Monday, October 18, 2010
Spring has finally graced Kroonstad with her presence! Though most Americans probably, and understandably, think of scorching heat when they hear “Africa,” Kroonstad’s winter was brutally chilly—warmer than a Colorado winter, but unpleasant in that we spent it entirely in unheated buildings and homes. I’d experienced the phenomenon, or unphenomenon perhaps, in chilly Irish homes when our family spent Christmases there growing up. Like the Irish, South Africans simply bundle up, use hot water bottles, or huddle around space heaters to stay warm indoors. It turns out we Americans are quite spoiled (shocker, I know) and among some of the only people in the world who insist on heating our offices, schools, and homes in winter months.
With warmth and spring has come a new development in my interests, a thumb of a slightly green tinge. Yes it’s true. I, who barely knew how to help my mom transplant potted flowers without killing them, have by necessity expanded my gardening (vegetable, not floral) horizons. It all began when the textbook we use for my 9th grade “technology” class (think mechanical and electrical science not computers… we don’t have any of those) called for the students to design and cultivate a vegetable garden on the school premises. Thankfully, the textbook advocated a garden with dimensions of 1 meter by 2 meters, a “door-sized” garden, and nothing intended to feed the multitudes.
I divided each of the two 9th grade classes into 4 groups, and every technology class, either group A, B, C, or D took their hand at digging a trench out of the stubbornly hard soil found in this region. After a few weeks, both classes achieved the required depth of 500mm, though I’m sure their mothers weren’t pleased at the mucky state in which their uniforms arrived home in the afternoons.
As part of their project, I required the 9th graders to bring in one packet of vegetable seeds per two learners. I thought this would be manageable for them, since it would equate to about 5 Rand ($0.70) per student. It was humbling when several students sought me out in the next few days after setting this requirement, asking what they could do to earn the points if they simply could not afford the seeds. I changed the requirement to bringing in either seeds or refuse for compost, since I knew cow manure or food peelings wouldn’t be as difficult or expensive to come by.
But I thought about my presumptuousness for days. I have liked to think myself sensitive enough to avoid such blunders, but sometimes I’m reminded that such blunders aren’t always avoidable, that the difference between my experience as a student and theirs is so great that I will mess up. This dynamic has forced me to get very creative in finding alternative projects when our textbook calls for us to create, for example, elaborate electrical circuits or an automatic electrical watering system for our garden. Our text is published by Cambridge University Press, and, as you can imagine, not always sensitive (although they do make efforts) to the feasibility of suggested assignments for a school in a low-income, rural township. The funds for such projects just aren’t there right now, at St. Peter’s or for most of the students.
The students do seem to be having fun and success with this project though, despite my blunders and theirs. Their blunders, or mischief in latter example, have included forgetting to water the seedlings for days and getting scolded for trying to sabotage the other class’s garden (both 9th grade classes have their own door-sized garden, the two lying side by side, and their competitive spirits got the best of them).
Serendipitously, my fellow volunteer Kelly recently attended a two-week workshop on a type of gardening called “permaculture.” She teaches skills training courses at an NGO formed by the sisters and some other Catholic orders and is currently teaching a permaculture course to people from this and neighboring towns with the hope that trainees can inexpensively provide fresh produce to their families and people in the community suffering from illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. The permaculture method, like our technology text, advocates the use of door-sized gardens for beginning gardeners.
Kelly has of invaluable help with her previous gardening knowledge (she was a better apprentice in her mother’s garden than I) and newly acquired permaculture expertise. She’s coming with me to school tomorrow to help direct the students in transplanting the seedlings without killing them, which I’m not sure I trust myself to successfully achieve alone. The hope is that come harvesting time, the two gardens will be brimming over with pumpkin, tomatoes, onions, carrots, chives, cabbage, spinach, and beans to supplement the free school lunches many St. Peter’s students receive.
Posted by Sarah Moran at 12:09 PM