Fresh Roots: Plant the Seeds of Change, Watch the Impact Grow

Alumni TIES
4 min readMar 29, 2024


by Mike Hernandez

A quiet revolution is happening in the picturesque city of Atiquizaya, which is tucked away in the West region of El Salvador. Through the “Fresh Roots Project” at the Instituto Nacional Cornelio Azenon Sierra (INCAS), a group of committed students are planting the seeds of transformation. What started out as a modest effort to meet the urgent needs of the community has grown into a revolutionary movement that empowers students and promotes environmental sustainability in equal measure.

At the May 2023 Alumni TIES seminar in Santiago, Chile, I experienced a life-changing event that marked the start of my “Fresh Roots” adventure. I was surrounded by experts and other alumni, and I could feel the potential igniting. We had a great conversation on projects that increase climate change resilience, and it stoked my desire to alter things in my small part of the globe.

Participants get together to start planning and creating their digital content

Returning home to Atiquizaya, I carried with me not just memories, but a renewed sense of purpose and determination. Inspired by the stories shared at the seminar, I embarked on a mission to cultivate change from the ground up.

Thus, “Fresh Roots” was born — a vision to establish hydroponic gardens and domestic agriculture initiatives at the Instituto Nacional Cornelio Azenon Sierra (INCAS). With each seed planted, I envisioned not just a garden, but a vibrant ecosystem of learning, growth, and a youth community engagement.

From the outset, the goals of “Fresh Roots” were clear: to foster environmental sustainability, enhance inclusiveness, and empower students through entrepreneurship. With each workshop through content creation, hydroponic gardens, domestic agriculture, environmental bootcamps, training session, and hands-on activities, we sowed the seeds of knowledge and watched them take root in the hearts and minds of our participants.

Participants started exploring the areas of intervention and how they will start creating the Hydroponic spots and domestic agriculture.

“Fresh Roots” has had a genuinely amazing impact. Students used to have restricted andlimited access to fresh produce, but these days they actively participate in growing their own fruits and vegetables, learning important lessons about entrepreneurship and environmental stewardship in the process. In addition, the project has received overwhelming support from the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. Personnel from that ministry visit the project’s sessions and encourage participants to continue learning and bringing change to their homes, schools, and communities.

A lovely dynamic between students and their parents is developing as they move closer to becoming domestic farmers. Enthused parents take part in the process, viewing it as a chance to cultivate durable, robust bonds with their children in addition to producing fresh goods. I believe that this “parent engagement” strategy will create more impact in each of the students’ lives as they share with their parents what they learn each session. Some of the students have already mentioned that they are suggesting changes their parents should implement in their agriculture procedures. Isn’t that amazing? At “Fresh Roots” we are giving youth a chance to be an agent of change- starting in their homes.

As the project continues to evolve, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be part of this journey. “Fresh Roots” is not just a gardening initiative — it is an opportunity to empower community-driven action, resilience, and hope. With each harvest, we are reminded of the transformative power of a single seed and the potential for positive change when we come together with a shared vision.

Participants not only enjoy learning but also their break times where they share, talk and obviously there is always time for a selfie!

In my beautiful Atiquizaya, the whispers of change grow louder with each passing day, echoing the promise of a brighter, more sustainable future for generations to come. As we look to the horizon, we do so with hope in our hearts and gratitude for the opportunity to be part of something truly special — Fresh Roots, where we plant the seeds of change and watch the impact grow.


Mike Hernandez is a 2013 alumnus of the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA). He participated in the May 2023 Alumni TIES seminar on “Municipal Environmental Resilience and Inclusiveness” in Santiago, Chile.

Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).



Alumni TIES

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.