June 29, 2011

Potential Board Members and Short History of ADE

Written by Leigh Anne Coble
This Saturday, the ADE staff invited potential board members to visit Vara Blanca and come together for fellowship, discussion, and a hot lunch at the restaurant Arco Iris.  Not including the five permanent staff members of ADE, the three summer interns and five students from the high school, there were eleven people, some who drove up to the small town all the way from San José, about an hour away in car.  Potential members included a woman who recently presented at the local church about the church’s role before a natural disaster, a man who lent a van to ADE for the past 2 years, and many others. 

After everyone was pleasantly full and sipping coffee, Tomás Dozier opened the discussion by introducing himself, describing his position with ADE, and his favorite animal and why.  Each person followed suit, favorite animals ranging from an eagle to a jaguar to Kiku, Ben and Frances’ small dog.  Chelsea explained how we can use our favorite animal as inspiration, as a way to see the qualities we admire in an animal, whether majesty or intelligence or grace and challenge ourselves to develop this in our lives.  When everyone had spoken, Tomás invited Eric, the restaurant manager and host of the lunch, to introduce himself.  The kind man stood and expressed his pleasure to provide a meeting place, and moved everyone with a story about his favorite animal, the anteater.  He described how these funny, long-nosed creatures come together in a band to miraculously fight off snakes.  “It’s incredible friends, what we can do together,” he told us, his face revealing his sincerity and his desire for the group to succeed.  Then, alluding to the Bible, he assured us that together we can move mountains, and the informational meeting began.

Tomás presented the vision of ADE, telling about his own personal story connecting him to this community where he grew up.  After the Cinchona earthquake of January 2009 struck Vara Blanca and the surrounding areas, Tomás felt that God was calling him and his family to leave their plans in Pennsylvania and come to work with the neighbors he had as a boy.  Chelsea shared that in January 2009, two weeks prior to a Natural Disaster and Mitigation class that Tomas was taking at Eastern University, the earthquake struck, leaving him and his family to ponder on this coincidence to return to the community; Tomas's professor and class in fact came down in April 2009 to do a practical investigation which they gave to the government. Tomás then explained how ADE started to form summer of 2009 (Their son created the name ADE.) They wanted it to focus on education and created a term of zero down model, emphasizing that development can be started with the creative and joint efforts in the community without outside funding. Although some of the sustainable projects may serve a globalized community, the effort and work are in the community. Tomas and his family came down to Costa Rica September of 2009 and worked with locals trying to find sustainble ways to support themselves while opening a high school. ADE staff slowly started to form. A neighbor allowed Tomas and Chelsea the use of an abandoned house to start school and a kind Korean businessman donated a van for them to use. ADE finds its strength working and creating sustainable projects within the community using the resources that are already here. (The most important resource being people.) He stressed the importance of trying to have a model in which others may do the same to respond to other areas using the zero down model.  He  further emphasized that ADE is striving to work with the community and the great hope it has, in particular for the students that are at the point of graduating who will be future leaders. 

In the past two years that the organization has been in existence, they have hosted several internships and academic groups, the most recent being the Tropical Agriculture and Mission class that came for two weeks at the end of June.  ADE has also founded an international board, a bilingual school, has reached out to local businesses, and is now forming a board in order to be recognized as a legal organization.  The staff plans to continue to work with the local community to also serve a glocal (global, local) community.  The guests seemed interested in the vision of ADE and asked several questions about the nature of the board and the future of the school.  Tomás, Frances and Chelsea then took them to visit el salón, the community center, that has been offered to ADE as a classroom for grades seven through nine, as well as a senior class.  Two students shared about what the high school has meant for them, saying that they would not be studying if the school did not exist. Gabi, an eighth grader, shared that she continues to work on only on weekends and commented how the math that she has been learning at school has helped her at work.  Ninth grader Fabian shared that he still does not know what he wants to study in college.  For all of the students, they are the first in their families to go to high school and hopefully onto college.  Tomás ended the time sharing about the plans that ADE has with the community's Board of Development to seek grants in Costa Rica to remodel the community center.  Everyone walked out together with Tomás' last words lingering in the air, asking everyone to spend time to consider being a part of the organization.

