On an unpaved, heavily eroded road in rural Honduras, I was tossed in my seat every time the pickup traversed a crack or jagged exposed rock. This went on for hours.
So I had plenty of time to ponder the lengths to which IFAS goes to extend its reach. IFAS Global and our Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department (ABE) had worked together so that IFAS could get to this place on few maps.
A cheerful ABE Ph.D. candidate named Jaime Chavez had navigated the labyrinthine roads of Tegucigalpa as well as the intersecting strands of international development bureaucracy. Now he had me riding shotgun in his VW pickup to a village named Rio Colorado.
When we arrived, I still had to clamber up a steep path slick with gravel and dirt. My morning jogs in Cedar Key hadn’t prepared me for an ascent to a home that sat on a hillside at of 6,000 feet.
There it was: a fogon, or ecostove, that IFAS had put into a home. We’ve placed some 40 of these in this village of 150 people. It replaces much of the cooking the inhabitants used to do over an open wood fire within the house. The efficiency of these stoves (70% less wood) has saved the family hundreds of hours a year in time previously spent gathering firewood. Its clean burn rids the home of the smoke that once billowed from a pit and threatened the health of children who breathed it.
And it gives the woman of the house I visited more time to weave textiles like the wonderfully colorful scarf she made for me, to assist her husband in tending to the coffee and potatoes growing on the hillside by their cinderblock home with the corrugated roof, and to spend more time with her family.
The leaders of Rio Colorado received my delegation as if we were heroes. They gave speeches, presented us with gifts, and entertained us with a traditional dance performed by costumed children.
When it was time to descend to the truck, I made sure I had my feet under me and caught my breath. I could see an IFAS-installed solar panel on the roof of a community center, and a church being built nearby with the proceeds from 20-cents-at-a-time sales of electricity from the panels.
I surveyed this with a newfound appreciation for our work. I’ve never been more certain of its value, and so I said to my traveling companions, “IFAS matters.”
We make an impact in so many ways and in so many places. The people of Rio Colorado remember this every time they cook a meal. We at IFAS, whether based in Gainesville or Tegucigalpa, will do our best work when we remember this, too.
The IFAS mission allows each of us to make an impact. Moments like those I experienced in rural Honduras are particularly gratifying because they connected us both to people and to purpose. I’ve returned from Honduras with reinforced conviction. You’ll likely to hear me say more often in Gainesville what I said on that hillside in Rio Colorado: IFAS matters.