Threads Leading up to Proyecto Siembra

Jim works with the prison ministry and this past tuesday they resumed the group of mentors resumed their visits to the local juvenile detention center. I know he was upset to be unable to attend. Tired and stressed as he might be on any given day, when he does go connect with any one of these youths both parties reap the benefit. Jim comes home with a story with the satisfaction of having given of his time to say "I am here, and I care" to another human being in need. The youth I surmise is impacted by the simple truth that somebody, a stranger was there to see him.  Well Jim could not make it because it was our anniversary and instead we would be taking a work related trip to coffee country to learn about the operations of Puerto Rico’s oldest agricultural cooperative and their recent commercial launch of a coffee brand: Café Cibales.  Jim and I love coffee and have had the occassional dream of someday retiring to the countryside and growing coffee.

This past week week I was able to put the final touches on the launch of a strategic collaboration with Miray and Isabel.   Miray Ramy is an amazing educator and entrepreneur. The passion with which she designs and develops educational programs for her after-school programs and summer camps is intoxicating. Her can do spirit is definitely the entrepreneur in her fueling her interest education. Around her its easy to think: sure lets do robotics, lets make chess hip, lets teach kids writing through film projects. Isabel is a clinical psychologist that works primarily with elementary school children. This week she and I were discussing bilingual education and whether an early or late exposure to a third language would be best  for our children. Her plans were French for preschoolers, chinese for high school.

To finish the preamble here, last night as I drove to the beach apartment to have my weekly writing retreat, I listened on the radio two people, a man and a woman, who had served their time in a federal prison facility and were at present gainfully employed and productive members of society with a loving family of their own. Their stories were very similar. They were convicted for trafficking drugs. In prison they were able to finish their education, get a higher degree, develop a love for self improvement, develop a work ethic and leave the prison system with books undertow to face life anew. Saddly this is not the case for most of the people serving prison sentences in Puerto Rico prisons – where resources are limited and education and productive skill development of the prisoners is a big area for improvement. Therefore, it is no surprise there is a great degree of re-incidence as prison is visited once and again by individuals stuck in a routine they lack the tools to change.

Last night in my dreams these influences must have all coalesced in my dreams because I woke up with the a beautiful vision for a future project: Proyecto Siembra.

I envision Proyecto Siembra to be a cooperative of coffee pickers or farm hands. An opportunity open to juvenile offenders and selective older convicts in the adult prison system. The project would begin with education in the prison system to finish high school diplomas and offer courses in agronomy and the business of farming.  I would encourage visits from farmers to come talk to the kids and have them see productive male role models that are not slaves to bling or twisted around by disses.  I would hope these youths would see what I saw: soft spoken men full of grace, poise, strength and knowledge for their place tending and depending on the eco-system.  If our youths are plagued by a loss of purpose and sense to their surrounding and they are severely lacking in male role models Proyecto Siembra would begin to address these needs and sow the seed of hope.  As the youths make it to the country side to put in 8 hours of productive work I would bet that  would also see in themselves the growth of their self esteem and dreams for a better and more meaninful life.

 Just this past year the Department of Agriculture on the island was asking the immigrant population to lend a hand and assist with the collection of coffee beans. It is hard manual labor in a mountainous terrain. Extra hands seem to always be in need.

Now that I think about  it, Lilimar told me of a similar project was designed in Venezuela by a Rum company.  I remember hearing a top executive of

Ron Santa Teresa come and talk about how they gave local youths who had vandalized the premises of their company the opportunity to earn their freedom by working the fields rather than being processed through the criminal system.  Years later youths from the surrounding neighborhood gangs voluntarily requested to join the work program and the crime wave that threatened productivity and peace was dissipated.

Looking to transplant some of these examples of corporate social responsibility to the Island, Lilimar facilitated the development of Fundación Arte en Concreto. This Fundación is the pro-active response of Cemex to the social and economic development of the Island. This foundation supervises the delivery of cement handling skills to prisoners giving them the opportunity to become masterful builders.

So in the end as I write down my semi-conscious dream, I realize it did not come out of the thin blue ether but evolved from the interconnection of many recent and not so recent threads. Threads of action, talent and thought of socially committed citizens that inspire me to see solutions to the ills of today.