African Delegation Observes Mid-Term Elections in Louisville (Plus An Interview with WFPL)

Eight delegates from seven different African countries arrived in Louisville on November 4, 2018. Prior to their arrival, the group had traveled extensively across the United States – to Washington, D.C., Annapolis and Baltimore, Miami, and Colorado Springs – learning about the U.S. electoral process, election monitoring, and effective campaigning. But no amount of travel was going to wear down the group’s excitement for the big day: November 6th.

While in Louisville, the group met with several organizations, candidates, and constituents. For a compare and contrast, the group met with both the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office and Floyd County Clerk’s Office to explore the differences in election day preparation, laws, and management of polling stations. Mr. James Young, Co-Director of the Jefferson Co. Election Center, met with visitors to discuss the amount of preparation that goes into managing Kentucky’s most populated county and how residents must visit their assigned polling stations. In Floyd County, IN, the group learned from Floyd County Clerk Christy Eurton that polls are run a bit different just across the river. In Floyd County, visitors were exposed to the idea of Election Centers, where residents of Floyd County are able to vote in any Election Center and are not tied to one specific polling station.

Our group also met with local candidates of both parties. First, visitors met with Mr. Kent Hall who ran as the Republican candidate for Metro Council’s 7th District seat. Mr. Hall had previously worked in the Jefferson Co. Election Center and had a wealth of knowledge to share having help prepare for elections and now as a candidate himself. Later in the day, visitors met with Ms. Nima Kulkarni, the Democratic candidate running for State Representative in the 40th district. Ms. Kulkarni shared her drive to run, major issues, and the grassroots support for her campaign as the first Indian-American elected to Kentucky’s state legislature.

Dr. Rhonda Wrzenski, Associate Professor of Political Science at Indiana University Southeast, gave a presentation on the predictions for the Mid-Term elections and reasons for the historical turn-out of women candidates in this year’s election cycle. Students of IUS sat in on the discussion.

Bill Burton of 89.3 WFPL News met with the group to discuss the importance of transparency and media coverage during elections. Not only did the visitors have a wonderful discussion, but Mr. Burton interviewed two of the participants, which played on WFPL the morning of November 6th! You can hear the interview in the audio file below.

Interview by Bill Burton, 89.3 WFPL News:

 

A delegate from the Central African Republic shares a traditional song with trivia contestants!

The group had wonderful experiences with two volunteer home hospitality dinner hosts! They also joined WAC’s special “Election Edition” Global Trivia Night at Gravely Brewing Co. to watch results pour in. One of them even gave the crowd an impromptu singing lesson!

You can view the Facebook Album for all photos here!

 

This project was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and implemented locally by World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana in partnership with World Learning.

International Visitors explore policies to address drug use in Louisville and the Philippines

From June 27-July 1, a group of four Filipino officials and professionals from different sectors including the federal government, local government, non-governmental/private organizations and law enforcement visited Louisville to learn about Kentucky’s efforts to reduce demand for illicit drugs and improve rehabilitation programs for addicts.

Visitors spent two days attending meetings with various organizations and officials, including the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness where they discussed a
newly implemented, long-term program aiming to address the root causes of drug abuse and
reduce addiction in the Louisville area. Visitors also attended a roundtable discussion to explore
ways the Philippines can improve drug rehabilitation programs and reduce illicit drug use in the
country. The roundtable included professionals from CenterStone Rehabilitation Center, the
Morton Center, the Healing Place and other local organizations.

At the state capitol in Frankfort, another meeting was attended by the Executive
Director of the Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP), Van Ingram, as well as Dave Hopkins, the administrator of the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System (KASPER), which tracks prescriptions of controlled substances and medications throughout the state. Also in attendance were officials from the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. During the program, the breadth and complexity of the drug epidemic in Kentucky was addressed along with the historical causes of the opioid epidemic. The ODCP also addressed the ways that the epidemic was being addressed by various departments and organizations in Kentucky, with policies including prescription limits, “Good Samaritan” laws and education on the use of Narcan (Naxolone)—a medication used to treat drug overdoses. Kentucky has also become the state with the second-highest number of safe syringe exchange programs in the country, reducing both Hepatitis and HIV transmission and providing a space for addicts to get help.