June 17, 2011

Let the extracurriculars begin!

Written by LeighAnne Coble
This week, was a whirlwind of reading stories, studying together, and creating poems.  Here is the ADE high school schedule for extracurricular classes:

Monday: Creative Writing (led by intern Leigh Anne)
Wednesday: Tutoring
Thursday: Spoken-word poetry (led by intern Angeley)
Friday: Soccer

D presents her poem

To kick off the week, creative writing class opened with a five-minute free write, which brought out several interesting ideas.  In such a short amount of time, Jeanca wrote a story with eggs and dragons and other fascinating things out of his imagination (and maybe with a little inspiration from Harry Potter as well.)  Even the free writes that began with "I don't know what to write," opened up into something more creative towards the end of the exercise.  Then the class broke into small groups to read ethnic short stories aloud (Japanese, Celtic, Scandinavian, etc.), and gave a presentation about the summary, their favorite part, and what made the story creative.

On Wednesday, tutoring began with a quiz (you can imagine the groans that this elicited,) for each student to understand their learning type: visual, auditory, kinesthetic.  Frances gave suggestions for each learning type to play to his/her strength, offering study techniques like walking around reading the text for kinesthetic learners or reading the text aloud for auditory learners.  Then they broke into groups to study different subjects for the remainder of the hour.

The students write positive words on each other's posters.

In spoken-word poetry on Thursday, Angeley began by taping up posters with the outline of a face and labeled with everyone's name.  As we all ran around writing positive words like "especial," "amable," and "inteligente" on each poster, we began to better understand the power of language.  After five minutes, Angeley called us back to the center of the room, asking us to find our own poster and write kind words about ourselves to self-reflect and build self-esteem.  All of us stood, our face looking into  our poster face, beginning to realize not only the good others see in us but also the good we see in ourselves.  Then, we used the words on our posters to form a poem, and several brave souls read theirs aloud to the class.  At the request of the students, Angeley agreed to recite her fast-beat rhythmic poem, blending cultures and mixing Spanish and English (check it out on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/ADE/240241896862?ref=ts).  The students left class with posters in hand and phrases from Angeley's poem, like "Arroz con todo," and "multi-cultured, multi-faceted diva" echoing pleasantly in their ears.

And today is a favorite extracurricular among the students... fútbol!  Looking back on the time we spent on extracurricular classes, week one feels very much like a success.

  Showing their "faces" of kind words.

June 9, 2011

Tropical Agriculture and Mission Class

Written by Leigh Anne Coble
For three weeks, the TAM (Tropical Agriculture and Mission) class was led by Dr. Unander into the strawberry fields of local farmers, up to the top of volcanoes, and into the ADE classroom to share and learn. Not only did these U.S. students learn first-hand about local agriculture, but they also had the opportunity to travel for three days to the beach, the selva, and all around. After living together at the ADE center and riding in the green van for hours on end, they experienced Costa Rica together and became close friends. The class also had a discussion on going into the Slums, reading stories of families who gave up their comfortable life to actively serve. 

The TAM Class at Poás Volcano
I had a chance to visit two of the local farms with the TAM class. Gabi’s mother, Maritza, led us up a hill to a greenhouse full of plump strawberries and beautiful bell peppers. The students stood between the rows of strawberries, taking notes, and asking questions, which Tomás translated. Maritza explained the growing process, the materials she uses such as the large plastic covering over the crops, and then graciously offered us a taste of her strawberries. We also visited Carlos and Lidianett (also members of the local church,) who showed us how, according to Lidianett, their farm is thriving “gracias a Dios.” They had strawberries, peppers, granadía, mora, and more. Lydianette dreams of having her own cow and building a little house on a hill that would look out over her land.

