in coffee farming by means of goal-oriented education. 

The farms

Apart from the school projects, we also visited a number of farms. On day 2 we visited the farm of Yolanda. We were given a demonstration of the triangle technique, the ideal way to plant young coffee plants. The instructors emphasized that it is very important to grow different plants to have a constant crop all year long. In this region, they grow coffee in the shadow of banana or maize plants. The maize is put between the young coffee plants. Once the coffee plants reach a certain height, the maize is replaced with banana plants. They also grow manioc between the coffee.

Our Burundian friends were amazed by these techniques. It was a concrete example to them of  how they can increase their crops. They learned from the Colombians that growing coffee and other plants on the same surface has no influence on the coffee's taste.

"The Burundians were extremely curious and shot one question after another", ambassador Jonas remembers. "From the talks I could understand that they are going to turn this inspiration into realisations. On the bus rides to other locations, they even laid concrete plans."

On the fifth day of our trip, we visited the farm that is closely connected with the Florentino González school. Together with the pupils, we attended three workshops. In social training, we learned more about the group dynamics. In a second workshop, we set to work with the portable kit of the FNC. It was bought with means of the project and it is used to test the coffee's quality on the spot. In another technical workshop, the toolbox to wash and ferment coffee each youngster receives from the FNC was explained to us.  As a surprise, the Burundian delegation also received such a toolbox.

"The Burundians are facing many challenges", says Jonas. "It will not be easy for them. Yet, I believe in them. They are very determined, you can notice this from their drive and the fire in their eyes when they are talking about coffee." 

From crop to sale

When the coffee beans have been harvested and processed on the farms, they also need to be sold. But first of all, the quality is checked. We have discovered this at the quality laboratory of Socorro. Coffee growers can have a sample of their coffee tested here and receive tips to improve their production. The building also houses a consultancy. We followed two consultations. One about plantation renovation and one on soil treatment. Farmers receive personal coaching and can attend workshops to find a solution to their problem. 

At the end of the trip, we visited Almacafé. This logistic company is an important link in the voyage of coffee beans. It buys coffee from the cooperatives and stores it. A last quality check is carried out here before the coffee is exported to the coffee-roasting plant of Colruyt Group for instance.

Positive energy

During our visit, we noticed that there is a lot of mutual respect, whether you are a farmer, an executive, a child, youngster or adult. In each individual they look for the talent he or she has to help build a better future. This positive energy was contagious.

On the school's wall we read: "Education is the most powerful weapon in the struggle for change". And these three Colombian schools prove it. The young people have faith in the future of coffee farming again, and with the proper coaching, they will make it a success. Apart from positive energy, the Burundian visitors also took loads of inspiration home with them.

"We were an international delegation of 12 people, accompanied by 3 persons from FNC. The people in the group immediately hit it off. The Colombian people also made us 'feel at home'; we felt immensely welcome. As a result, the exchange could really be stimulated", says Dorien of EFICO Foundation. 

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