Recently, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation announced that it will provide support to the community work of the Technological Institute of Higher Education of Hopelchén through the Program for Strengthening the Professional, Human and Entrepreneurial Competencies of ITS Hopelchén Students, an initiative that seeks to strengthen the professional, human and entrepreneurial competencies of students, in addition to promoting experiential learning, through the application of their knowledge and feedback with local producers.

The execution of the program has five specific objectives. To better understand them, we had the opportunity to talk with Hiram Aranda, general director of the Technological Institute of Higher Education of Hopelchén, who explains how the incorporation of this project adds to the successful community work that the institute had been working on and which was reinforced by the pandemic.

“Since we had to suspend work, we have tried to manage to continue working with the students and continue to guarantee and verify their academic achievement,” says Aranda. For this reason, the ITSH has implemented a system of visits to the communities, to monitor the projects. “Our area of influence is within a 170km radias of the institute. We have students from about 45 locations, and we have visited all of them at least 3 times”.

Secondly, the project wants to promote a participatory connection, in both directions, between the included communities and the ITSH. For this, the institution has been promoting the creation of productive projects that integrate all students -regardless of their semester and the degree they’re studying into four areas: institutional, educational, student and community.

“Logically, each one will have to apply it according to their professional career. This is now going forward and has been very well accepted, which allowed us to which allowed us to renew the student’s enthusiasm and attidude for learning. We are betting on an experiential learning that goes much further than just promoting a practice. It is not only the know-how, but the know-why, the know-or and the know-who”.

Other goals are closely related to the creation of community leaders, seizing and enhancing the qualities of the students, as well as generating spaces that promote research and practice of what has been learned at the university in the reality of where they live.

Finally, one of the most important objectives of this community program is the application of theoretical knowledge in real situations of production and development of social enterprises in the region.

“We currently have about 25 projects on paper, of which we have to see which ones go beyond this phase and are formally constituted. The support of the Kellogg Foundation will help us significantly, for example, to acquire required elements such as wire mesh, irrigation hoses, other wires, and tools to reinforce these initiatives”.

“Among some of the projects we have is the rescue of apiaries, where students receive queen bees from our own campus, in addition to all our advice. There are others who are planting lemon, pitaya, we also have a group that is rescuing a fruit called lec and there are grazing-type projects with sheep that they have in their homes or lands. Another valuable addition has been alumnus works that are now in the hands of current students, for example, corn flour products such as pinole, roasted corn and other products. Also, the cultivation of yucca and derivatives of the pich tree, whose fruits are dehydrated and ground to make flour. It has a lot of potential not only as an animal food supplement, but also for human consumption”.

“The most valuable thing,” says Hiram, “is that it does not represent an additional investment for the students, but rather they are inputs that they have because they are derived from their parents, or the community where they live, and this represents an opportunity for progress in the future”.

In the end, the desired result for the ITSH is that the students manage to organize and formalize their ideas so that they will become visible in a market network in which they can sell their products without intermediaries or to more formal collection centers.