TEDxLaCalera first TEDx in-a-box event in Colombia

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Colombia is going through very difficult moments regarding rural populations. Ten days ago a national agrarian strike started, farmers from around the country stopped working and massive protests started! Some have been very violent, and many dead, injured, and imprisoned farmers resulted from this uprising. Another symptom of how forgotten the countryside has been for ages; added to the armed conflict that for more than 60 years has been devastating the country. This time, protests are centered on the inviability of rural economy within the commerce treaties signed with other countries. Farmers are not allowed anymore to save their seeds for further planting, they have to buy  from big companies. Supplies are twice the cost in Colombia than on neighboring countries, and imported food is far cheaper than the one produced here. Big intermediary mafias control the local market, so the farmer, at the end of the line, harvests more debts.

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La Calera, a town not too far from Bogota, Colombian capital, joined the strikes. One day before the event all roads had blockages including fires, rocks, and manifestations. The day of the event the roads opened, and we could travel to La Calera! During this troubled times,  events like a TEDx in-a-box are extremely important. New ideas, inspiration, networks and actions are hugely in need for a new rural order to be stablished. Normally this spaces are only available to a few people, in the cities, so generating them at the periphery can greatly spark change and wellbeing. New possibilities and innovation have to be built at the countryside. Open spaces to plant ideas, in order to harvest transformation.

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The road which heads up to the Vereda Jerusalen (vereda means rural district) is beautiful. As the dirt road winds up, we are surrounded by clouds, vegetation changed to an upper andean cloud forest. We encountered a few farmers going up the mountain in horses, heading towards rural spots where the Fiesta del Campesino (farmer’s festival) was being celebrated.

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We reached the Rural School of Jerusalen, a small primary school which hosted TEDxLaCalera. The main classroom or the school was turned into the venue, the sign was made by Proyecto San Antonio,a local initiative for rural cultural development. The TEDx sign had been weaved by farmer children at Guatavita, when we did TEDxGuatavita last year. The TEDx in-a- box is amazing, everything has its place, a pandora box full of possibilities, with the power of spreading ideas!! We set up the screen, sign, equipment, and ready to go!!

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The event started with an outdoor small theater presentation from a local group, Con-Ciencia Activa, working mainly with children with special learning needs. They portrayed two drunk farmers, a tragic comedy the audience could relate to.. the relation between the drunk father who reprimands his son for being drunk.

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Then the classroom opened for the TEDx itself to begin. We screened the intro video, explained the connection between the TEDx experience, TED, and similar initiatives all over the world! And the first talk began.

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Juan Pablo Calderon spoke about making instead of buying, collaborating instead of individual work. He introduced concepts like open hardware, wikipedia, and collective building. He spoke about the Open Source Ecology project, through which people can build their own machines for rural work. Instead of buying a very expensive tractor, and depending on a supplier for special spear parts, they could, collectively, build their own. Collaboration itself brings much more than the objects, it builds social fabric, and makes people happier!!

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We then screened Decalogo de Una Granjera, a talk by Marta Alvarez at TEDxGalicia in Spain. Her funny inspiring story about a city girl who moves to the countryside is full of entrepreneurship lessons. A story about being constant, recovering from disasters, working hard, enjoying your work, and seeing success where everyone else sees failure makes her tale fascinating.

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Camilo Gomez, who runs a farm very near to the school, spoke about the need to introduce added value to traditional production, as a way of overcoming the actual economic dynamics which are extinguishing small farmers. His talk generated spontaneous responses from the audience, they wanted to discuss their traditional way of doing things, with the new perspective Camilo was providing. He advocates for a sustainable agriculture which can generate a differential agrarian market,  and respond effectively to the actual system, cause to the national strike we are going through.

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Cesar Florian, founder of El Nahual, a permaculture project at another region, shared his personal story and told us how he became a farmer after being a musician from the city, when his father died. He had an insight about a different life, one more purposeful and healthy, one the city couldn’t provide. He explained how farming can be seen as a system to be designed, and guided us through his process implementing a sustainable system at his farm.

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Alejandro Feged‘s talk, The Man Against Himself , explained how tradition can sometimes generate unhealthy practices. At other instances, it can be the clue for reproducing cultural adaptive practices which can solve actual health problems. Hilarious pictures showed people doing all sorts of strange actions that risked their lives. A reflection followed urging us to think about how our daily actions contribute to our health.

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It was an amazing afternoon with many lessons. The first TEDx in-a-box event in Colombia opens many possibilities for sharing constructive spaces at rural locations, one very much in need this days. Spreading ideas with the potential of opening new perspectives can enormously contribute to the establishment of a flourishing countryside, in contrast to the reality made visible by the upheavals of the last few days.  The ripples caused by this events are huge, still today, one year after we did the first event in Guatavita, we meet people who tell us how their lives and careers have been affected by the ideas and networks created during and after the TEDx. We plan to do two other TEDx events at rural locations in the next couple of months, one in Silvania, Cundinamarca, and another in Candelaria, Valle del Cauca.  We think the TEDx-in-a-box format can be a very powerful platform for local sourced development. The seed for change is being planted through ideas.