I have the privilege of spending this week among 1000 young Colombian coffee growers in San Geronimo, Antioquia, as they participate in a camp dedicated to stepping up their coffee game.
The week of workshops is a prime example of how education and agriculture can be mutually supportive, with participants scheduled to attend sessions about applying agronomic theory to the practice of growing (biology), sensory theory to the practice to roasting and preparing coffee (chemistry), financial theory to the process of running a small business (math), and sharing ways to use technology for streamlined communication (reading and writing).
The workshop is put on by the Antioquia La Más Educada initiative, a labor of love for Antioquia’s Governor Sergio Fajardo. During his presentation and my subsequent interview with him at SCAA in Seattle in April, Mr. Fajardo explained the following:
“Around fifteen years ago, people in Medellín got together. We were tired of what we saw in the political world; we were tired of saying, “these things should be done.” We got together in Medellín and said, “we are going to organize a political, civic independent movement in order to get into power, and we are going to make education the engine of the social transformation.” We were I think 50 people, but we made that decision.
And we got into politics. We knew that politicians are the people that make the most important decisions in our society, regardless of whether we like them or not. So we decided to get into politics. And we got into politics around a basic set of principles that we shared in order to work on the social problems. The three problems are inequality; we live in a very unequal society, and inequality is associated with injustice. Inequality is maybe set to disappear in America these days, but we have lived with inequality in Latin America for centuries. And we don’t accept inequality as a part of our lives. We want to challenge inequality and to build equality.
Secondly, we live in a place where we have seen the river of violence. I don’t have to explain this. And, associated with all these factors, there is the cultural reality. Three problems that we face, and we work on the solution of those three problems. And that’s what we have been doing. The general formula has been that we are going to use education as a study of what we see abroad—21st century schools, which means education, schools, technology, innovation, apprenticeship, and culture. All those activities where we human beings develop our capabilities, beginning with dignity.
Betting on the dignity of the human spirit, and, the capabilities we have as human beings, we want to develop these as a society. That’s what we have been doing since fifteen years ago. They laughed at us, they said that we were crazy, that it was impossible to defeat these huge, powerful electoral machineries, but we did it.
With education, we are going to bring out the best in people. And this requires teachers. To cause damage is very easy; bringing out the best of every individual, that’s a process that requires a teacher.
Because everyone can learn—everyone. I am convinced that every person can learn; the problem is that whomever’s teaching has to understand the nature of that person. And that person, when he or she feels recognized—that’s called dignity—when people feel that, they’ll look to find more. Because people are capable; and if you create paths for, if you give people the chance, they respond.
That’s the key, for me, to transformation. And to politics. Politics, for me, is precisely this practice.
Think of three trees: the tree of inequality, the tree of violence, the tree of illegality. We have to pull them out. That’s what we would like to do. Now, if you look at those three trees, they look separate. The look like three independent trees. But if you look closely, if you look downward, the roots are tangled, and from the bottom you cannot distinguish them. The roots are so entangled that you end up having one single root, and after all they are just one single tree.
So if we want to uproot those three trees, then we have to do it simultaneously, not just work on inequality, illegality, or violence; you have to pull simultaneously in order to take them out.”