Bees, and the courage to do what's never been done

"We're working a small, low valley." That's Julie Strong speaking. Julie, with the Peace Corps in Ecuador, and with her husband, Ned, part of the Partners of the Americas network, was referring to a bee project they have been guiding for more than a year.

A bee expert from Kentucky had helped not only by providing some training sessions to interested youngsters in the valley, but by providing a particularly good strain of queen bee -- one that could improve the strain and hence the yield.

I asked Julie where the bees got their nectar in the valley. She listed avocado, tangerine, eucalyptus, lemon, and lime.

That evening, Ned shared some eucalyptus honey with me and confessed that, although they had first thought most of the honey production would be for export , it was proving so excellent that local people were buying it up as fast as the youngsters could harvest it.

The youngsters involved in the project are generally recruited through the Ecuadorean equivalent of the 4-H, known locally as the 4- F.

The youngsters make their own hives and learn from one another how to care for both hives and bees.

When I visited the Strongs' office, they were just completing work on a booklet that combines photographs taken and developed by Ned, and text by Julie.

They have entered into an agreement with a vocational school in Quito which is eager to have experience printing such a booklet. The project, with a small grant from Partners of the Americas, only has to pay the costs of the materials, and no cost for the actual printing.

The first run is to be for 10,000 booklets, written in very simple Spanish and with enough information to be able to form the basis of training for an interested group.

Exact details of how to build hives are not included; rather, as Julie explained, "It is to stimulate interest and make it seem both easy and fun."

The bee program has a twofold purpose. The first, obviously, is to teach a set of skills to Indian teen-agers; the second, to provide them with an income-producing activity.

Julie explained that this project had led rather naturally to another -- again in the area of agricultural education. This is to help the farmers learn how to package their goods so that there is less spoilage and a greater money yield at the marketplace.

The Ministry of Agriculture also provides some training in beekeeping and raising geared to the simplest levels, and it is hoped that distribution of the booklet, complete with pictures and text, will help to stimulate further interest in areas where nectar abounds.

It sounds so very simple -- a project to teach Ecuadorean farm children to raise bees for the honey and the wax used in soap and candles and other home necessities. But it takes dedication and patience and "know- how," and North Americans willing to learn not only Spanish, but one or two Indian dialects.

It takes cooperation from government agencies, the cutting through of bureaucratic tape, a good many volunteers, and for the Indians, the courage to do something "never done before."

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