When I began to teach at my local public high school, I asked my students if they would be interested in having a school garden. At first they were hesitant and did not show much enthusiasm for the idea. I soon understood why when the school principal told me that they had attempted a school garden on two previous occasions with little success. In both instances, the garden did not last beyond a year. After some more discussion, I learned that behind these shortcomings was a lack of motivation, clearly delineated responsibilities and long-term vision. Consequently, the gardens often ended up being neglected for days without water, maintenance, or preventative measures against threats from animals. Although the students were discouraged by these failures, I told them that we could make a new school garden work with the necessary planning, community contributions, and most importantly, their total investment. Fortunately, my counterpart, who is a member of the high school’s parents’ association, had just completed a garden training funded by West Africa Food Security Partnership (WAFSP), hosted by the Peace Corps. He was happy to take a leading role in carrying out our new vision.
After having purchased all the materials, we set out to work every Saturday for several weeks beginning in January. We began by tilling the soil and building the fence. Afterwards, in order to ensure accountability and teamwork, students formed teams of three, each of which was responsible for forming their own garden bed and maintaining it for the rest of the year. Up until this point our work was slow and grueling, frequently going into hottest part of the day. However, we were rewarded one Saturday morning when the foundations were all set and we got to plant hundreds of vegetable saplings. Over a hundred of my students showed up with their hand-hoes accompanied by eager smiles. We would now get to breathe life into this barren expanse. By midday, all the saplings and seeds had been planted, watered, and earnestly supplicated by anxious students to withstand the scorching heat to come. While the vegetables grew, I held workshops for my students on bookkeeping, the importance of nutrition, and the role of vegetables in maintaining a healthy diet. After a few months, the garden had transformed into a lush oasis of onions, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, and squash. It is now the big attraction at school. Due to this project, over a hundred of my students have either begun to grow their own miniature gardens at home or intend to do so in the near future. With the bookkeeping skills they have acquired they are more prepared to undertake future business ventures. Additionally, they have reported eating more vegetables on a daily basis, and have even earned themselves a little bit of pocket money. Perhaps the best indicator of success, however, has been their ceaseless requests for more gardens.
By Volunteer Nadim Houssain