The students on the first day of training, looking very serious. Photo by Saskia Sichermann.
Our group on the first day of training, smiling only after being instructed to make a funny face (typically people look very serious for photos). Photo by Saskia Sichermann.

We’re two days into the agricultural training program, and so far, it’s been amazing to see things finally come together and get moving.

Yesterday, we gathered in an empty classroom at Coorom Primary School for our first day together since the launch. The 40 students were so eager, and some members of the community who weren’t selected by CPU even came to see if they could sit in. Luckily, it is looking like we have enough space and food to accommodate them as well. Calvin is a wonderful teacher and has a great ability to capture the students’ attention. Even though we can’t always follow what he is saying (he speaks in Langi but writes on the board in English), the students are really engaged, contributing ideas, taking notes, and asking questions. The majority of the students are teens or young adults.

The wall mural at Coorom Primary School. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.

Each day, the training session will begin with lunch, which is being graciously prepared by a local woman. Having the meal first serves several purposes. First, it encourages participants to come on time. Typically, when you announce when an event will begin, people may trickle in an hour later and still be considered on time, but we want to make sure there is enough time in the program to get to through the curriculum content. The meal is also important for creating a good learning environment. Many of the students typically eat just one meal a day and struggle with malnutrition. I was shocked when Nellie told me that a small boy with a protruded belly in the program is actually 17 years old. “That’s what malnutrition does to people,” she said. Serving a meal helps the students can focus in class and ensures that they are all eating at least one good meal per day. So, before class begins, we fill our plates with cassava, beans, and meat, and we all eat together.

Calvin welcomes the class (“apwoyo bino”). Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.

On the first day, we primarily did an overview of the curriculum and talked about the students’ expectations for the trainings. Many voiced their expectations about what they hope to take away from the training. I was inspired by one student’s hope to learn how to train others so the knowledge can spread throughout the community. Hearing some of the other expectations was also pressuring, because there are students with all different backgrounds and experience levels, and we want to make sure it’s well-worth everyone’s time.

Some of this worry was soothed on the second day of training today, when we dove into land preparation practices. Calvin led a discussion on the most common practices (including ox-plowing, tractor plowing, burning, and use of herbicides to clear land), bringing up some of the issues with these practices. He then moved into giving his recommendation for a practice called minimum tillage, which involves disturbing the soil as little as possible during land preparation to help maintain soil structure, fertility, and biodiversity. Several students said this technique was intriguing and new, including an older woman who has already been farming for many years. It was really encouraging to see the students already learning something new and useful.

Students voice their expectations for the program. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.

Before and after class, we have been chipping away at completing well-being surveys for each student, which Nellie has designed. The survey questions help us understand a little bit about where each person is coming from and will allow us to compare how they are doing before and after the program. So far, almost every student has said that they eat one meal a day, have gone hungry because they had no food in the house at least once in the past four weeks, and finding food has been much harder over the past year due to issues with pests and drought. This shows a really clear need for the training — people are farming and yet going hungry. We hope to track the well-being of these students several months after finishing the program to evaluate the impact of the program.

Tomorrow, we’ll have our first practical training day out in the demonstration garden, which is a short walk from our classroom at the primary school. We’re bringing up hoes and other tools to practice minimum tillage and other land preparation techniques. So we’ll be getting our hands dirty as we engage with the curriculum and get to try out the recommended practice for ourselves.

Our classroom, and the path towards the demonstration garden.

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