In support of the growing relationship between Toronto’s YMCA Academy and the YMCA of Medellin in Colombia, Teacher and Special Education Supervisor, Susan Couprie has been accepted for the Henry Labatte Scholarship Exchange Program. Her three week excursion to the Capital of Colombia’s Antioquia Province will lay the groundwork for an ongoing annual youth exchange between YMCA Academy Students and the Youth of Medellin beginning next school year.

It has been a very busy couple of days for me. I have been staying at “The Farm” which is located in La Selva which I have been told translates into “the Jungle”. So welcome to “The Jungle” through my eyes.

We have been learning a lot about what the YMCA does throughout Colombia but specifically about the farm run by the YMCA and how the farm shares the vision of the Strategic Plan of the Medellin YMCA which includes: food security, sharing experiences and respecting mother earth.

Two friendly goats greet us each morning.

The YMCA goes weekly to schools to visit with students to work together on agricultural initiatives. They learn how to take care of the environment and how to feed themselves. This not only benefits the environment but also allows the children to learn about healthy eating and a balanced diet. This area was chosen for several reasons, including that the farmers in this area have a history of using chemicals on their crops. The hope is that by teaching the children about more environmental options, they will be shared with the adults as it is difficult to convince a farmer to change their ways as they have been successful in using their ways for many years. In this way they use the passion that the youth have for the environment to create change in thinking about the earth.

Adults, youth, children and teachers are all welcome on the farm to learn about the environment and how we can contribute to a better environment for all. This is usually on a request basis and the YMCA creates programs especially designed for the needs of the community. An example of this is adults and youth learning how to compost and use organic fertilizers.

The farm itself is not only a teaching center, but it produces 25 types of fruits and vegetables, has rabbits, goats, chickens, worms in their vermi-compost and some unexpected characters like a parrot that enthusiastically yells for “bananas!” There is also a rabbit that will have a litter any moment now. One could also find goat hoof trimming tools and some other equipment in the farm.

A parrot
A parrot named ‘Bananas’ watches the farm.

Yesterday and today, myself and Mel (from Cedar Glen) along with the amazing guidance, encouragement and enthusiasm of the much necessary and beloved volunteers and staff are busy working out an agenda for a 2 day English/Environmental camp for 15-20 youths. We will be combining some of the tried and tested programming done locally at the farm with Cedar Glen programming while helping to develop the volunteers who will run this camp in the future with the focus on developing everyone’s English and leadership skills.

We are both having a great time, but we sadly parted ways a few hours ago as I traveled to Medellin and Mel continues on the farm. Mel will not only be working on the farm and sharing techniques and knowledge with its farmer, but will be joining a few local schools who participate in environmental programs with the YMCA. I will be working towards developing an international exchange program! – to be continued…

Greetings from Colombia!

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