CENTRO MADRE (formerly CENTRO AMURT)
The two-storey, 160 square-meter Community Center is located on three and a half hectares of agricultural land. The project began in the year 2000 putting Prout into practice. A two-hour drive from Caracas, this model “Master Unit” serves the five nearest rural villages of Barlovento, which are very impoverished, through education, health, agriculture and cooperatives.
GUAVA NURSERY AND PLANTATION
We had a workshop in Centro Madre about Guava. About 30 people attended of which 8 local farmers. The rest were technicians and agronomists. A month before the workshop we had already planted 300 guava trees of the “Red Dwarf Guava” variety that give fruits after one year. We also had already planted 100 guava trees of the local variety. During the workshop we grafted these 100 guava plants with the “Red Dwarf ” variety and we also started our guava nursery with 3300 plants. The nursery was started with branches of the 300 Guava plants we had planted before. In order for them to start roots they need to be irrigated every 5 minutes without fail. The leaves should not be allowed to dry. Nelson, with the help of Mario, worked very hard to establish an irrigation system with a computerized timer with the limited resources we had and a month later the agronomists are saying the results are very good. We have now grown 9000 seedlings, have sold about 1,500, and we have started growing more.
A grant written by the Center to PDVSA (the Venezuelan oil company) in 2005 started a Venezuelan-African drum group by hiring a local expert to teach the community how to build and play traditional drums. A year after the grant ended, the members continue practicing, and have named themselves “Tambor y Fuego – Barlovento” (“Drum and Fire”) and chosen their theme “We are the light that ignites the drums!” A Center volunteer designed a beautiful logo with them. With their first paid public performance, they invested the income to produce colorful Tshirts for everyone. They were invited to play at the inauguration of the Zoological-botanical Park in Guatire. After the performance they commented that only in their wildest dreams did they think they would ever perform on a stage for the public. They continue to perform at parties and special events. This musical project raises the self-esteem of all the participants, develops pride in their cultural roots and teaches them to work together.
Some of the members of the drum group that was started by the Center have started a cooperative to produce drums. They also are experimenting with different items that they hope to sell in the Center’s future tourist stop.
We started to work with honey bees in 2003. All the bees in Venezuela are Africanized and therefore very aggressive, so much that they can kill. After 7 years of working with these bees we never had any incident. Nelson who is the bee keeper, takes special care of that. However during the flood at the end of 2009, the water level rose so much one night that we lost 20 of our 28 beehives when they floated away.
We recovered most of the empty boxes along the river. We stacked them up behind the house thinking at some point to start new beehives. But some bees, attracted by the smell of wax, started on their own to create their new home there. One day our neighbor came with the tractor to plow the land to plant plantain and other crops. The sound of the tractor angered some bees and he wisely ran inside the house together with Nelson. Tragically, the bees attacked and killed our two dogs that were locked inside the tool shed.
Nelson has now cleaned and rebuilt the apiculture area. He has started dividing the colonies, and moved all the boxes to slightly higher ground. The agriculture department of the University of Higuerote has started a regular program, bringing their students to do practical learning with our beehives.
Hundreds of fruit trees produce fruits year round, including papaya, passion fruit, noni, banana, lemon and mandarin. Hundreds of beautiful ripe mangos are harvested each year, and many are frozen and produced into mango jam.
Each year we sell hundreds of bags of dried neem leaves in two natural food stores.
A small successful sewing cooperative for three years has provided income for five women, of whom some are very poor. They are excited about the prospects of selling their products at the tourist stop the center will construct this year.
OUR NEW JEEP
Last year I had a car accident and temporarily we were without transportation. The family Krause lent us their Toyota 1975 jeep and Nelson was in heaven. They ended up donating the car to the project and Nelson dedicated time and hard work to rebuild it, loving every moment of it. It is looking very good and is driving well.
