Cal Poly’s Guateca Project is feeling the love from a nonprofit organization, Central Coast Bioneers, who will host a Valentine’s Day-themed benefit dinner for the project at Sage Restaurant on campus Feb.13.
CEO of Ecologistics, Inc., organizer of the Central Coast Bioneers, Stacey Hunt said the organization wanted to help fund the project after hearing about Guateca at a Bioneer conference last year.
“Pete Schwartz (the adviser to the Guateca project) was a speaker at the conference,” Hunt said. “When he spoke about the project, we were all intrigued and wanted to do something to help him.”
So, they organized the five-course, gourmet benefit dinner, which will donate 100 percent of the profits made to the project.
The nature of the Guateca Project is what attracted the Bioneers’ help. Hunt compared it to the adage: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.”
The Bioneers take the quote one step further.
“They are going down and learning to fish with the man,” Hunt said. “They are figuring it out together.”
The Guateca Project is a collective effort, headed by physics professor Pete Schwartz, between students from Cal Poly and from San Pablo, Guatemala. Its goal is to provide San Pablo with resources residents wouldn’t have access to otherwise — while simultaneously teaching students, Schwartz said.
“We are providing a service they wouldn’t have,” he said. “They wanted an education, and we are building them a school.”
The educating will commence this summer when Guateca, through Cal Poly, will offer a two-month long Appropriate Technology school in San Pablo. It will be composed of 20 Cal Poly and 20 San Pablo students.
In fact, it will be “cheaper to study there in the summer than to stay and study at Cal Poly,” Schwartz said.
The 40 students will essentially be enrolled in a 16-unit quarter split up into four classes, which will cover: language, energy and the environment, business and technical development of sustainable enterprises and a lab-based class, during which the students will test their business models and projects.
In the language class, the American and Guatemalan students will teach each other their respective languages one-on-one for two hours, one hour each, Schwartz said. Throughout the other classes, the students will work together in groups of four, two from each country, to create a market plan to implement a more sustainable society.
“They will plan an economically, environmentally and societally sustainable business that will survive (in San Pablo) once we leave,” Schwartz said.
Some of the main projects will include providing solar power for both general electricity and water heaters, insulation for the houses and creating a reliable source of local income.
“I’m not going to give them anything,” Schwartz said. “We are going to go explore how we might be able to develop these technologies and do a financial analysis to start a business. And, they want an intellectual community, so we are going to teach.”
The desire among the San Pablo residents to create an intellectual community, and learn how to implement the proposed changes, is what convinced Schwartz to base the Guateca project in the town.
“We found a village where they are really enlightened about what is important to them,” Schwartz said. “It is a place where the program will work because they don’t already have (these technologies).”
Technological assessments and meeting the locals is what Guateca members focused on during the project’s first trip to San Pablo in December, which lasted about two weeks.
“We met the students and cooperative teams, interacted with the community members and created a community survey to access needs for technologies being designed (at Cal Poly) this quarter,” said Jamie Cignetti, member of the Guateca advisory board and business administration senior.
For Cignetti, seeing the Guatemalan students committed to making a difference was inspirational.
“They are excited to have us there helping,” Cignetti said. “We are learning more from them than we are teaching them.”
Cignetti plans to travel to San Pablo this summer. But for now, she said Guateca is focusing on sending an English teacher to San Pablo to help familiarize the residents with the language so communicating will be easier when the students arrive this summer.
The funds earned at the dinner, presented by Sage Restaurant’s Executive Chef Corey King and with wine pairings for each course donated by Kenneth Volk Vineyards, will help bring down the costs for travel and for the materials being used to build the technologies, Cignetti said.
The dinner is $75 per person. Tickets can be purchased at www.CentralCoastBioneers.org. It begins at 6 p.m. at Sage Restaurant. The next Central Coast Bioneers Conference will be Oct. 14 to 16 at the San Luis Obispo Veterans’ Hall.