A Brief, Incomplete History of Colorado/Minas Gerais Partners of the Americas
By Francis Wardle*
We hope to begin to collect documents about the history of the Colorado/Minas Gerais Chapter of Partners of the Americas to share with people interested in the program, and those who might want to join. This is a short attempt at a brief, incomplete history of our program, which begins with the inception of the Alliance for Progress, created by President Kennedy.
Creation of the Alliance for Progress
In 1962 President Kennedy launched the Alliance for Progress. This program was designed to improve relations between the U.S. and Latin American countries, which were very poor at that time. Many Latin American countries were upset that the U.S. had not rewarded them for supporting the Allies in WWII. The US also wanted to find a way to prevent Latin American governments from turning to communism, as this was at the height of the Cold War.
The Alliance for Progress provided food, health care, literacy assistance, and support for the development of industry in many Latin American countries.
Interestingly, while I was involved in earthquake relief in Guatemala, after the tragic earthquake of 1976, we were given new wheelbarrows to help in our work. These wheelbarrows had a sticker on them that read, “A gift to the people of Guatemala from the people of the U.S.” They had been kept in storage since the Alliance for Progress!
In one of my visits to Brazil I also met an old man who, when I mentioned the Alliance for Progress, smiled and recalled with pleasure and gratitude receiving food from the U.S. as part of the Alliance for Progress during a time of extreme poverty in Brazil.
Partners of the Alliance
Jim Boren, an official for the Alliance for Progress, was working on several projects with locals in Peru when he determined that he could best help these people by bringing to Peru experts knew from Texas. In so doing he discovered that sometimes local problems in Latin America could be more effectively solved by circumventing government agencies and bureaucratic red tape, and working on a people-to-people level.
And thus Partners of the Alliance was born.
Jim formalized this relationship between Peru and Texas, and between 1964 and 1965, 21 such people-to people partnerships between the U.S. and countries or regions in Latin America were created. These Partnerships relied on volunteers working together on local projects both the United States and Latin America.
In 1965, Partner so the Alliance became a not-for profit organization operating outside of the U.S. Government; in 1969 there were 37 partnerships in the U.S. and Latin American.
In 1970 the organization changed its name to Partners of the Americas, and today there are 80 local partnerships of various configurations that engage in projects in both the US and Latin America. These projects are driven by unique local needs, and the vision, skills, and enthusiasm of local chapter volunteers. Many chapters now expand beyond the one program they were matched with originally.
The official Alliance for Progress was disbanded in the late 1970s. For a variety of political reasons, government-to-government efforts to improve the lot of the average citizen of Latin America were not very effective.
Today’s Partners of the Americas
Today’s Partners of the Americas is compromised by two complementary organizational structures, 1) the 80 local organizations in the U.S. and scattered throughout Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, and 2) the International Office in Washington, DC. This office provides support, expertise, and assistance to the local organizations, and runs several programs throughout Latin America. These programs include agricultural programs (Farmer-to-Farmer), programs designed to develop character and leadership in youth through sports (A Ganar), efforts to address child labor in Columbia, climate change and energy projects in several counties, and 100,000 Strong, a program that provides opportunities for students from Latin America to study in U.S. colleges and universities.
What We Do
In the fall of 1996 I found myself standing in the hot sun in middle of a dusty tarmac pad outside a small church in the town of Sete Lagoas (Seven Lakes), Minas Gerais, Brazil. I looked at the bare tarmac surrounded by a concrete wall in bewilderment, and muttered to myself, “what am I doing here?”
I had been asked by Dr. Cooke, a member of the Colorado Chapter of Partners of the Americas, to design and build a playground for a creche (an early childhood program). The project was a collaborative effort between Partners and Rotary International, which had provided the funds for the equipment (as well as for some kitchen equipment).
