Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

30 May, 2011

Achiote: CSU Alternative Spring Break

This small, colorful house marks the starting location of the path that leads to the Borbua family coffee farm. The coffee farm is one of twelve other farms in the small community located in Achiote, Panama. It helps contribute several different kinds of coffee beans to the local coffee processing plant that is located near the town. In 2007, a group of students from Colorado State University (CSU), in Fort Collins, Colorado, helped restore and repaint the house for the Borbua family. Through an excellent program known as Alternative Spring Break, a group of 18 students and two faculty members from CSU volunteer their time for a week to help the community with multiple projects around the town. The project in Panama is one of many, but it is the only one outside of the United States. For the past five years, different groups of students from Colorado have been traveling to Achiote to volunteer in the community for their spring break vacations, and another group is expected to spend their upcoming spring break there as well.

This picture shows the Sendero Ruta del Café, the pathway that leads from the Borbua Family coffee house to the coffee farm. The coffee farm has many different types of plants that produce various types of coffee beans ranging from small beans to large beans. The pathway is one of many other roads that were built by CSU student volunteer groups. The pathway helped to create a safe walkway that the family could travel on to get to the coffee plants to harvest. It also was created for tour groups that would come see the coffee farm in order to view the coffee bean plants and learn more about the sustainability of the environment. Ultimately, the pathway helps the economical, social, and ecological aspects of the family farm. The pathway is lined with large stones and is made out of gravel rocks that are loosely packed together. In 2007, this pathway and the house located on the Borbua family coffee farm were completed. Other Alternative Spring Break trips built other pathways and decks that are located in the community of Achiote.

In the house that is located on the Borbua family coffee farm is where some of the coffee is produced from the beans that are harvested from the coffee farm. First, the beans are picked from the coffee bean plants when it is the harvesting time of the year. Next, the shells are removed from the coffee beans. Local farmers demonstrated the traditional de-shelling process using a 'pilon' (wooden stand and hammers). An alternating hammering method between two people is used to extract the beans from the shells, as seen in this picture. The beans are then separated and ready to be roasted on a open fire pit, as the remaining shells are often used as fertilizers. The coffee beans can either be left in the roasted stage or put through a metal grinder that grinds the beans into coffee grounds. This 'pilon' was also built by the student volunteer groups, along with the gravel pathway and coffee house in order to improve the family’s social and economical environment in the community of Achiote.

A group of 18 students and two facility members from Colorado State University would travel down to the small town Achiote in Panama for an Alternative Spring Break volunteer trip. This is a picture of the rooms in which the students would stay when they were visiting the community. However, most of their time was not spent in these rooms, but instead their time was spent in the local communities doing various volunteer work and projects around the community. Students from the university would apply to go on this Alternative Spring Break in order to get a great cultural experience while also volunteering in the community and helping people. Upon arrival to Panama, the group of 20 people would get a chance to first visit Panama City and see the nearby Indian village for two days. Then for the next four days the group would stay in the El Toucan Community and Visitors Center. While they were staying there, the group would be split up into two separate groups to work in the community. One group would work in the morning doing the various volunteer projects, while the other group was able to travel around the town and interact with the members of the community. The groups would then switch in order to get a chance to play as well as work.

While students from CSU were staying in the small town of Achiote they got a chance to leave one gift to the community. Not only do they help build and restore multiple buildings and pathways in the town, they also leave a lasting impression on the people in the community and improve the ways of life for several families. Each student that volunteered in the town was invited to create a painting on a piece of fabric that represents the time they spent in the community. As seen in this picture, a string of student-made paintings hangs in the local restaurant as a reminder of the support to the community that the students provided. These colorful decorations can be seen in other buildings, such as the house that was built on the Borbua family farm, where students helped. The colorful art work seen on the walls of buildings were also painted by the students from the university. Many drawings are of the activities that the students participated in and notes to the town in which they spent time in. The string of artwork shows the connections and bonds made by the community and students and how two different cultures can come together to help each other.

In the small community located in Achiote, Panama, a group of kids are seen playing in the street outside of their homes. The kids also play soccer and baseball together for fun. This is a community in which the families help and support each other in personal aspects as well as creating a safe work environment. They live off of the land as did their ancestors. The CSU group helped the community by building houses and pathways. But most of the students also ended up taking back more from the trip than they expected. After getting the chance to live in the community surrounded by close family ties, the students can see the differences between their own communities back home and the one seen in Achiote. The trip is often times a very motivational and eye opening experience to the students that get to visit the town, and many times students wish to return again and again in support of this great community.

AUTHOR: Kristie Wilson