Yesterday, we gathered with about 200 people underneath the shade of the mango trees at Coorom Primary School for our community gathering to kick-off the agricultural training program. The children and youth who will be students in the program were present along with local council people representing the villages the children are from, some influential members of the community, and several CPU staff. We had to limit the invitees because hundreds of people can show up when they hear there is a free meal.
Having this community gathering at the beginning of the program was an important aspect of our project based on the community engagement model of the NGO Africa Bridge. The key of this model is being transparent with the community about who has been selected and why to reduce jealousy and retaliation. Other CPU programs have struggled with this issue, especially the apiary program. Some of the bee hives have been knocked down by other children who did not receive a hive. Using Geoffrey’s help as a translator, we explained how the youth were selected based on CPU’s need assessment survey and advice from the LC1s (council people at the village level), and made an appeal to all those present to help address jealousy if they see it arise. We also took the opportunity to officially introduce ourselves, thank the community, talk about why we are here, and answer questions about the program.
The event also included speeches from our agriculturalist Calvin, Geoffrey from CPU, a motivational speaker from the community speaking to the power of agricultural training, the LC3 (subcounty level), and several of the LC1s. At 5:02pm, one of the LCs officially declared the program launched, the moment we had been dreaming about for the past two years. Then, when the program was finally over (many of the speeches were quite wordy and there was considerable time spent waiting for guests to arrive), we had a very late lunch. The meal included abuga (a leafy green) and beans, two crops we will be emphasizing during the program for nutrition content.
Though we had invited 130 people, nearly 200 showed up. We were worried about being able to feed everyone, but by a miracle, we had just enough. We struggled with being asked to eat first. Though we wanted to go to the back of the line to make sure there was enough food, the importance of being seen eating the local food was insisted. So we ate the delicious food while being watched by hungry children and felt very uncomfortable.
After the program, we got the chance to meet the participants. Many of them remembered Max from his presence last year at the Coorom peace club. One mother even said that her young daughter loves him so much she wants to be called Max.
We then returned by bus to the CPU office, along a dirt road which is a work in progress. There are piles of red dirt spaced out on half of the road waiting to be spread out, which made encountering other vehicles head on a bit of a challenge. Soon, there will be a new road there in much better condition. During the program, however, we will be using two motorcycles driven by CPU staff for transport to Coorom, where the demonstration garden is.
Now, we are spending the weekend resting and preparing for the upcoming first week of training, which will focus primarily on soil preparation and planning. We are also brainstorming about solutions for rainwater collection. Surprisingly, despite the drought and the heaviness of the rains when they do come, there are not really rainwater collection systems used, and so much water just runs off. I have been talking with Calvin about trying out our idea to use the abundant plastic water bottles to catch rainwater and then drip it out slowly through the capillary action of a string in the bottom, mimicking some of the tree boxes used in Texas.
Overall, I’m thrilled with how the program kick-off went and can’t wait to interact more with the kids this week. They seemed bright and eager.