News from Development in Gardening and Senegal

– Steve Bollinger, RPCV

Editors note:
Late last year LGB RPCVs donated $600 to DIG (Development in Gardening). DIG’s Steve Bollinger brings us up to date on their activities.

Back to Senegal
After spending five comfortable months in America working on the set-up process for DIG, the reality of coming back to the bustling city of Dakar left me a bit dazed and confused. It took me a couple of weeks to start again in the African city I had left behind, and without the soft hand of Peace Corps looking out for me. There were a few details, like finding a home; I had to take care of myself. Luckily, I had been living in the city for over a year and knew my way around. DIG was officially underway and establishing roots in its first country.

The first few weeks were filled with the typical African delays, but we managed to start our first official garden at the Centre Traitment Ambilitoire (CTA) in February. We spent the first week both in the classroom as well as building the necessary garden tables for the project. It didn’t take us long to construct 25 concrete brick beds, which set the shape for our garden. We have found this style of garden bed to be the best solution for our sites, they are economical, easy to build, and last for years.

The garden has been finished for a few weeks now and we have gradually been harvesting lettuce, cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes, among other things. These vegetables are going directly to the CTA kitchen where they are prepared to compliment the regular diet of the outpatients. Nutrition is DIG’s priority, but income generation has become important to our program objectives as well. The outpatients who are working in the garden have been selling produce to the hospital staff, fellow patients, and a few restaurants. They are really excited about the chance be able to have an income generation opportunity that is so simple and valuable. At the moment lettuce is our biggest seller; today some of the outpatient gardeners were telling me how “lettuce = money, we need to grow more lettuce!”

Since most of the patients don’t have the ability to build a garden like this in their homes we have created an area of the garden that is made out of recycled materials (tires, rice sacks, water bottles, juice boxes, old buckets) that we have pulled out of the trash. We are showing them how to create a garden that costs very little, will provide nutritious vegetables, and give them a little income on the side if they so choose. Since the CTA garden is right beside the HIV treatment center we are constantly having curious patients coming in to take a look at what we are doing. It really is a great feeling to see their eyes light up and to hear them say “I can do this at home.”

As the garden has developed we have begun seeing some positive and rather unexpected outcomes. The site is becoming a social gathering place for the outpatients where they can give and receive support from their peers. Every week we have people coming in to ask questions on how to duplicate it in their own homes. The clinic also treats patients from neighboring countries so we have had a lot of interest from them as well. This is a great opportunity to start passing the knowledge and idea on to other countries in need.
The word about DIG is getting out and we have been very fortunate to have so many people wanting to get involved. During the construction of the garden we had some US college students on exchange programs wanting to volunteer their time in between classes at the university. They literally saved us weeks of work and it gave them a chance to test the waters and get the feeling of being a “part time” Peace Corps volunteer. We also hosted 13 students from an inner city high school called Boys & Girls Harbor in Harlem, New York (www.boysandgirlsharbor.net). The group spent a few days in the garden building brick beds, constructing tables and a drip irrigation system, cutting tires for planters, and transplanting. Another group called the Penitent Yanks (www.penitentyanks.com) participated in the Plymouth, England to Banjul, Gambia charity challenge and designated us as one of their charities. When they arrived in Dakar they too lent some extra hands and made some new friends with the outpatient group.

What’s next for DIG?
Sarah Koch, co-founder of DIG and former Health PCV will be joining DIG full time and will be working stateside while we finish up the next garden. In June DIG will be working with the CTA in Ziguinchor to construct a similar garden for their patient base. Ziguinchor is located between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau and has the highest concentration of HIV in Senegal, three times the national average.

The impact of LGB RPCV’s donation to the Fann Hospital garden has been very significant. The original garden that was built during my Peace Corps service needed a little “make-over.” We built a lot of beds out of sheets of bamboo, which have deteriorated over this past year. Termites have enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner munching on the beds and overall it was not the best choice since eventually it rips the plastic that we use to conserve the water and nutrients. We have learned from our mistakes and are now using the bricks. We are now replacing all the bamboo beds with bricks, which will be a much more sustainable and durable solution. In addition to this project we used the funds to add some wind protection and security to the garden by adding on to an existing wall.

Sarah and I are both so appreciative of the support that has come from so many avenues providing such a strong base for DIG’s beginnings. Without the support and resources provided by the gay and lesbian community DIG would not be where it is today. I am so thankful to be a part of such a giving and welcoming community.
Many thanks for your positive thoughts and energy from Sarah and me.


Steve Bollinger can be contacted at sbolinger@developmentingardening.org. And check out their web site http://www.developmentmentingardening.org Contributions are always needed. They can be made on line or through a check to their address in San Diego.

About LGBT RPCV
We are an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and others who are Peace Corps volunteer alumni, current volunteers, former and current staff members and friends. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1991, we have several hundred members throughout the country and around the world who have served in Peace Corps since its beginning in 1961. We're made up of a national steering committee, together with regional chapters. We are an active affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association.

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