4 months. This blog post will mark exactly 4 months for when I moved to Swaziland. It was only in making this blog post that I realized this also means it has been 4 months since riding a bike but that’s a different discussion. Even without my bike, my new Swazi life is still incredible. I love my family and community in Swaziland. Every day I learn something new or have an experience that makes me appreciate the unique opportunity I have been given by being in the peace corps and being an American.
This blog is focusing on a topic I have taken an interest in, which I never thought I would before coming to swaziland. Agriculture. At this stage in my service, I am limited in what I am able to do in terms of projects but this hasn’t stopped me from getting the ball rolling for a couple projects. It is something I am extremely excited about and want to share with you!
Within the first 2 weeks of arriving in Ludzibini and living with my permanent family in the end of August, my family and I finished our permagarden, something that is incredible because to create them takes hours of hard work which I could have only done with help from my bobhuti and make.
These gardens are gardens that the Peace Corps Swaziland advocates for for a number of reasons. Traditional gardens especially is Swaziland plant crops excessively far apart with crop types placed by themselves. This method requires a large amount of space, a large amount of water, and depletes the quality of the soil by growing the same crop in the same place year after year.
Permagardens are different. We dig the beds DEEP (40cm deep), this allows the roots to grow down in the soil instead of out as you would get with tough soil. By doing this, the plant takes up less root space. With this extra space, you can plant vegetable types that compliment each other. For example, some plants grow big above the soil like lettuce, some plants grow mostly in the ground like onions. You can strategically plant mixed crops together in a space that essentially reduces the growing space by half. This allows you to use 1/2 the water! There is much more to it but that is a quick intro, please look up permaculture to learn more!
So this is what I began as soon as I got to my permanent home in Ludzibini. All in all my entire family is excited about the garden and help me maintain the garden and compost pile on a regular basis. My little bhuti and sisi even made their own identical garden all by themselves because they are so excited about it! My Make is particularly excited about these gardens because she is in charge of the Neighborhood Care Points. These are preschools for children under 5 who are orphans or vulnerable to being orphans. A side note, almost exactly half of the children in my high school are orphans. Let that sink in a minute. The NCP, for many children here, is the only place children receive their food in a day. Unfortunately, the NCP has been closed because they ran out of food. It is my Make’s idea that we will teach the people who work at each NCP how to grow their own permagarden so they can have their own vegetables to feed the children and not be as dependent on financial assistance for food. I’m clearly thrilled to have a Make with this type of vision and dedication to the children in need in my community.
In addition to introducing permagardens to the community in a way that conserves water I also have begun the groundwork for agriculture in my school. Much like the NCPs, my school lacks in finances for food. What food the students do eat is the same every day, rice and beans. Much like the NCPs, this meal is possibly the only guaranteed meal these children have.
What the school has to its advantage is an extremely large property, 22 acres, almost entirely undeveloped. We also live in a region that is very well suited to growing fruit trees, something many people do but don’t realize they could do so much more. My idea I presented to the school board is to establish an agriculture area on the school grounds which will utilize permaculture ideas to mix fruit trees and vegetables together. The trees we have chosen to grow are drought tolerant trees, so we don’t waste water on them. We will plant at least 30 trees at first including mangos, banana, papaya, avocado, leeches, and possibly orange. These will include different varieties so that the school will have healthy fruits available throughout the entire year. With this, the school will have a long lastly continual source of healthy fruits to eat which cost them nothing.
This is going to be done through the creation of a school agriculture club for students who wish the learn how to grow food. We have met with a local NGO that is going to assist in teaching the students how to grow their own trees, how to propogate and graft their own trees, and encourage the students to take pride and ownership in the fact that they made these trees. They will then be able to take this knowledge home and plant their own trees at home! I must admit, my primary interests are in special education and community development as a result of my education and experience but I am very much valuing the fact that I am drawing my knowledge from recognizing needs of students and how to address those through community designed themes like taking advantage of the resources available like land and weather.
There have been so many instances where I realize that I am using my experiences in these fields to help me in projects and potential projects and truly feel like I was meant to have had those experiences before joining the Peace Corps and living in Swaziland.
Please post any questions you might have for me! As always thanks for reading! Salani kahle!