This was not the first time Norma Santos, a Junior Master Gardener expert from Edinburg, had trained teachers in Central America on how to interest young people in horticulture.
Late last year Santos was in Chimaltenango giving Junior Master Gardener training to Guatemalan elementary school teachers as part of a Food for Progress project of the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture.
This time, however, Santos was in the Unidad y Fuerza community of Tegucigalpa from March 18 to 19 to train about 25 elementary school teachers on the youth horticulture program.
On the first day of the training, Santos introduced the teachers to Junior Master Gardener curriculum and program activities.
The following day, she and the teachers showed about 20 Honduran school children ages 8 through 12 how fun horticulture could be by involving them in a variety of fun and interesting hands-on activities.
“We present the Junior Master Gardener training to teachers and area leaders who share the information with young people in classrooms and the community,” Santos said. “Children in Central America are eager to learn about nature and things related to horticulture. The program not only teaches about horticulture, but also about practical science and math.”
The Honduras training was part of a new program initiative in Latin America. It was made possible by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and that agency’s Master Gardener volunteer program, the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and the Building a Future organization.
“The Junior Master Gardener program is a 4-H youth horticulture program of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service,” said Lisa Whittlesey, National Junior Master Gardener program coordinator at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Whittlesey said the program emphasizes practical, hands-on gardening experience to help young people develop life skills, responsibility, teamwork, community participation, an appreciation for the environment and an interest in horticultural occupations.
To make the program more accessible to Latin American youth, Junior Master Gardener program materials, especially the program’s Teacher/Leader Guide and Youth Handbook have been translated into Spanish. Program presentations are given in Spanish and, when necessary, indigenous regional dialects.
Program materials were produced by agricultural experts within AgriLife Extension and the Texas A&M System and address a number of horticultural topics, including: plant growth and development; soils and water; ecology and environmental horticulture; insects and plant diseases; landscaping; fruits and nuts; and vegetables and herbs.
Santos added that the program also helps Latin American families learn to garden and grow crops so they can have a sustainable source of food and nutrition.
“We’re happy to be part of these trainings in Guatemala and Honduras and will continue to provide support for other Junior Master Gardener activities in Latin America,” said Johanna Roman, Latin American programs coordinator for the Borlaug Institute.
Roman said the Junior Master Gardener program is an excellent way to help supplement institute efforts in Latin American toward building agricultural capacity and improving the income and quality of life of farmers.
Junior Master Gardener program administrators are hoping to expand the training into Panama, Cuba, Costa Rica and Mexico. Some of these efforts are being coordinated with the support of former Texas A&M University students through the Building a Future organization.
Building a Future is an international non-profit begun by former and current Texas A&M University alumni to improve the lives of impoverished children in Latin America, according to its members.
“Students and teachers have been enthusiastic about the program and its potential to educate kids in a fun and interactive manner,” said David Clayton of Building a Future, primary coordinator for the Honduras training.
“We expect academic improvement to be one of the benefits the program brings to the children in Honduras,” said Jose Mahomar of Building a Future, a native of Honduras. “The program is especially important in Honduras as it is an extracurricular activity that serves as an alternative to getting involved in gangs, drugs or negative behavior.”
Roman added that three Texas A&M students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will help coordinate Junior Master Gardener programs in Guatemalan orphanages as part of their internships this summer.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the use of Food for Progress project funds for a youth development program in Guatemala, and we are excited that our students will have the opportunity to conduct these programs in several orphanages to teach kids how to grow their own food,” she said.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between Texas and the countries to the south,” said Whittlesey. “The best way to develop that relationship is by working with and helping the children of those countries. And the Junior Master Gardener program benefits both young people and adults.”