Visitors from the Philippines also educated local officials about issues with illicit drugs in the Philippines and the efforts made across government and private facilities to reduce addiction and drug  production. They discussed the framework of a rights and evidence-based approach in the Philippines to treat addicts and explored ways that policies from the U.S. and Kentucky could be adapted for the Philippine model.

Overall, the visit was a very exciting look into the drug epidemic both in the U.S. and
Kentucky as well as the Philippines, and introduced ways that the countries can learn and work together to tackle the transnational issue of addiction. The trip was concluded by an active day at the historic Mammoth Cave National Park and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.

Wheelchair Basketball, Disability Rights and Inclusion

Fourteen adaptive sports coaches descended on Louisville from Zambia for the 2018 National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament! The fourteen coaches represented Special Olympics Zambia, National Paralympic Committee of Zambia, Ministry of Youth, Sport, and Child Development, Baeuleni United Sports Academy, and more. The coaches were invited to the United States on a project of “Disability Rights and Inclusion” sponsored through the U.S. Department of State, Sports Diplomacy. World Affairs Council partnered with FHI360 to provide an unforgettable experience for the coaches and Kentucky counterparts that they met with.

 

Following the tournament, coaches met with several local agencies, individuals, and organizations working for disability rights and inclusion in sports. The group started their local meetings with Louisville Metro Councilman Vitalis Lanshima, the first foreign-born resident to sit on Louisville Metro Council. Councilman Lanshima lost his arms in an accident while living in Nigeria. He shared his personal journey in paralympic sports, which is what ultimately brought him to Louisville through a sports scholarship with Bellarmine University.

Sports was the first thing that taught me that I could be free.

Louisville Metro Councilman, Vitalis Lanshima

Special Olympics Kentucky met with the group afterwards to talk about the organization’s history, work, challenges, and successes. Mr Hunter Brislin, Program Director of Team Sports and Coach Education, and Mr. Justin Harville, Director of Volunteers and Program Services, provided a presentation and answered questions about Special Olympics in Kentucky.

Mr. Greg Fante, Vice President of Sports Development with the Louisville Sports Commission, put together a strong panel of guests and hosted a roundtable on “Sports Tourism, Events, and Accessibility” for the coaches at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau (LCVB). The panel included: Ms. Vickie Lincks, Executive Director of Kentucky & Southern Indiana Paralyzed Veterans of America; Ms. BJ Levins, Recreation Administrator for Louisville Metro Parks’ Adaptive and Inclusive Recreation (AIR) program; Mr. Brad Knapp, Destination Services Manager, LCVB; Ms. Gen Howard, Senior Sales Manager (Sports), LCVB; and Mr. Dave Patrone, Vice President of Client Services, Kentucky Venues. Immediately, the roundtable talked about the logistical challenges and successes for hosting the National Wheelchair Bakestball Tournament, including transportation, venue, hotel, and more. The group was greatly impacted by the amount of collaboration and partnerships that it takes to pull a successful event.

 

The group was impressed to see that hosting events such as the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament requires the entire city’s cooperation.

The following day was spent entirely at the University of Louisville to meet with the Department of Health and Sports Sciences and participate in a sports psychology workshop with 2nd Wind Motivation by Cheryl Hart. The last day of programming, the group visited Churchill Park School which serves students age 5 to 21 who have moderate to severe disabilities and need a specialized program. They were able to view the school’s adaptive recreation and sports, including an adaptive playground, adaptive swimming pool, bowling alley, and gym.

 

As their final meeting, the group spent an afternoon with BJ Levins and Metro Parks staff at the Louisville Metro Parks Adaptive and Inclusive Recreation (AIR) program at Berrytown Recreation Center. The group learned about the history of the park’s involvement in adaptive recreation, the plethora of programs and sports available to the community, and the administration of such programs. Then comes the fun — archery class!

