October at La Bastilla - the Teach A Man To Fish annual conference!

October was an extremely exciting month here at La Bastilla as we prepared to host the 5th international Teach A Man To Fish conference; Educaction That Pays For Itself 2011!! There was a lot of preparatory work to be done sending out invitations, handling online sign ups and writing promotional materials in Spanish and English. We also had to work out the logistics of getting 70 people up to La Bastilla from the airport and housed and fed for 4 nights! We decided to accommodate half the guests in the Ecolodge, and half in Jinotega (our local town). This was a great chance for the Ecolodge manager and students to experience running the hotel for a week at overflow capacity! We rented buses to bring attendees up from the airport and hired extra help to run the school businesses so that the teachers and students would be available for the conference. We brought in extra chairs and tables and had the school dining room set up as the restaurant, the sports pitch covered with a gazebo for evening entertainment and the large classroom as conference venue. Everyone pitched in making table decorations, name badges, sign posts and stuffing conference bags to make sure we were all ready for the event. 


Day One: Networking

When the big day finally arrived, the sun came out after weeks of heavy rain getting us off to a great start! Over 70 delegates from 24 countries arrived at La Bastilla Technical Agricultural High School in Nicaragua from Europe, Africa, the USA and Central and Latin America.

The theme of the conference was Transforming Outcomes for Students and the first day got started with opening words from Yelba Valenzuela, school director, Nik Kafka, director of Teach A Man To Fish and Markus Fischer, head of the charitable foundation which established the school. After they had explained what ´Education That Pays for Itself´ is all about we moved on to ‘Latin Leaders’ where we heard from experiences in Paraguay, Ecuador and Chile.  The rest of the morning consisted of “speed-dating”with people matching up their skills and needs to help one another, before then starting work on writing their own business plans. In the afternoon we had breakout sessions on Integrating Entrepreneurship, Income Generation and Education moderated by our experts, allowing delegates to explore in depth the issues surrounding sustainable education and start to suggest solutions to common problems.

The evening provided another great opportunity for networking and conversations and ended with a delicious dinner and a wonderful cultural presentation by the school choir and students.  


Day Two: Brainstorming

Another beautiful sunny day started off with morning activities including a nature walk in the reserve, a tour of the school businesses and a coffee tour of the farm.  Back at the conference everyone demonstrated their enthusiasm and entrepreneurialism at the Ideas Marketplace, showcasing their schools and projects as well as exploring and learning about other people's work. There was fierce competition to see who could earn the most beans, our marketplace currency. The stalls selling products from the primary and secondary school enterprises earned a great sum of money for the schools!       

The ‘forum on fundraising’ over lunch was a great opportunity for delegates to ask questions to professional and experienced fundraisers and get tips on how to make their grant applications more successful.

In the afternoon Martin Burt (Fundación Paraguaya) presented the innovative system developed by the Fundación Paraguaya to measure and reduce poverty starting with students and their families and the special curriculum developed to target key areas. He mentioned the importance of ´learning by doing and selling´ and emphasised the benefits of students participating in marketing and sales to gain skills and confidence, noting that a school which pays the student to learn will have very low dropout rates!

We then had the Words of Wisdom sessions in which delegates present for 5 minutes about their project and what they have learned from it. After some great presentations we moved on to the session on Replication, in which Yelba Valenzuela (La Bastilla), Celsa Acosta (Fundacion Paraguaya) and Steve Carver (Win Win Group) shared their perspectives and answer questions on replicating and adapting the model to different contexts as diverse as urban South Africa and indigenous forest regions in Paraguay.  

The day ended with dinner and a local band Grupo Bongo providing the entertainment, while delegates from Paraguay and the United Kingdom showed off their performing skills !    


Day Three: Goal-Setting!

After breakfast delegates had the chance to do another activity guided by our students and teachers, such as bird watching, coffee tour of the farm or excursion around the school businesses. The morning Peer Consultancy Clinic gave people the chance to put their problems to a panel of experts from across the world - Martin Burt (Fundación Paraguaya, Paraguay), Douglas McMeekin (Yachana Lodge, Ecuador) and Robert Miranda (Fundación Origen, Chile) – and learn from successes and challenges their schools have encountered.     

We also had some excellent Words of Wisdom presentations from Ibis Schlesinger (Ties To The World), Jeremy Terhune (Puentes) and Helena Edwards (Fundación Fabretto). To wrap up before lunch I ran a question and answer session with a panel made up of some of our students, and some visiting students to the conference to understand what this type of education means to them and even how would they improve it further.   

The conference wrapped up in the afternoon with delegates making their commitments and setting goals for their projects, before reflecting on "What do we need to win?". After closing comments the first group of participants left for the airport while those remaining retired to the Ecolodge for a well-earned final dinner and  relaxation!


All in all it was an exhausting few days, but an incredible learning opportunity for all those involved, not least the staff and students at La Bastilla! We were delighted with all of the positive comments and feedback received and the wonderful people that we met, and we wish the best of luck to the hosts for next year!     


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