Just a small work/life update about what Paul and I have been up to.
For the first week of November, Paul and I helped with a Moringa tourney in the departments of Matam and Kanel. We stayed in Ourosogui and worked with Counterpart International based there. There were 6 volunteers in all divided into three teams. Each team visited 2-4 villages a day for five days talking about moringa. Three months earlier, another team of agriculture volunteers went to these same villages to teach how to plant a moringa leaf-intensive bed. On this second tourney, we returned to the same sites to explain how to harvest the leaves, make moringa powder, incorporate the powder into foods, and why it is so important.
Moringa oleifera is oftentimes called the “miracle tree” by development workers for its properties. Locally the plant is called nebeday (a butchered version of the english phrase “never die”). It is a fast-growing plant that grows well here in Senegal with extremely nutritious leaves–high levels of Vitamin A, C, iron, protein, and calcium. It is rumored to treat maladies ranging from diabetes to eye/ear infections to intestinal parasites. Leaf powder can be easily added to food as a nutritional supplement. Moringa is good for use in a garden for live fencing or shade because its long tap root does not compete with other plants. Additionally its roots are rumored to fix nitrogen. Not only that, but the seeds can be ground to a powder and used as a flocculant for purifying water and honey.
We got to visit villages way out in the bush. So far out in the bush, the Pulaar word means the bush of the bush. We drove to villages as far west as the Podor department boundary and to villages so far east that we almost made it to Bakel and the region of Tamba. Villages were typically motivated to grow the moringa and use it. Most beds were planted in schools to encourage the use of moringa within student lunches. We met amazing women’s groups, amazing teachers, and spoke huge amounts of Pulaar. As you go east into the Matam region, the Pulaar gets crisper and clearer. Paul and I had an easier time talking to people there than we do in the Ndioum Podor region.
The moringa tourney was an amazing experience and we hope to be able to replicate it in the Podor department with the Counterpart International located in Ndioum. Additionally, I would like to teach health workers how to plant and process the plant as a nutritional supplement for malnourished children who come to baby weighings. Currently, kids that are malnourished are given sacks of potatoes and lentils from Counterpart Int. or the “Plumpy nut” generic made in Dakar from Terre des Hommes. It would be great if we could add hospital-grown moringa as a supplement.
My project with the women’s group and their field has fallen apart. Turns out that the women are squatters on the land they farm. The land is owned by Eaux et Forets and the women had permission to farm the land last year, but not this year. They farm it because no one else is and no one will kick them off the land. There is no way I can help them purchase a pump until they have their own land.
Truly, I would like to spend most of my service doing work that does not involve money; money just complicates everything. As Renee once put it, “once the money comes out, the bad people come crawling out of the woodwork.” I want my work here to be sustainable–for what I teach to be practiced and taught to others for years to come. This it the strength in Peace Corps volunteers: we stay and live for two years in a site so that we can teach people how to solve health and environmental issues for themselves. NGOs are those who throw around money and PC is not like any other NGO here. With that in mind, I have taught the women about the goodness of Moringa. I will teach them better farming techniques that will increase profits until they may one day be able to purchase land or a pump for themselves.
Tabaski (festival of the sheep) was mid-November–a huge Muslim holiday where most families kill a sheep (our family killed 6–but it was split between two houses and much given to families who cannot afford a sheep). Paul and I helped clean one out and ate meat for the entire week after.
Then we had a Regional Strategy meeting and Thanksgiving! 2 turkeys and 5 chickens. My first time to ever kill a chicken.
Paul and I just attended the All-Volunteer Conference of West Africa in Thies and heard about the work of other volunteers. We talked to volunteers from Togo, Cape Verde, Benin, Mali, Ghana. I learned that gum arabic (Acacia senegal) is the number one agricultural export of Senegal, bringing in about $280 million every year! This tree grows extremely well where we live.
And now we are back in the North beginning new projects. Paul is organizing a depistage tourney for HIV/AIDS testing throughout the Podor department. He wants to visit at least 6 different sites and end the entire tourney with the annual AIDS concert in Podor (something Lauren Canton, our ancienne, started that has been a highly visible way to raise awareness about AIDS/HIV/STDs).
I have been working to organize a CCBI training in Ndioum for the environmental education volunteers and their primary school teachers. CCBI (Community Content-based Instruction) allows environmental and nutritional lessons to be incorporated into the strict French curriculum of schools. Basically, we will train teachers how to use environmental health examples to teach concepts of Math, French, History, or other subjects. For example, a class can plant a pepinere and learn about percentages or fractions concerning germination rate.
At my primary school, I am hoping to make the school what we call an “eco-school”. We will repair the latrines, start CCBI lessons, establish a school garden and moringa leaf-intensive bed, plant shade trees, and put trash cans in all the classrooms. I would like to start an environmental club to take care of the garden, however I need to find a parent or teacher who is motivated enough to help organize this. If this all works well at this elementary school, I will extend this program to all the other primary schools in Podor (there are 5 total).