Wednesday, May 29, 2013
May 15- Month 8 work post (with video!)
Yes, I realize that there was no Month 7 work post – time has really started to fly! Talking to other volunteers, we find it hard to believe that there was a time when it was a major victory to find enough to do to fill a day. Here’s a summary of where I am work-wise:
Since my last work post, my garden has been a bit of an “emotional roller coaster.” It peaked in a wonderful bounty of summer squash, cucumbers, melons, lettuce, greens, basil… I was feasting, and sending bags of produce to my neighboring volunteer. But then, the bugs struck. Everything grows faster in the African heat, but it also seems to get attacked harder. I had a major infestation of aphids and others on my cucumbers and other plants, having to pull out a lot of them. I tried preparing natural insecticides using Neem (a tree with oils in the leaves that deter bugs) but these work better as a preventative measure, and can’t get rid of an insect attack already well underway. My green beans had a different problem – worms eating their roots and killing the whole plant. In addition to the bugs, the heat made lots of my cantelopes split (although they were still edible). And more recently, flies have started laying eggs in all my baby cantelopes and watermellons so they get filled with little worms and don’t grow.
A sad story, true – but I recently cleared out most of the plants that were attacked and have re-planted new things. The rainy season is starting, so the bug problems might be different now. And I’m going to keep trying different natural pest control options. Feel free to give suggestions!
In the past two months, the students at our elementary school finished the fence for their school garden. I worked with one of the classes to build the garden beds, and planted a seed nursery of lettuce with another class to transplant. Unfortunately, none of the lettuce grew – the seeds I was using were pretty old. There are only a few weeks left of school, but our current plan is to plant okra in the garden. It may not ripen before the students leave for summer vacation, but perhaps the teachers who live near the school can enjoy it. We’ll develop the garden really well next year!
I’ve kept building them, recently making two for a teacher friend of mine and four for some women who live near the garden. One of our goals when we build mud stoves is to teach people how to make them themselves, so they can do so when I’m no longer here. My recent stove building experiences have been pretty successful in this way; when I came back to check on the stoves I built for my teacher friend, I found that she and others who live near her had built two more on their own!
At the end of April/beginning of May, I got to attend a regional training about the “System of Rice Intensification” (SRI). SRI is a rice-growing method developed in Madagascar that has been shown to increase yields. Volunteers from Benin, Senegal, and the Gambia attended the training, along with Peace Corps staff from those countries – it was fun comparing notes on our Peace Corps experiences. A highlight for me – one of the volunteers from Senegal is learning Fulani, and the Peace Corps staff members from Senegal and the Gambia were Fulani speakers! There were lots of differences between their dialect and mine, but we could understand eachother and it really inspired me to work harder on my language learning.
After the regional training was over, my counterpart and a farmer from my village came to the training site for an informal one-day training in French, so they could see what I had learned. We’re planning to install a test plot of SRI methods on the farmer’s land as soon as the rice season starts – any week now. More about this later!
At the end of April, I took a girl from my village to Cotonou, the capital, to participate in a “Take our Daughters to Work” event. She met other girls from around Benin, and spent one day shadowing a professional woman in the workplace. She had never traveled, and so really enjoyed the experience. I will be leading efforts to expand this program to Parakou, the largest city in northern Benin, next year.
I am organizing a “speakers series” of professional women in Peonga this month. This Wednesday and next, I will invite a variety of professional women to come meet with girls from Peonga’s primary and secondary schools and talk to them about the importance of staying in school. The women will explain their own stories, why they stayed in school and how they got their current jobs. As a gift to each speaker, we’ve printed t-shirts that read “Je Suis Une Mama Modele” – basically, I am a mama role-model. I held a t-shirt design contest with the girls in the secondary school, and the girl with the winning design won a shirt herself. I printed the shirts when I was in Cotonou for the Take our Daughters to Work trip.
That’s it for now, although I’m sure I’ve left a lot out. And to give you a more visual picture of my work, here’s a short video of my garden (taken a few months ago, before the bug attacks).