The TAM students used the information they learned in the field and in the classroom to put together presentations for the ADE students (the ADE students also had the chance to present to the TAM students several weeks earlier.) The TAM class came to the high school for two days to teach about different plants, specifically on the Legume, Bromeliad, Rose, and Poeaceae families. Here are some snippets of what we learned from them:
·     Bri and Liz: Costa Rica’s national tree (the Guanacaste Tree), and everyone’s favorite dish, gallo pinto, are legumes
·     Lauren and Beth: discussed how Christopher Columbus brought the pineapple to Europe (What didn’t Columbus do?)
·     Courtney and Lucille: how to determine what flowers are in the rose family by certain characteristics (Fabian was the brave sole who came up and, from five different flowers in a vase, identified the ones in the Rose family)
·     Dave and Cade: showed us how delicious sugar cane is (they brought fresh samples and presented their slides while the students chewed happily)

Lucille and Courtney show Fabian how to identify
flowers in the Rose Family
Outside of presenting, studying, writing papers, and tromping through farms in rain boots, the students also found time to read. The ADE staff had the opportunity to sit in on their discussion of what the kinds of poverty in the world, and how we are called to serve. Dr. Unander opened the discussion with a powerful, controversial question: “Do we believe we are called to help save others?” We talked a little about who these “others” are and the kinds of poverty that the Bible commands us to serve, such as the oppressed, widows, orphans, those in debt, the poor in spirit, etc.  “How we see the poor, how we perceive and define them will determine how we treat them.” Several people mentioned that with mission, it is crucial to maintain a humble and learning attitude, particularly when serving within the context of an unfamiliar culture or language. 

TAM student, Lauren Nickell, will be staying in Vara Blanca until August as an intern with ADE and will use what she learned from the class to work on agriculture projects in the local community. She wrote about her experience with the class:

“By taking Tropical Agriculture through the Au Sable Institute, I began to get to know rural Costa Rica. Together with students from 5 universities, I came to appreciate the beauty and diversity of Costa Rican agriculture and its role in Vara Blanca. ADE played an important role in the Missions part of the class, integrating development strategies into our learning that we may appreciate the importance of agriculture in the livelihoods of the local people. I particularly enjoyed looking at all the agricultural products of Costa Rica, not limiting it to the highlands. We traveled a total of 5 days, visiting the economically important crops of the tropics. Some of the most informative visits were small, self-sustaining farms such as that of Don Raphael (figure 1) where we viewed over 15 different food crops growing around his house. He also boasts a practical biodigestor (figure 2) next to his livestock where organic matter is converted into methane gas that powers his gas stove and deposits decomposed fertilizer for his crops. This was a genuine perspective of agriculture in Costa Rica and the possibility it holds for many people. We were constantly challenged to analyze the agricultural methods with long term sustainability in mind and The TAM class helped develop my own perspective on Costa Rican agriculture and ways that it can be used for development.”
Lauren takes notes in Carlos and Lidianett's greenhouse.

June 8, 2011

Thoughts from Dr. Unander, TAM class professor

Au Sable Institute: ‘Tropical Agriculture & Missions’                          
Costa Rica: May/June 2011