 

If you want to view the group’s Facebook album for more pictures, follow this link

 

International English Teachers Visit Kentucky

From March 21-25, the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana hosted 10 international teachers. The visitors, from Turkey, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, were all English as a Second Language educators studying ESL teacher training programs. Our visitors traveled across the state, first meeting with professors from the Masters in Teaching ESL program at the University of Kentucky. Next, they traveled to Frankfort to tour the state capitol and meet with officials from the Department of Education to discuss Kentucky’s foreign language standards.

Finally, on Friday, the group saw these training programs put into action through a visit to ESL Newcomer Academy at Shawnee High School, a middle and high school that works with students beginning their first year of school in the United States. These students are typically at beginning levels of English proficiency, so instructors help students develop their English skills and provide emotional support during their transition to American life. The visitors sat in on English classes at Newcomer before meeting with officials from the Jefferson County Public Schools system to discuss the hiring of ESL teachers and curriculum development.

Our international visitors’ trip to Louisville concluded with a fun cultural day on Saturday. The group visited the Muhammad Ali Center and Kentucky Derby Museum before finishing the day with a dinner cruise on the Ohio River. From Louisville, the visitors went to Chicago, IL to participate in the TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo. Our visitors enjoyed their visit to Kentucky and will take many valuable skills back to the training centers and universities in their home countries!

Regardless of our experience in the field, there is always so much we can learn from one another. ‘Professional learning’ is endless! | – Bahar, Turkey

 

My strong belief is that people like us, teachers and educators, make the differences and build understanding between countries and nations. We shape and influence young generation’s minds and future and it was great to meet professionals from Kentucky to learn from them! | – Svetlana, Uzbekistan

Visit the group’s Facebook Album!

Real power is locked within us and we are unaware of it. Visiting the Muhammad Ali Center helped me to unleash my vital energy! | – Michel, Gabon

 

This program was funded and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Office of English Language Programs and implemented locally by FHI 360 & World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Brazilian teacher uses Louisville connections to educate students about racism on MLK Day

In Summer 2017, World Affairs Council hosted ten English Access Microscholarship Program (ACCESS) educators from across the globe. While in Louisville, the group met with Dr. Renee Campbell, President and CEO of Wesley House, to learn about the organization’s work to empower families, individuals, and communities toward self-sufficiency. An educator from Brazil, Cícero Ferreira, walked away with a profound idea. When back in Brazil, Cícero wanted to work with his ACCESS students on a project to tackle racism. With Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaching, Cícero invited Dr. Renee Campbell into his classroom via Skype, to share her experience surviving racism and to talk with students about how complex it could be dealing with this issue. Through her accomplishments, she inspired students to fight for a better world free from racism. Afterwards, students engaged in a project named ERACISM, where they debated ways racism is shown in the Brazilian society and came up with ideas on how to “erase racism” out.

Cícero shared reflections about the virtual exchange below!

It was a different Monday for our Access students during their intensive course in January. While in America people were celebrating Martin Luther King Junior’s Day, our students at ICBEU Manaus – a binational center in the Amazon city – were also getting a taste of how important this date is for our reflection: racism is a fact; it’s there and we have to stand against it. Thanks to Dr. Renee Campbel, this urgent message was even more underscored.

Thinking of that, we at ICBEU Manaus, through our Pedagogical Supervisor Cicero Ferreira, have invited Dr. Renee Campbell to address a wonderful online speech to our students due to her fruitful endeavor to assist the women and kids who are victims of racism. Cicero met her during his visit to the Wesley House as part of a program from the American Embassy in partnership with World Affairs Council of Kentucky & S. Indiana. As he observed her willingness to contribute to a fairer society as well as the results of her work, he decided to keep in touch with her through social media and had suggested that one day she would be invited to address to the Access Microscholarship Program in his city Manaus, Brazil. The suggestion was promptly regarded as an invitation.

