Monday, 9 November 2015

A Garden for the hungry tummies

I did not have a definite idea as to what I was going to be working on initially when I started my internship at EduCARE. My longtime wish to work on rural development projects like waste management, alternative energy or forestry in my country has brought me here but still not knowing where and what to begin with. To work with the migrants, the needy, the poor or kabadiwalas (trash pickers) as labeled by the society, was the apt platform for me to put in my thoughts and efforts to work on something that would help this migrant community in their everyday lives.
The migrant community of Paro
Since the day I started visiting the migrant camp here in Paro, Punjab, it was quite conspicuous that the community struggles to meet their daily needs. Some days they would not even have enough money to buy their aata or cheeni for their roti and chai for the day because Nanku, the head of the family could not accumulate enough trash to sell or the trash buyer did not show up for the day, or even if he did he was shameless enough to cheat these vulnerable people in their basic mathematics right in front of my eyes. Who is to be blamed? Is it their ignorance, illiteracy and poverty or is it that some people are too heartless to swindle these poor people off their daily bread. Hence, I decided to settle down with a project that would at least be of use in their food supplies: a community garden.
Preparing the plot for the garden
Initially we were planning on making the garden organic but it seemed to be a strenuous task as it would be a lot more time and money consuming to buy the organic seeds which were not available locally, to build a nursery, to shelter it, to get the organic fertilizers and pesticides and also the maintenance. However, after discussions with the community about all the important factors such as their necessity, plot for cultivating, ploughing, fencing, watering, sustainability, etc., we decided to go ahead with the locally available hybrid vegetable seeds. I had no prior experience in gardening so I had to do some basic research online. Also, by discussing with a few people about the soil here and the seasonal crops that can be cultivated during this time of the year, we finalized on eight vegetable seeds which included coriander, spinach, cabbage, peas, cauliflower, carrot, radish and turnip. Thus, with very little knowledge and hoping for the best outcome for the community, we commenced work by marking a plot at the camp with the help of Nanku and Gulshan. Since the community was very excited about it, things started moving pretty fast in the beginning. I would not say that we had to put in excessive effort and time in making this garden, but without Nanku’s involvement from ploughing the soil till sowing the seeds, it would have been arduous. Perhaps the hardest part was to motivate Nanku every day to get work done as he would be tired after his day job or he would be busy with some meeting at the camp.
The main structure of the fence for the garden 
We started by cleaning the plot and as we began the initial ploughing, we had to collect manure (animal waste and compost) to mix it with the soil and then we had to let it set in the following couple of days while we started working on the fence, which was the most labor and time consuming part in this whole project. Aurelien and I had to collect plenty of bamboos from the nearby jungle and carry them on our shoulders back to the camp. Some days it had to be early mornings and some days it had to be late evenings. The bamboos were put together and the fence was made by pushing them deep in to the ground to make it sturdy and also make it dense enough so that the dogs and chickens cannot penetrate. Even at this point, I was skeptical about the outcome of this project; not knowing if we were doing things the right way or how beneficial this whole thing would turn out to be for the community. Nevertheless, we were highly motivated to persevere by the little kids at the camp, who repeatedly questioned us every day when were we going to sow the seeds.  

The bamboos are ready to be placed! 
One of the kids of the camp observing the process
The garden fence, made of bamboo, was quickly finished

After the completion of the fence it was all ready, the soil looked fertile, the fence looked sturdy and the seeds were waiting to be sown. Thus, with a couple of days of re-ploughing to loosen and level the soil and dividing the plot into many sections for different seeds we were all set for sowing. The seeds were scattered considering the three important factors of gardening, the depth of sowing the seeds, spacing between the seeds and watering, all the seeds were sown in the following couple of days. I visited the garden everyday to water the soil and peep over the fence to check if a leaf was showing up from the ground and one evening within the next three or four days there it was, a few cotyledons popping out from the soil. The excitement and happiness running inside me was immense to see something grow from the seeds that were planted with my own hands. 

The first cotyledons in the garden!

I cannot forget to mention that this whole process wouldn’t have been possible to be completed in such a short span of time with no cost involved, without the contribution of all the other interns (Aurelien, Amelie, Madeline and Breanne) who were involved from day one. Now all I can wish for is a fruitful garden to fill the hungry tummies in the community.

Rizwan Ahmed - India
SWASH Project Manager, Paro (Punjab)

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