Update: Too Big To Fail
Shortly after arriving to my village, I was approached by an eager and energetic community member, Rasmane LEGA. Rasmane wanted to work with me to start a garden, not only for himself but also as a teaching tool for the community. He and I both agreed that gardening was an underdeveloped opportunity and could yield strong results.
Before moving forward, I gave Rasmane an assignment to calculate the costs of the required materials for starting a garden. I was blown away by what he produced: a detailed budget, color coated, including nearly everything we would need. Rasmane had won me over and I was now eager to work with him on a garden and gardening education program.
We took four months to plan out the class schedule, which would last a total of 21 weeks. Keep in mind that up until this point in my service I’d only held a few trainings with small groups that lasted no longer than an hour. Rasmane and I were setting out to create a completely comprehensive course that would cover not only agricultural techniques but also basic business skills.
Rasmane and I laid out a schedule that would cover: preparing and starting a garden nursery; maintaining nursery plants; land selection and preparation for gardening; garden vegetable requirements (soil humidity, watering, shade/sun, nutrient needs, growth period, production estimates); replanting of nursery plants; weeding and weed control; watering; application of chemical and organic fertilizers; organic and natural pest control; composting and use of organic waste; irrigation; commercialization of garden produce; bookkeeping; budgeting; financing; and working collectively to form groups, groupments, or associations. All of these topics would be taught in French and two local languages.
Initially we had expected to take on ten students with a 70% success rate. The community members, however, were eager to join and we had an initial influx of 35 students. After a month though, the class size stabilized at 25 students.
Then the projected took a wrong turn; or rather I did when I had a bike wreck that landed me in the capital for a month, right before I was to take a month long vacation. I thought the project was a goner. I had previously been absent for a week and saw attendance dip. I thought a two-month absence from the project would end everything.
I was wrong. Given all the months of planning, Rasmane’s ownership of the project, and the community members’ eagerness to learn, the project continued in my absence. After my return to village, I found that we had not lost a single student. In the end 25 students, 18 more than expected, completed the entire 21-week Gardening School.
We celebrated the success of the project during a closing ceremony where the Mayor, Prefet, Village Chef, local Youth Association President, and the local Women’s Association President presented each student with a certificate of completion and a manual that covered the material taught over the 21-week garden program. My students even collected money to have t-shirts printed for the Garden School, using a logo that I designed for them.
I was so pleased to see this project succeed. I’m grateful to my students and Rasmane for all the work that they did, because in the end this was their project, not mine. After the project was completed, my students continued to amaze me and prove that this had been a sustainable project.
Three weeks after the closing ceremony, the Garden School participants independently held a meeting to form a local gardening association so they could continue to educate themselves and pool resources. They decided to call the association “Wend Tengre,“ a local Moore phrase. When I asked Rasmane what the name meant he responded, “It means ‘to have confidence in.’ We want you to have confidence in us, that we will continue to work together after you have left.”