Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On Being Used in Ways that I Never Would Have Thought…

The Peace Corps is an experience about challenging yourself to go outside your comfort zone and then learning how to adapt, which in my opinion leads to a lot of personal growth. If anyone would have told me 5 years back that I would join the Peace Corps, or live in Africa, or be speaking Portuguese, or confidently navigating myself through the daily craziness of the market; I would not have believed any of these things that are my reality these days would have become part of my life story. However, I have always been interested in travel, languages, cultures, adventure and social justice so Peace Corps was not a completely random experience I chose; just an intense one! But if anyone had told me I would be leading an agricultural training, I surely would have laughed in their face. Agriculture has never played much of a role in my background, but I have taken a new interest in it since starting Peace Corps because it is so central to daily life in Mozambique. Around 80% of the population where I live are farmers, food security is a huge issue, and rather than eating many processed foods we buy fresh produce from the market or from or neighbors.

Last April, many of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and I along with our Mozambican counterparts received a two-day training on the Bio-intensive Permaculture Garden because food security is such an issue here. These agricultural techniques are based on effectively managing water through creation of holes and water-directing swales, deep digging, composting, planting and management of crops to produce a high yield of food in a small space. My Mozambican co-worker thought it was interesting and so did I, and so we went home and put together a powerpoint presentation to show off what we learned and try to generate interest in putting the technique to use. Ultimately though, a permaculture project never got off the ground in our town. I was a little bummed, but my co-worker and I chose other projects to work on and I accepted that was probably the end of that.

So this year when my friend Katie asked me to come help her lead a permaculture training at her school I was excited, but nervous. I am definitely no expert, which I told her, but I was willing to study the manuals and had the overall idea in my mind from last year. We agreed to help lead students in her teacher training institute with the help of the agricultural professor at her school who had expressed interest in learning about permaculture. During the training, we started by teaching the students how to build compost piles and explaining all the benefits of the compost pile. Katie and I tried to explain all this agricultural terminology in Portuguese, which was comical because, who am I kidding, I do not even know it all in English!? However, with the knowledge and support of the Mozambican agricultural professor and because the students were engaged in the practical learning environment, they were able to fill in and add valuable information in our gaps. I showed off some pictures of gardens that had used compost in half versus no compost in the other half to show how much better the vegetables grew with compost to give a visual of the benefit.

We also measured out a good garden size and went to work digging channels and holes to direct the water, and double digging and providing soil amendments to the garden beds, all of which are important techniques for permagardening. At the end of the day, we had a very good start to the project and had generated a lot of interest and excitement in the project, although admittedly Katie and I are not the most qualified teachers. Thanks to Katie’s initiative I agreed to do the project, thanks to a passionate Returned Peace Corps Volunteer named Peter Jensen (who now works in Peace Corps staff in Tanzania and goes all over the world doing permaculture trainings) I learned about this agricultural process that can improve people’s lives, and thanks to the hard work of the students I was helping train we had something worthwhile to show for the day. It just proves that a little effort can go along way (in this case, Peter, Katie, the agricultural professor, the students, and I all had the desire to teach and learn), that with collaboration we go much further than we could ever go alone (neither Katie, nor me, nor the Mozambican professor, nor the students could have done the project alone), and that you only must be willing to go out of your comfort zone to be the difference you want to see in the world.

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