‘Tropical Agriculture & Missions’ (TAM), offered since 2003, was taught in Costa Rica for the first time. Eight students from five schools were enrolled, and a Costa Rican student sat in as well. Typical of the TAM course, they were a fantastic class to teach, most already seriously considering service as Christians in poorer regions of the world. They were hard-working, but also a fun group, too, very adventurous, quickly bonding, and patient with delays in the schedule.
About two of the three weeks were based in a town called Vara Blanca. At  6,000 ft, temperatures were in the 50s-70s, and it rained heavily, often daily. Our collaborator, Eastern Univ. alum Tomás Dozier, grew up in Vara Blanca, returning with his family after an earthquake in Jan. 2009 killed dozens and left many homeless. After the initial relief work, a community survey revealed that a high school was a high priority. Tomás and Chelsea Dozier formed ADE (Association for Development through Education), and began a HS. They and a small staff, mostly alumni of Eastern University’s graduate program in Intl. Development, are also involved in the one evangelical church in the area, and sharing their faith in the community. ADE has long-term access to a cabin in a primary rainforest that is ideal for an Au Sable class, and they facilitated visits with farmers, research centers, national parks, etc.
Besides units on the scientific foundations of sustainable agriculture, basic tropical ecology, and some missiology, we visited farmers, and observed the upland rainforest and regional geology of Vara Blanca. That includes the effects from the very live Poas Volcano, 10,000 ft high, and close enough to us that we could drive to visit the billowing crater in an hour.  The first week, groups of the HS students gave presentations to our class about the types of agriculture in the valley (strawberries, dairy cattle, some dairy goats, trout, and ornamentals, especially potted ferns, for export to the US).  The third week, groups of Au Sable students gave seminars to the HS students, each covering a plant family – its basic botany and agricultural & nutritional value. Two Spanish-speaking students within the TAM class got to try their translation skills, too!

Although this was the trial run of TAM in Costa Rica, response of the students was positive. Besides class units and visits with farmers in greater Vara Blanca, Costa Rica offers world class research and teaching institutions.  Ones we visited for orientations included CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza), an international research center established in 1940, governed by a board from 14 Latin American countries; EARTH University, an international university founded in 1990 to train students in environmentally sustainable tropical agriculture, with an emphasis on hands-on practice and business training, and a student body of 400 drawn from across the global Tropics; OTS La Selva Station (Organization for Tropical Studies, founded in 1968 by a biology research consortium, located in a lowland rainforest that receives 4 m of rain a year, and abuts one of the largest national parks in Costa Rica, that ascends to peaks ca. 10,000 ft high); national park visits that included Poas Volcano (looming over Vara Blanca), the Arenal Volcano area, Cahuita, a Caribbean tropical maritime forest near the Panama border; and CoopeSarapiqui, a fair-trade coffee-growers cooperative that exports to North America and the European Union.

Educationally, doing the class in CR seemed successful. It was harder to cover certain science units, but other topics were facilitated by living in a rainforest, in walking distance to small farms owned by hardworking, poor families. Spiritually, I was blessed how my students quickly made friends in the community, volunteered to clean and cook, and, in some cases got in significant discussions with neighbors about Christ and about life in Vara Blanca. Like all small towns, there are many dynamics going on in VB. Attending a tiny church with limited resources was also a good education about Christian ministry: I trust many will remember to pray for that little church. They invited me to preach one Sunday, and I did, in Spanish and English!  And then there are those unplanned conversations and prayer times that God seems to arrange when we’re not looking: ask me about some of our stories.

Thank you also to those who prayed for this course.  All went so well, and we pray that God will use this course in the lives of the students who took it, too. It will be exciting to learn where they end up in years to come! God willing, I am hopeful Costa Rica may be a good long-term home for the TAM course, and perhaps other Au Sable classes, too.

Please pray for Dave Unander, in Torino, 2 Jul – 6 Aug 2011

Well the Old Guy is no sooner back from Costa Rica in the Tropics, than he’s on the road again to the Mediterranean. I can’t believe it, either! Eastern University is sending me to Torino (also known as Turin sometimes in English), for work on several tasks related to our new study abroad option there.  My next door neighbor wants to know how to get this job…

Torino is a big city of more than a million, but thus still much smaller than Philadelphia. As you can see, the Alps form a circular arc, drained by the Po, Italy’s largest river. This fruitful valley, fed by whitewater rivers coming down from the mountains, has been a prize in numerous wars, and for millennia, the source of great wealth in Italy. It’s a fascinating city to wander around is, as I did back in my November trip here. This time, I have more tasks to complete, but as part of the deal, I have also been offered intensive Italian lessons.