As the day of Marthin Luther King Junior approached, they had agreed she would deliver a speech on racism, showing where it is present in the American society, how she has contributed to assisting victims of racism(she was one herself) and how our young students could make a difference in Brazil, their country.

Speaking of the students, they were very touched by Renee’s story and felt very encouraged to become voices standing against all the evil racism does, just like she is a voice herself. The first step inside the classroom was a project named ERACISM, which served as a follow-up activity based on the issues caused by racism in Brazil, where it is present and how it can be fought. Aligned with Dr. Renee’s brilliant insights, students also came up with ways they can contribute to erase racism in their communities, schools and, considering a wide range, the Brazilian society.

Every day is the right day to discuss racism in our classrooms. More than ever, schools are key partners of institutions like the Wesley House, which – through inspiring people like Dr. Renee Campbell – instill the need for a better society tackling on such important social issues as racism. In a few minutes, Dr. Renee was able to convincingly instigate our students to stand against this evil practice and to make a difference in others’ lives. Like Martin Luther King, these students also say: “I have a dream!”

-Cícero Ferreira
ACCESS Coordinator

Dr. Renee Campbell, upon reading Cícero’s reflection had a few words of her own to share!

I sincerely appreciate and hold dear the opportunity that I had to provide an online speech to the students and teachers who are a part of ICBEU. It was indeed and honor and a pleasure to be making such a presentation a monumental and significant day as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It was remarkable to connect via SKYPE to students and teachers who were as far away as the Amazon Rainforest. I felt very blessed to be able to discuss racism and to provide strategies on how to erase it.

I also learned a great deal from the students. It was wonderful to get to know them and hear about their struggles of racism and colorism. I discovered that there is parity in the struggles that happen in Brazil, and the United States. Many youth face the same obstacles youth of color face in the United States. The students that I presented to that day are brilliant and resilient at the same time. I believe that they represent the tools and vision for our World’s great future, without racism.

I must say that my dream is to one day visit and meet these students and teachers in person.

-Dr. Renee Campbell
President/CEO of Wesley House

About the English Access Microscholarship Program

The English Access Microscholarship Program (Access) provides a foundation of English language skills to talented 13–20-year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors through after-school classes and intensive sessions. Access gives participants English skills that may lead to better jobs and educational prospects. Participants also gain the ability to compete for and participate in future exchanges and study in the United States. Since its inception in 2004, approximately 95,000 students in more than 85 countries have participated in the Access Program. This program is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of English Language Programs.

This project was locally implemented by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana in partnership with FHI 360.

Interview with Vitoria Marques of Brazil Youth Ambassadors

by Karina Cabral
Original article printed in Portuguese at O Livre.
Photo Credits: O Livre.


An example in her community, Mato Grosso student wins exchange in the United States

 

Fifty students from Brazilian public schools were chosen by the US embassy in Brazil, among 23,000 applicants, to gain an exchange in the United States. Among them is Vitoria Lissa de Oliveira Marques, 18, a Mato Grossan from São José do Rio Claro (296 km from Cuiabá), an example in her community for her leadership and volunteerism.

The program that Vitória is participating in is called Young Ambassadors and was created in 2002. A success since 2010, it has been reproduced in all the countries of the Americas. Since the program began, 522 Brazilians have participated.

Vitoria always volunteered—at school, in the church, teaching English to children in a public school—but it was in 2016 that she signed up for the program for the first time.

“My mother had a fundamental role, because she was the one who made my pre-registration, without even telling me. I remember that, as the stages went by, I became more and more surprised and I reached the final, but I was not selected,” said the young woman.

In the first attempt, as a finalist she was given the opportunity to participate in another embassy program, the EIP (English Immersion USA Program), which takes the finalists of the Young Ambassadors to a week in Brasília, where they undergo a total immersion in American culture.

