The 6 months program is unique in many ways. It provides the students with a practical understanding of topics surrounding sustainable agriculture and climate change adaptation. For most of the students, including me, many of these topics would have maybe always remained theoretical concepts.
The program is structured in several "periods", each of which has its bright sides and difficulties. For sure, however, all of them are too short. The most intriguing was, in my opinion, the second month: Making RVA Climate Compliant. The idea of this period is to carry out practical actions to improve the ecological footprint of the academy itself.
It all started with a little outrage: RVA is supposed to be a sustainable community, so why are the hens living under such miserable conditions? They seem sick and certainly don't have enough space! Aren't we supposed to assume the function of a role model? Expecting the worst, we decided to confront the RVA management with these questions during the next common meeting.
It was a relief to hear that the RVA management was thankful for our criticism. They acknowledged that the hens had not received enough attention recently and immediately set up a chicken task force. Over the next weeks, we planned the construction of a 2000 m2 chicken field, providing at least 4 m2 outdoor space per animal, as defined in the EU regulations on organic poultry production, and a spacious house in the middle. Moreover, we planned to cover the field with different fruit trees, which would be fertilised by the chicken manure, provide fruits for the students and shadow for the hens.
Under the tropical sun, however, the hardship of digging the massive trench for the chicken fence soon began to sober up our idealism. Every day, we encountered new difficulties we had not thought of before. Despite working overtime almost every day, Making RVA Climate Compliant turned out to take much longer than expected. We even decided to make some changes in the 6 months curriculum in order to be able to finish the project before our departure.
Even if we didn't manage to finish all details of our chicken project, it was a moment of joy to move the hens into their new environment. If the project will be sustainable now mainly depends on the RVA staff and the new teams. We hope they will take good care of our chicken project and see the fruit trees grow and blossom. Unfortunately, we did not have this privilege anymore.
My advice for new students: Be proactive! Of course, nothing is perfect and life in a remote community has its challenges. But time at RVA is limited, so try to embrace this unique learning experience and engage in community life and activities!
Reading back on history, it seems easy to imagine everything happened for a purpose. For sure, however, I have been benefitting from my time at RVA ever since. Had I not participated at the 6 months program, probably I would have a different take on my current job. And I am grateful to have met so many inspiring personalities, including my amazing girlfriend, my beautiful brothers and sisters from the August team, the other teams, the RVA team and the people from St. Vincent!
By Julian, August Team 2017