I did not know the people I was staying with, who could not speak English, and I could not speak Portuguese. I had assumed I could go to the nearest playground supplier, order the equipment, and set it into the ground. But no! At that time the equipment available in Brazil was the same equipment used in this country during the 1950s – totally unsafe by today’s government standards. So I decided to build my own playground.
But I was in for a huge shock. The wood used in Brazil to build was different than I was used to (both the kinds of wood and the standard sizes it came in); where I could purchase the wood were foreign to me; and the attachments, such as chain and how to attach the swing seats, totally different.
And, of course, I was used to measuring with the imperial measurement system, while in Brazil the metric system was used. But maybe the biggest challenge was the language: how could I tell volunteers what I needed and how I wanted things to be done? What would I do?
The Colorado/Minas Gerais Chapter of Partners of the Americas
The Colorado Chapter of Partners of the Americas was established in 1966. Colorado is matched with a large state in Brazil called Minas Gerais. While both states have a strong agricultural history and economy, they are best known for their mountains, and precious minerals are a central part of their history – in Colorado silver and gold; in Minas Gerais, gold and precious stones. And in both states there are many picturesque historical mining towns.
During our history, the Colorado and Minas Gerais Partnership have we have been involved in many projects and activities, including:
An expert from the Denver zoo helped care for an elephant with an infected tusk in the Belo Horizonte Zoo;
A doctor from Diamantina was involved in an internship both in Sterling and Durango hospitals;
Several Colorado professionals lectured at the university in Diamantina on AIDs prevention other public health issues;
Visitors from Colorado taught character development in k-12 schools in Brazil;
Visitors from Brazil demonstrated a variety of typical Brazilian dances in public schools throughout the Front Range;
An artist from Brazil displayed her photos in Boulder and Greeley, and an educator came from Belo to learn about different early childhood programs in Denver;
Several members of the Colorado chapter participated in an education conference in Maceio, Alagoas;
Many experts and volunteers from Colorado have supported Iracambi, a research center in the Atlantic Rainforest;
Several master guitar players from both chapters have participated in delightful professional exchanges and performances;
Members of the Colorado and Minas Gerais chapter were both actively involved in arranging and hosting the Partners International Conference in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais;
Diamantina Youth Orchestra visited Colorado recently;
Several members of the English Language Department of UFVJM (the university in Diamantina) recently toured universities in Colorado;
Four teachers of English in Belo Horizonte City Schools attended a 4-week-long intensive English language program in Greeley, called TRIP, and
A professor from the University of Northern Colorado spent four weeks teaching English to k-12 teachers in the city schools of Belo Horizonte.
Why We Do What We Do
On one of the many exchanges from the Minas Gerais Chapter to Colorado, a couple of young dancers visited several k-12 schools throughout Colorado to share the rich dance culture of Brazil. My wife, who was teaching at an inner city high school in Denver at that time, arranged a performance for these dancers. I was standing next to some student as we were setting up in the gym for the performance. A young African American student asked me what we were doing. I told her that the two dancers were going to perform some local Brazilin dances.
She looked down her nose at me in distain and said, “They can’t teach me anything about dancing!”
After a fantastic, invigorating, and energetic performance by the two dancers, this young student came over to me, and with a huge smile on her face said, ”Boy, can they dance!!!”
I was finally able to design and build a safe playground for the creche in Sete Lagoas. On the playground I built two regular swings with cut-out car tires, a swivel swing, a platform with a plastic slide that we had to ship in from the U.S., and a large sandbox. I used eucalyptus and ipé wood, which is very hard, car tires, chain, sand, and slate to retain the sand (a local product).
I have also remained with Partners to this day. I am still actively involved in Partners of the Americas because it has provided me with a fabulous opportunity for my own personal growth in so many different areas, and because it has allowed me to share my own skills, passions, and interests with others. I can use my own skills and interests to connect, serve, and change the lives of myself and others.
*Francis Wardle is currently the President of the Colorado Chapter of Partners of the Americas; he has been a member since 1996.