“We participate in lectures and classes on culture / history and other things in the United States, in partnership with Thomas Jefferson House. This gave me an incredible view of the United States and of Brazil itself, because it contains people from all over the country,” said Victoria.

Last year, Vitória tried again and went through the entire selection process, which includes a pre-registration, sending documents to prove the written application, and a written and an oral test.

The entire process is done by a partner institution, which in Mato Grosso is the State Secretary of Education (Seduc). In the end, four finalists per state are selected—and one of them gets the chance to go to the Young Ambassadors and the other three go to the EIP.

The program is for students aged 15 to 18, who are in high school, have a good command of the Portuguese language, do some kind of volunteer work and have never been to the United States. That is, this was the last year for Victoria, who is 18 and finished high school in 2017.

Fluent English is not a requirement, but it is necessary to be at a good level of the language in order to communicate in that country. Victoria never took lessons, she learned English alone.

She is currently awaiting the outcome of the Enem, as she intends to attend medicine. In the meantime, she will spend three weeks in the United States with the Young Ambassadors, attending leadership workshops, volunteer projects, meeting government officials and US community leaders and giving presentations on Brazil.

“I’m going to stay in Washington for a few days, and then I’ll be staying at an American family’s home in Louisville, Kentucky,” she said.

With the trip coming—she goes on Friday—the young woman said that her anxiety was “at a thousand”, especially regarding meeting the family that will host her. She believes that this experience will transform her future, giving her the opportunity to broaden her worldview and improve her English.

“It’s the realization of a dream, a result of commitment. I just have to be thankful,” she said.

 

Local businesses, nonprofits mentoring Latin American entrepreneurs

Costa Rican entrepreneur Karen Paola Gómez López surfs on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. | Courtesy of Gómez López

Since early October, Costa Rican entrepreneur Karen Paola Gómez López has been embedded with Louisville’s professional soccer club to learn about marketing, networking and other business aspects to improve the viability of her adventure tourism startup.

Gómez López is one of 10 young entrepreneurs from Latin America who have shadowed business, nonprofit and government leaders in Louisville as part of a U.S. State Department program to foster prosperity and human rights south of the U.S. border.

Gómez López told Insider that she had learned invaluable lessons, including the importance of networking and that entrepreneurs had to take many small but critical steps to achieve success.

“I’m really grateful,” she said. “It’s a life-changing experience.”

Gómez López, 26, hails from La Cuesta, a small town near the Panamanian border. In college, she studied in Pennsylvania for a year as part of another State Department program. After completing her post-secondary studies in Costa Rica, she worked in tourism and then decided to get another degree, in social work.

She recently got together with two partners to launch Learn Experience Adventure (L.E.A.) Costa Rica, which is based in San Isidro and offers all-inclusive and customized adventure tours involving anything from hiking and rafting to surfing and snorkeling. Gómez López said the business would cater primarily to groups of foreign tourists and would welcome its first customers next year. Twenty percent of the profits will be invested into social programs the San Isidro region to help lift people out of poverty, she said.

Gómez López looked for mentors and advisers in San Isidro, a tourism-heavy city of 45,000, but found that governmental and private organizations that help entrepreneurs there focused primarily on tech businesses. She read about the State Department Program, Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, on Facebook and reached out to her embassy contacts, who encouraged her to apply.

Commerce and social change

The program this year has brought 250 fellows from Latin America to the U.S. Louisville organizations, including Superior Meats, New Directions Housing and Louisville Forward, are participating for the first time.

Laura Duncan

The council tried to pair the visiting entrepreneurs with businesses or nonprofits in similar sectors so that each could benefit from the other’s expertise and make connections that may result in additional revenue.The program, in its second year, aims to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Latin American countries, said Laura Duncan, visitor program manager for the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. The council is the State Department’s regional partner and served as a liaison between the fellows and host organizations.

One visitor from Ecuador runs a company that produces guinea pig meat and has been meeting with local chefs, hotels and Latino grocery stores for potential export opportunities, Duncan said. Another entrepreneur, who works with at-risk youth in Suriname, got an up-close look at the operations of YouthBuild, a local nonprofit that helps disadvantaged youth obtain a high school diploma or GED while getting hands-on career training.

