Peace Corps and Agriculture Start-up Hello Tractor Give Local DC Youth A Glimpse Into The World of International Development
International development is an abstract concept that can include nearly everything under the sun. It involves the law, medical practices, business, etc. But how can you really explain international development to a group of high school students from the DC area in a way they can understand and be excited about? Just ask the Peace Corps and Hello Tractor, who partnered up for an information session on Wednesday July 30, 2014 at the THEARC Gardens in Southeast DC.
The Peace Corps is well known as a big player in international development. The program, originally created by JFK in 1961, sends volunteers all over the world to share their knowledge with local communities and also allows the volunteers to completely immerse themselves in a foreign country. Hello Tractor, however, takes a different, more tailored approach to international development. It specifically focuses on farming.
Farming represents a monumental part of any economy. We all need food and it has to come from somewhere (preferably out of the ground than from a factory). Hello Tractor provides farmers in Nigeria, primarily female farmers, with quick and efficient access to tractors. Think of it like Uber-type service for farmers.
A farmer sends a text to the Hello Tractor cloud service and pays upfront for whatever services are desired, such as the tilling or plowing of a field. Hello Tractor responds via text message and offers the farmer a time window when the services will be delivered.
This is an immensely more efficient and effective service for these farmers, who reside in rain-fed environments and depend on timely preparation of their fields. With Hello Tractor, a farmer can have her field ready to grow and produce crops in a matter of hours via machinery opposed to weeks via manual labor.
The entire process takes place via text message. Mobile phone usage is tremendously high in Africa and Hello Tractor takes advantage of their presence. Farmers pay for the services using mobile money.
Jehiel Oliver, one of the co-founders of Hello Tractor, spoke with the group of high school students about the value of innovation and technology for the developing world. He stressed the importance of traveling and working abroad to not only build one’s character, but also help communities in need.
“Here in the U.S., if you need something and have the money for it, it is readily available to you because the market is so saturated. But in many countries, especially in Africa, resources and services that we consider essential are only available to a select few, if at all. That is where you all can make a difference.”
Keely Hayes, a former Peace Corps volunteer and current regional recruiter, gave a moving presentation of her 27-month tour in Kyrgyzstan. Keely worked as a teacher in Kyrgyzstan and shared several stories about the experience of learning a new language in a new place, visiting the grocery store, and managing a budget in a foreign country. The group of high school students was particularly curious about Keely’s living conditions and her interactions with her host family.
After both presentations, the students went out to the garden and had a chance to get their hands on some authentic farming equipment. Many of the students expressed an interest in joining the Peace Corps after the presentations and were naturally curious about traveling and living outside of the DC area.
Both Jehiel and Keely represent a signal that an international focus is important for success in today’s world. They not only have made an impact abroad with Hello Tractor and Peace Corps respectively, but also in the communities where they currently reside. Speaking with young people about career aspirations and potential experiences is crucial, especially for those from urban neighborhoods who are often told and expected to remain in the same bubble for all of their lives. Sometimes, all it takes it just a bit of exposure to make a world of difference.
This article was submitted by guest blogger Adom Cooper.