Tuesday, March 5, 2013

February 15 - Month 5 Work Post

Whenever I sit down to write one of these monthly work update posts, it seems like the month has been impossibly long.  Was this all really in one month?  Here’s what I’ve been up to since January 15:
The team from ICRISAT, the NGO in Niger, visited our area again to give a second set of trainings.  The topics this time around included how to use the drip irrigation system, how to create and use natural pesticides, how to transplant and direct-seed garden vegetables, and organizational tips for gardening groups.  A fellow volunteer from Gomori, in far northern Benin, got a “technical exchange grant” from Peace Corps to attend some of the training and learn about the drip irrigation system.  He may be interested in installing a similar system in his area.  It was really cool to have someone else here, to show off my village!  In all I spent about two weeks attending garden training sessions, both in Peonga and in several other gardens.  Visiting the other gardens gave me the chance to see how other groups work and collect ideas for my own gardening group.  And it was fun to see more of the area. 

After the training in Peonga, we were finally ready to plant our garden!  As I may have mentioned before, I have my own bed in the garden. Fun fact: my garden bed is 56 square meters.  My house is about 20 square meters/ 225 square feet.  So my garden bed is almost three times as big as my house.  Many of the vegetables in my bed are ones that the women don’t often grow – it’s sort of an experimental/demonstration bed.  I’ve planted green beans, cucumbers, summer squash, cantelope, watermelon, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, radishes, and amaranth.  Basil and tomatoes will be transplanted into the bed soon.  So far everything other than the carrots has sprouted and is doing well!  Each bed in the garden is divided into two equal halves by a path running down the center.  I have planted the same plants in each half of my bed, and am demonstrating different ways to grow them on each side.  For example, for my green beans and cucumbers I’m demonstrating different methods of trellising.  I’ve been experimenting with natural pesticides that we learned about in training, crushing leaves from the neem tree and hot peppers in water to treat my plants for insects.  It seems to be working so far.
Women working weeding our plant nursery on a work day in the garden
In my last monthly update I wrote about the PAEFE BARKA Center, the school for students left out of the education system, and their garden with the fence that mysteriously burned down.  We learned that a local farmer had been burning his fields (a common practice this time of year) and had burned the fence by mistake.  To allow the kids to start gardening this year even though they don’t have a fence, we’ve given them one of the extra beds in the women’s garden.  They’ve been coming several times a week to water and transplant. 

Students at the public primary school are still collecting sorghum stalks to make the fence for their garden.  Last week, I visited each class with a teacher to tell them about our plans for a school garden.  The kids seemed really enthusiastic – we’ll see if the fence gets built though!

In my last update, I mentioned plans to do an experiment on organic agriculture techniques in the garden.  Well, in Peace Corps plans are always, always changing – we had to abandon this idea because SELF/ADESKA decided that the chemical fertilizers used in the garden would be mixed directly into the water before it goes through the irrigation system to the garden.  We considered doing the experiment by hand watering, but it didn’t seem like that could accurately be compared to the drip-irrigated beds.  Oh well, there’s plenty else to work on.

Mud Stoves

Not a whole lot of mud stove activity this month, I’ve been too busy with the garden.  I did visit Boa Gando again after my last post, and built one more mud stove.  It was a huge one, for making bouillie (millet gruel) to sell.  I haven’t been back again to see if it dried well.  I made another announcement about mud stoves to my women’s group here in Peonga and several women said they will collect the materials needed. 

Sanitation Work

I have had several meetings with a man in the mayor’s office in Kalale who is coordinating a latrine-building project.  They have secured funding to build latrines for families who need them and are prepared to contribute part of the cost.  They plan to begin the project in the town of Kalale itself and a few of the smaller villages in our Commune (county), and have chosen Peonga as one of the villages.  I will probably help with trainings/informational sessions about latrines and identifying potential families.  We may also be working together on a trash collection/management project in Peonga.  More details as all this develops. 

Secondary Projects

I’ve continued with the English club, although we’ve only had two meetings since the last post.  One was a question and answer session with the volunteer from Gomori and the oldest kids, and the other was a normal session.  It’s sometimes hard to fit English club in, with all the gardening work and my constantly changing schedule.  But it’s fun when it happens.

I’ve submitted a request for Peace Corps funding to support a project I’m planning to promote girls education here in Peonga.  My plan is to invite professional women from Peonga and surrounding areas to talk to girls in our secondary school about the importance of staying in school.  There will probably be four sessions, with two women speaking at each one.  I’ve requested funding to help with transportation for the women, and to print thank you t-shirts to give them.  It’s pretty common here to give a small gift to a speaker in situations like this.  I’m really excited about this project.

On a regional level, I’ve volunteered to help start a Take Our Daughters to Work program in Parakou, my regional capital.  Currently, Peace Corps organizes a program in Cotonou that allows Peace Corps volunteers in the south to bring girls from their communities to the city for a few days.  Each girl stays with a professional woman, called her “Mama Modele,” and shadows her at work.  The goal is for the girls to experience what it is like to be a working woman balancing home and work responsibilities.  Currently the program is open only to volunteers and girls in the south of Benin, but if we get it started in Parakou girls in the North will be able to benefit as well.  I’ve started to talk to other volunteers in the area and collect ideas for how to find professional women who could participate. 




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