While the State Department has, for decades, fostered international exchanges focused on the public sector and social issues, the start of YLAI reflected an increasing interest by the agency to create greater stability in developing countries by supporting entrepreneurs who are trying to improve the lives of people in their communities by offering them work and by including in their business plan some kind of social component.

The application period for a program that will send 45 fellows from the U.S. to Latin American countries in March and April is about to begin.

The programs are funded by the State Department. Funding details were not immediately available.

Enjoying the people — not the weather

Karen Paola Gómez López, left, and Leigh Nieves

Since arriving in Kentucky on Oct. 6, Gómez López has shadowed Leigh Nieves, account executive at Louisville City FC, the local pro soccer club.

Nieves said that on a basic level both the soccer club and the adventure tourism company tried to attract and entertain people, and LouCity leaders had focused on helping Gómez López with marketing and networking skills and had connected her with local tourism-related businesses and resources to help her company adopt those practices that maximize its chances for success.

Nieves said that the club, too, had benefited from the initiative because Gómez López provided some insights into how LouCity could reach out to attract more fans from the local Latino community.

Discussions about soccer between Nieves and Gómez López came easy because it’s Costa Rica’s most popular sport. Gómez López said Costa Rican towns had at least three things: a church, a school and a soccer field.

The visiting entrepreneur also could not help but point out that the Costa Rican men’s soccer team had qualified for next year’s World Cup while some other teams did not.

Beyond the business lessons, Gómez López said that she has enjoyed meeting Louisvillians.

“People I have met have been really nice to me,” she said.

The work, activities and additional meetings and discussions with the other visiting entrepreneurs have made for busy days that often left her too tired to visit many Louisville sites, she said. Nonetheless, she enjoyed a tour of the Muhammad Ali Center and plans to visit Churchill Downs on Friday.

And, she said with a laugh, she has been able to go to the mall to buy some clothes for her family in Costa Rica, including her parents, an older sister, a younger brother and two nieces.

Gómez López said that she likes Louisville because it’s a sizable city but not so big that it’s overwhelming.

“It’s easy to get to places,” she said. “You don’t get lost here.”

She does have one complaint, though.

“I don’t like the weather,” she said with a laugh.

Costa Rica is close to the equator and does not experience seasons or significant temperature swings. Average daily temps range from 70 to 80 degrees.

Nieves said it’s been refreshing to meet someone from another culture, especially someone with such passion for her business and mission to help others.

“I have nothing but good things to say about working with YLAI,” Nieves said.

Gómez López invited Louisvillians to visit her country, which, she said, is safe, fairly prosperous, close (a four-hour flight from Atlanta) and a paradise for nature and adventure lovers. The country has active volcanoes, Pacific and Caribbean coasts and, although it covers only 0.03 percent of the planet’s surface, it holds nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity, according to the country’s embassy.

“Costa Rica is one of the best places to visit,” Gómez López said.

Carlos Zamora, Costa Rican entrepreneur and partner in adventure tour company L.E.A. Costa Rica, rafts the Naranjo River. | Courtesy of Karen Paola Gómez López

 

Costa Rica

  • Location: Central America, north of Panama and south of Nicaragua, bordered by the Caribbean Sea in the east and the North Pacific Ocean in the west.
  • Area: 51,100 square kilometers, or slightly smaller than West Virginia.
  • Climate: Tropical and subtropical.
  • Terrain: Coastal plains separated by rugged mountains including more than 100 volcanic cones, including active volcanoes.
  • Capital: San Jose.
  • Population: 4.9 million.
  • Government: Presidential republic.
  • Background: Costa Rica’s political stability, high standard of living, and well-developed social benefits system set it apart from its Central American neighbors. Through the government’s sustained social spending, almost 20 percent of GDP annually, Costa Rica has made tremendous progress toward achieving its goal of providing universal access to education, healthcare, clean water, sanitation and electricity.
  • Per capita GPD: $16,400. Northern neighbor Nicaragua has a GDPs of $5,500. Costa Rica is a popular regional immigration destination because of its job opportunities and social programs. Almost 9 percent of the population is foreign-born, with Nicaraguans comprising nearly three-quarters of the foreign population.
  • GDP growth in 2016: 4.3 percent.
  • GDP composition: Services, 73 percent; industry, 21.5 percent; agriculture, 5.5 percent. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread. (Source: CIA World Factbook.)


