One of the most exciting things that I learned while in my pre-service and in-service-training with Peace Corps is how to build a permagarden. This was a training that was created and taught by Peter Jensen our Peace Corps Permagarden Specialist. A permagarden is an engineered garden which is designed to hold water, air, minerals and nutrients deep in the soil. The structure of it slows the water (from heavy rains) and helps retain water within the garden structure itself. The water then seeps deep into soil that has been prepared to receive it and hold it. One of the many benefits of a permagarden is that it requires a fraction of the watering that a regular garden does. And it only has to be built once. Once a permagarden is built it is ready to receive the plantings of seeds and seedlings year-round and for years to come.
I love permagardens. And I love the idea that permagardening can help families in the villages of Rwanda (and throughout the world) create a means for feeding their families nutritional foods year round, while decreasing the amount of water that is required to be fetched in order for a kitchen garden (small family gardens) to flourish. However, I was not in love with the idea that we were adding yet one more burden of work upon the shoulders of the mothers and women of the village families.
|Women Fetching Water|
I came to Rwanda in June 2015. After 10 weeks of intensive training from Peace Corps I came to my community to live. My first 7 weeks living here was spent gathering information through a Community Needs Assessment (CNA). During this time I interviewed staff at the community health center, visited Community Health Workers in their homes and visited families in their homes. From my very first visit with the village families I began to see that the mothers were exhausted. They would never admit to being tired. But there is a weariness as well as an acceptance in their eyes. To be tired is not an option. They rise early in the morning, take care of their children and their husbands and enter the fields to cultivate by 7 am. The youngest of their children they take with them to the fields, carrying them on their backs, even while they take the hoe to soil and dig deep into rich but rocky soil. They leave the fields somewhere between noon and 2 pm. But their work is not done. There is still water to fetch, food to find and meals to cook, as well as children to bath and a home to clean. Here in the village, there are no faucets conveniently bringing water to their homes. Here water is fetched in 5 gallon jericans. Water weights 8.33 lbs per gallon. That means a full jerican of water weighs 41.65 lbs. Viable water sources are anywhere from a 10 minute to 2 hour walk from the village home. Mostly it is the mothers and the young women who fetch the water. They are the quiet pillars of the family.
Once I learned about permagardens I began to wonder how this beautifully efficient and engineered eco-system could be brought to the village family without putting more work upon the shoulders of the village mothers. And naturally my mind came around to the village fathers…the second and more visible pillar of the village family. I thought that, just maybe, the permagarden would be a family project that a father would take pride in.
A continual question that I hold in my mind, as I live in my community, is how can
we inspire fathers, within the villages, to want to be more of a part of the inter-workings of their families’ daily care. I am watching and observing. I believe that when father and mother join hands in the daily care of their families, when they become equal pillars in the structure of their home, a force is created that is unstoppable. It builds strength, unity of purpose, pride and creativity. It builds a working, efficient team that can go on to create a means of escape from the cycle of poverty.
I was a firefighter for nearly 25 years. I lived and worked with men in a communal atmosphere (the firehouse), day in and day out, for years. One thing I learned is that men are not opposed to domestic work. Some of them love to cook, garden and yes even clean! Most of the men I worked with took pride in cooking (We had to rotate cooking. It was required). Many times we planted a garden. The men who planted gardens nurtured them like they were their babies. Whether we like to cook, clean, build or garden is not determined by our gender. If we enjoy these things but are ashamed to participate in them…then this is a culturally imposed belief!
|Modeste and an enthusiastic group|
of men building a permagarden
Just recently we had a 3 day Permagarden Training in my community taught by Modeste Nsabimana. Modeste works with Peace Corps Rwanda. He has a degree in Agribusiness and Rural Development as well as in Administration and Project Management. He is Rwandan and he is passionate about teaching permagardening at the village level. He is also an incredible role model for the men and boys of Rwanda. During this 3 day training I learned that many of the men of my community love to garden! It made my heart glad to see these men’s enthusiasm and willingness to create, to put hands to soil, to prepare and to plant. Perhaps it is the engineered structure of the permagarden that they loved or the thoughtfulness of how the soil is prepared, or perhaps it is the idea that they can actually control and contain the rain water so that these waters are held and saved deep within the soil so that they can continue to provide moisture to the plants, even during the dry season, that made them so enthusiastic about learning this skill. Or perhaps they were given permission to jump in and be enthusiastic about digging in the dirt for a higher cause by Modeste being there as a role model. Because Modeste was up to his elbows in dirt!
The belief that domestic work is beneath men or is women’s work is a learned behavior. A belief that is inculcated by cultural norms. How do we dissolve old ways in order to clear the path for healthier norms? Norms where culture supports strong, unified, healthy, creative families that work together for a better future for their families? A family whose mother and father are pillars of strength that bear the weight of caring for their families equally?