If you were to just look at our blog up until this point, you would be convinced that being in the Peace Corps is all play and no work. Well today I hope to set the record straight.
As Peace Corps volunteers we have a unique opportunity to apply for Small Project Assistance (SPA) grants which are small pieces of the USAID budget. These grant funds provide a way for Peace Corps volunteers to partner with USAID to support development efforts in rural communities. I applied for funds to begin a gardening project that focused on teaching rural community members about climate change adaptation measure such as school gardening, compost, and environmental education. One of the most exciting outcomes from this project included publishing a manual specifically regarding school gardens, one of the first of its kind available in Spanish.
Why school gardens you ask? Well since schools are already an educational institution, we decided that working with the schools would disseminate out to the communities via the students. We focused on sustainable food gardens as they can be used for climate change adaptation, environmental education, food generation, income generation, recreation, and conservation of native plants.
The implementation worked like this…1. We selected three schools who previously demonstrated interest in themes of environmental education in three different socio-economic levels to show that regardless of access to resources, all schools can grow their own food. 2. A group of local garden experts united together to technically educate the schools in four different trainings that increased their capacity and knowledge in the theme of school gardening and small scale agriculture. 3. Depending on what the school had in regards to resources, we implemented one of two options for school gardens: the keyhole garden methodology or container gardening in huacales, wood boxes from the market. The keyhole garden is a circular garden bed with compost integrated in its center, this is a closed loop system which is essential for schools that are busy and have little time to manage another project during school hours. Below are some images for clarification… 4. As a demonstration of their learned knowledge, we asked the schools to host an ecological fair which focused on the knowledge dissemination of the keyhole garden method. 5. Our technical team has completed a manual which offers a definitive voice on school gardening which is the first of its kind available for free to the Mexican communities. The manual covers a variety of themes, all of which were included in the various training during the lifespan of the project.
Here’s a sweet story from my project… During the ecofair in Rancho Viejo, which was the most rural school we worked with, the students gave a tour of the different ecological elements throughout the school. The local beneficiaries, including parents and other community members listened intently to each of the students placed at their stations. Some of the students were shy and some were very excited to explain why their school was in-line with environmental practices like limiting water use, recycling, upcycling, composting, and of course, gardening. The highlight of the event was when the students gathered to explain how important it is to garden and to learn how to grow your own food. They explained how the keyhole methodology works and why it was so effective at their school which had very poor, rocky soil. Before the tour concluded, the student plucked a radish from the ground and handed it to me as a gesture of acknowledgment and gratitude.
Exciting news is that the Ministry of Public Education has demonstrated interest in picking up the project and launching it on a state-level. With this manual, we are continuing to train advisers who will return to their regions and are responsible for training and assisting the schools in their region.
Once I get the link to the manual, I will post it here so you can check it out yourself!