Seven collegiate FFA members chosen to participate in the National FFA Organization's FFA Global Outreach: Africa (FFA GO: Africa) program recently returned from the African nation of Rwanda.
The students spent two weeks helping local farmers fight hunger and poverty through sustainable agriculture techniques. The group experienced firsthand the reality of food insecurity and agriculture and conservation issues in a sub-Saharan African country where the average annual income is $1,500 or less.
The goals of the FFA GO: Africa program are to engage students at a personal level in global issues and challenges of agriculture, food, hunger, poverty and human suffering; provide opportunities for service learning in developing countries; and inspire students to serve and make a positive humanitarian difference in the world through agriculture.
Based in Kigali, Rwanda, the FFA members lived and worked with the staff of Catholic Relief Services, an organization that helps impoverished and disadvantaged people throughout the world. The collaboration made a deep impression. "The experience was so directional for me," says Washington State University student Victoria Marsh. "It gave me a clear focus on where I want to go and what I want to do. Being able to work with CRS and see the hope they fuel every day in their work pushes me even further to want to work for nonprofits in other parts of Africa."
The students devoted themselves to several activities, from information gathering and conducting baseline farmer interviews to determining the viability of crop yields and gaining a broader understanding of the challenges faced by small-scale farmers and the environmental conflicts that arise from income- and food-insecure families.
"We would sit down with the farmers and ask them very personal questions, like how many months have they gone without eating in the past year and how many sets of clothing do they own," says Jamie Renier, Denmark, Wis. "We listed everything they owned and everything they made so that CRS could get a picture of where things are. Then we would input the data on an iPad. The information would be sent wirelessly to CRS partners who would track the farmers' progress during the five-year program."
"What surprised me the most about this experience is that the farmers we worked with weren't asking us to give them money or food," says Thomas Griffin from Culver, Ore. "When we traveled to different parts of Rwanda, farmers wanted us to advocate for them back in the United States. I'm hopeful that through this experience I can make an impact advocating for their issues and fight for a way to add value to their crops."
FFA GO: Africa is a program of the National FFA Organization and is funded as a special project of the National FFA Foundation through a donation from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. For a day-by-day journal of the trip, visit the National FFA Blog.