This article, written by Boris Ladwig, was reposted from Louisville Insider.

Learn more about the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative on our YLAI webpage.

Louisville Company Hosts Exotic Meat Entrepreneur From Ecuador

Listen to the WFPL radio spot.

About a dozen chefs wearing white coats and white hair nets are gathered in the frigid red-floored production facility of Superior Meats on West Main Street in Louisville. The chefs are here on this weekday afternoon to learn methods on how to “take down” or cut up a lamb.

Roxanne Scott | wfpl.org
Lamb “Take Down” At Superior Meats

Superior Meats supplies meat to restaurants, hotels and medical facilities. It is the last family-owned local meat supplier in Louisville. Company President Ben Robinson says they get their beef, bison, pork, poultry, wild game and other meats from many places.

“Everywhere — we source everywhere,” he says. “Everywhere from the commoditized beef out West to our local farmer in Bardstown.”

And Superior Meats is also sourcing its talent from afar. The company is currently involved in an exchange through the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative sponsored by the State Department.

Entrepreneurs from all across Latin America are in Louisville as part of the program. The founders are hosted by small businesses and nonprofits in the city for the next few weeks.

The entrepreneur chosen to do his fellowship at Superior Meats is Jose Lema from Ecuador. At his home in Quito, Lema sells exotic meat to hotels and restaurants.

“I’m in the meat industry back in my country but I deal with different animal,” he tells the chefs. “I deal with guinea pigs.”

Guinea pig might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an ‘exotic meat’ in the U.S. But in Ecuador, this is nothing new.

“Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia share a culture because that’s where the Incan Empire was set up thousands of years ago,” Lema says. “Since we share all of these, guinea pig is eaten in these three countries.”

And to Lema, it does NOT taste like chicken.

“If you mix like a pork and a rabbit — it has a particular pork-ish flavor,” he says. “But you still can have these rabbit undertastes.”

Lema’s company is called Cuyempak and was founded in 2010. “Cuy” is the word in Ecuador for “guinea pig.” Lema works with 200 small farmers in rural areas in Ecuador on best practices on how to raise and sell the animal. That includes processes around mating, feeding them with plants that will let the animals gain weight, and composting.

Lema buys the animals from farmers at a fair price, takes them to the plant, then processes and sells them.

The vacuum-packed cuy can be bought with or without marinade. The animal is prepared with Ecuadorean spices, as well as garlic, a lot of onions, cumin, a little bit of pepper and the company’s secret ingredient. Cuts include guinea pig filet and guinea pig ribs.

For Lema, this isn’t just about cuy or guinea pigs. According to the World Food Program, chronic malnutrition affects nearly 24 percent of children under the age of five in Ecuador.

“It needs solutions for that,” Lema says. “So guinea pig is part of our culture and that’s the response for that.”

Lema wants to use Cuyempak to help small farmers. He says the goal is to use local resources to solve a problem.

“So we’re trying to help a little bit for this problem and give these families a chance to have a better life, a better economy,” says Lema.

The same goes for Ben Robinson of Superior Meats.

“We’re sitting here in a state that’s the number one producer of beef cattle East of the Mississippi,” says Robinson. “We care about our community we care about our farmers and we want to help be a piece of this industry going forward.”

Although they may work with different types of meat, Lema and Robinson say they have a lot to learn from each other.

This post, written by Roxanne Scott, was reposted from WFPL News