“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”
Sunday, April 22nd was, as most of you know, Earth Day. One of the goals of Peace Corps is to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. This is often done by celebrating American holidays such as Christmas, birthdays, Easter, etc. This year, I, along with two of my wonderful teacher counterparts, were able to share an “American” tradition. Celebrating Earth Day, I am aware, is not just an American tradition, but it is absolutely something that we as a society do!
So, we planned a whole day of bettering our planet…which turned into “Earth Week” instead. Our plan was to address three earth related topics: Deforestation and tree planting, Composting, and Waste Management. I am so very blessed to have other Peace Corps Volunteers semi near where I am posted, and better yet, they are Agriculture volunteers! These ladies pick up where I lack in my Peace Corps service by introducing different topics that I would not otherwise be able to educate confidently on. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. My service here would be nothing without my Gambian counterparts and fellow Peace Corps volunteers.
Here is the low down on what we did with my school’s growing Peer Health Club! (SO SO SO PROUD OF THESE YOUNG ADULTS AND THE TEACHERS WHO HELPED ME MAKE THIS CLUB HAPPEN)
Focus One: Deforestation
Did you know that forests still cover about 30% of the world…but large strips the size of England are lost each year. In 100 years, the worlds rain forest could completely disappear due to the rate of deforestation!
The most common reason for deforestation in The Gambia is due to slash and burn agriculture. Farmers cut down trees and burn them in the process to create more room for farming. There is also the issue of fire wood for every day necessities such as cooking. In certain parts of The Gambia, people are struggling to find enough firewood to sustain this every day lifestyle and it is becoming expensive to purchase. Often times, men, women, and children travel far into the bush to collect their wood, taking it from flourishing and living trees. The rate at which trees are being taken down is just too fast compared to the rate at which they are being planted.
Right now, we are in the very heart of “hot season”, and bush fires are also a huge cause for unintentional deforestation. Controlled burning sites for waste management can quickly get out of hand.
Forests soak up excess carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in our atmosphere. They act as a carbon sink, regulating climate change. It is no secret that the climate in The Gambia has drastically changed over the years. At one point in time, the rainy season made up most of the year, here. Now, we are lucky to have three months of adequate rainfall.
My good friend who is partnered with the Forestry Station in her third year of service, was able to come to my village
with her counterpart and facilitate a program called, Tree Trek. This program taught 30 of my Upper Basic level students about the importance of trees, deforestation, and how to properly plant trees beginning with a tree nursery.
We now have over 100 baby trees growing in our school’s nursery. They students, themselves, developed their own watering schedule and plan to plant some of the trees at the school, selling the left over trees to fundraise for their Peer Health Club!
Focus Two: Composting
My closest site mate, a mere four mile bike ride away, and our other site mate that lives a little further away, also came to my school to share their knowledge on composting! Gardening is a huge source of nutrition and income in my village, so improving gardens is a topic of interest!
Unfortunately, The Gambia relies so heavily on gardening, but the soil is less than ideal. Hard, sandy, rock ridden earth makes a perfect bed for plant death…or at least the death of the plants that I plant…yikes. There is little to no organic matter in the earth, providing little nutrients and space for plants to grow.
Compost is great because it is organic matter (leaves, grass, manure, etc.) that can be added into the soil to create that nutritious environment a garden needs to thrive. Compost also improves soil structure so that it can hold the correct amount of moisture, nutrients and air.
Our school developed a pit compost pile. This pile is made up of browns (dead leaves, grasses, manure), greens (living leaves), and blues (water) and left to sit in a pit that is covered with rice bags. Once a week, the pit is turned and moved into a pit that is next to the the first pit. This movement allows for better mixing of the compost, the pit itself provides better moisture control in such a hot environment. Our hopes are that this compost will become soft, nutrient rich soil to add to our school gardens before rainy season planting, as well as use these compost pits to train others in on the importance of composting.
Focus Three: Waste Management
It is no secret, walking down the streets, that waste is a problem. However, this is hardly just a Gambia problem.
Yes, Great United States of America. We are still in the lead. Waste production is a global problem, effecting every corner of our planet. In areas such as The Gambia, waste management is an issue because of the lack of proper wast disposal resources. Waste is often disposed in unregulated dumps or openly burned. Of course, if one is not disposing of trash correctly, this becomes a health and environment issue. disease, global climate change, and the like are all consequences.
Then we face the issue of plastic. Ohhhh plastic. IT. IS. EVERYWHERE. What do we do with a material that does not biodegrade? In The Gambia, and many places around the world, plastic is taken care of by burning which pollutes our air, land, water, and is a determent to our health, exposing us to harmful chemicals such as carcinogens.
There are a few options for waste management as of right now in The Gambia that is accessible to all. Burn, Bury, Reuse, or Recycle. Unfortunately, the most common waste disposal method is the “throw on the ground” method. In a short lesson, the students went out for a scavenger hunt around the school, collecting different forms of garbage that are common: batteries, glass, metal (yes this includes razors, nails, and needles), fabric, plastic, cans, bottles, and so on. I understand that it may be a little absent minded of me to ask school children to go collect razors and may not have flown in the United States…but they deal with these things EVERY DAY, and you would not believe the amount of garbage they came back with just from the school grounds in FIFTEEN MINUTES.
The students sorted all of the trash in what they believed to be its appropriate disposal methods. Almost everyone said that plastic should be burned. After good discussion and an explanation as to why proper trash disposal is important, the students were hyped to keep the school a waste free zone! We developed a trash can system out of old bedongs (plastic containers that oil is shipped in) and hung them all over the school next to mini murals as to what should go into each trash can. Things that can be burned go in one and things should be buried go in another. The teachers and students that attended the training held an all school explanation the next day for the rest of the school to be up to speed on our new system. Here is to hoping it sticks!
Puleeeasssee check out these awesome articles on what people (cough cough women) are doing to begin recycling in The Gambia!:
So yeah. I am obsessed with my school if you can’t tell. And now, my school is obsessed with our planet…and I am obsessed that they are obsessed. Let’s get everyone obsessed about this beautiful planet we live on, yeah?