When we constructed the house in 2001 and 2002 there was not enough money to finish putting a roof over a porch up stairs, put a roof over the porch on the ground floor and finish the staircase that goes to the roof. After the flood, the State of Miranda offered construction material for people to rebuild or fix their house. We applied and got a donation of construction material worth Bs. 5000 to put a roof over the porch on the first floor. We still had to put money ourselves but got the work done. When they came for inspection they were satisfied. They actually said they will be back in a month to see if they can help us with more construction material.
LOAN FOR CHICKENS
The government gave us a loan for chickens that lay eggs. We were very happy as it is enough money to invest into the chickens and some extra to invest in the rest of our agricultural projects.
INCOME GENERATION PLAN FOR THE CENTER AND FOR THE LOCAL PEOPLE
Since the project began, our largest donor has been AMURT Switzerland, which supported our relief work after the flood in 1999 and helped us construct our center. Recently they informed us they will no longer be able to support us. Because we are not yet financially self sufficient, this will be our biggest challenge! We plan to face it in the following way:
During the weekends, many tourists from Caracas drive on the road in front of our land on their way to the beach. Our plan will be to set up a tourist stop by constructing a churuata (a round indigenous housing structure with a roof made of palm leaves) on our land. We will sell ourproducts such as honey, natural juices, medicinal noni juice, neem leaves, neem oil, organically grown vegetables and other fresh produce. We will also sell products from the drum cooperative, the sewing cooperative and others. In this way we can support cooperatives and other money-making initiatives of the local people.
CENTRO MADRE’S NAME
Being a community project, in 2007 we felt the need to change the name from Centro AMURT to something local people could identify with. The nearest village is called Madre Vieja (“Old Mother”) and the canal that runs right behind our land is also called this. The word “Mother” represents very well the inner spirit of the project: to nurture the physical, mental and spiritual growth of all. So we decided to name the project “Centro Madre,” and we registered it as a legal foundation.
Melqui dressed up as a fairy
Melqui, aged 12, continues to live with us for five days each week. She had suffered from malnutrition and neglect, but now, with loving attention, she is blossoming. She is a quick learner, has developed excellent social skills and physical coordination, and is doing very well in school. Since she came to us, her health and spirits have improved very much, and her teachers have observed a remarkable change for the better. She is eating very well, enjoys school, has a tremendous imagination and is just plain happy.
Gladys and her 2 children, studying to
finish her diploma
In terms of education we will continue to focus on the following five projects:
1) The reading program: On a regular base the Center lends children’s books to the parents of La Guairita to read to their young children. The purpose is to stimulate reading and writing, and to create positive attention activities between parents and their children. As part of this program, we have brought the mothers to the Center on a Saturday afternoon for a workshop on good parenting skills and self-esteem. This project has been very well received, and now we plan to regularize it and expand to the other four villages we serve. A volunteer has created a beautiful logo for the project.
2) Personal growth programs for teenagers and adults: This program is to help people realize that, in spite of adverse and sometimes traumatic circumstances in their lives, caused by poverty, violence and discrimination, they have the power to transform themselves and learn to use their full potential. We envision personal and group counseling, conflict resolution, how to cope with stress, raising consciousness and self-esteem, and practical life skills.
3) High school diploma course: Centro Madre pays the study fees of young mothers who want to finish their high school education, but do not have access to government programs.
4) Support for students: We will continue to encourage students in the local schools by donating school supplies, lending textbooks, and advising and assisting the teachers.
5) Village festivals: Twice a year, in June and December, we help organize a cultural and educational program for each community. These are important outreach programs between the center and the villages. We bring university theater groups, clowns, musicians and international volunteers to enrich the lives of the people and strengthen their sense of solidarity.
The Center’s director has completed a three-year professional training course in Gestalt Psychology. She continues to improve her skills to lead activities fostering personal growth, self-awareness, and group dynamics.
Different supporters continue to give monthly donations which help us tremendously. This makes a tremendous difference for all of us. Donations with money, goods or volunteer time allow us to serve more.
Hendrika Renkers, Director
Carretera Mamporal – San José de Barlovento Caserío Madre Vieja
Barlovento, Estado Miranda