What do I desire prayer for?  Well, first, I do ask for your prayers for my protection and good health, and that I’d do good work on the tasks I have. It’s a big responsibility they’ve handed me. There also is a certain amount of drug-fed crime in Torino, as in most of the world today. Safety anytime I’m around an Italian highway sounds funny, but it’s got a serious side. One of the students at a study abroad program from a Christian college I am acquainted with was recently killed on foot by one of those crazy Vespa drivers, for example. 

Most importantly, pray that I’m a good testimony for Christ. In November, I had several conversations about Jesus with colleagues at the university. I pray God gives me wisdom how to continue these conversations, and others that may develop.  I’m on my own for five weeks, and desire to find Christian fellowship, too, (perhaps in Italian Italian rather than English, since I’m trying to learn Italian, but we’ll see what happens). Italy is an incredible country, but there’s also a lot of spiritual darkness, and, really a huge spiritual vacuum right now. Please pray for Italy! It seems like they are at a sort of crossroads, centuries of enforced tradition have rapidly eroded in decades, for both good and ill. And pray I discern what I’m supposed to do with any fluency in Italian I may achieve through that language course. Thanks!

In Christ,   

Dave Unander

June 3, 2011

Dr. Ebenezer’s “Technology for the Poor”

“The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” -Matthew 25:40


Written by LeighAnne Coble
Dr. Job Ebenezer came to Varablanca for two days with a suitcase, a grin, and a plan to share his area of expertise with the ADE high school students. Originally from India, this gentle elderly man received his masters in engineering and has used his knowledge to “develop, innovate, and disseminate appropriate technologies for the poor.” As a boy, Dr. Ebenezer was fascinated by the inventions of American agriculturist George Washington Carver, who made 350 products solely from the peanut. Like Carver, Dr. Ebenezer is a huge proponent of simplicity. He used a quote from the man that inspired him which describes the reason behind “technology for the poor” and Carver’s own philosophy: “Let all the methods of nature study be brought down to the everyday life and language of the masses.”

Along with simplicity, Dr. Ebenezer also believes in going to talk with the people he wants to help, and he has done this in many corners of the earth. He has traveled to India, Tanzania, Zambia, Belize, and now to Costa Rica (for the second time,) teaching sustainability and technology. Why does he take his ideas and inventions and teach them around the world? He has a simple explanation, a verse from Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” Dr. Ebenezer serves others, particularly those who are in need, in order to serve Jesus.
Job speaking to the ADE Colegio students.

As he spoke to the children and explained the slides (with Tomás translating), he moved around animatedly and gestured with hands, a man eager to share his knowledge with youth. He described how he took a simple bicycle and created several inventions with it, some of which include a winnower, a corn sheller, a circular saw, and even a washing machine. The children were impressed with the photos of these dual-purpose bicycles in use, asking the professor incredulously, “You invented that?”

The next part of his presentation focused on sustainability. He believes in sustainability because, as he told the school children after asking them to think of all the plants and animals on Earth, “God created a sustainable system.” In compliance with this sustainable system, he has explored urban agriculture and focused on making technology simple and accessible (especially for the poor) without depleting the community’s work force. He takes abandoned parking lots, brown fields, rooftops, and other unused spaces and makes them into gardens with simply grocery bags and soil. In Chicago, Dr. Ebenezer built a garden on the rooftop of a seventh floor building, and filled it with sunflowers that eventually grew nearly ten feet high.

After his presentation, the children followed him outside, where he put basic agriculture into action. One of the high school students brought a plastic liter bottle of Coca Cola, which Dr. Ebenezer turned into something like a mini hanging vegetable garden. He cut the bottom of the bottle to form a lid, then flipped it, filled the bottle with soil, and cut tiny triangles near the bottom to allow drainage for the rain. Then he asked the children what sorts of vegetables they could plant inside, which turned out to be an impressive variety: carrots, radishes, onions, and lettuce. “And I plan to return to Costa Rica in one year,” he told them, holding up one finger, “to see your garden.” Tomás translated this into Spanish for the students, who seemed to take interest in the pleasant professor and his inventions, and will hopefully take this project to heart.

The students learning a unique way to make a garden.