As we rapidly approach the end of our stay here in Bufutula B, the days have only seemed to grow shorter and shorter. Faced with this impending departure, we have only become more motivated to make the most of our remaining time here.
With this mindset, we began to tackle the much-recognized problem of malnutrition within the village. To do this, we enlisted the help of a local Peace Corps volunteer, Becky White, who works on Agribusiness and sustainable farming. Like most of our experiences here in Bufutula B, contacting Becky was a process longer than expected. It took several weeks to reach her, but once we did things began to move quickly. For two days she traveled out to Bufutula B to teach a small and dedicated group of community members the ins and outs of a sustainable farming technique called Permagardening.
Uganda, known as the Pearl of Africa, has historically been known for its incredibly fertile soil. The Eastern Region we occupy is no exception. The surrounding farmland is blessed with nutrient-rich earth that sustains many different agricultural products. Despite these circumstances, many villagers lack key nutrients in their diets, leading to diseases associated with malnutrition, especially amongst children. Part of what causes this is the distance from the garden to the home and the belief that planting one crop is more economically sustainable when it comes to selling.
Permagardening seeks to break down some of these barriers by providing a solution that is cheap, accessible, and sustainable. Essentially, it is a small 4 m X 4 m, climate-proof garden, placed as close as possible to the kitchen, that can provide an entire family with fruits and vegetables all utilizing local, free materials. It doesn’t require continuous digging every season, and requires very little management, making it an easy solution that doesn’t sacrifice the land the villagers use to make cash crops. In addition, the method of digging renders the most stubborn earth fertile by treating the dirt with several key elements that nourish it.
The first day, Zaina, one of the members of our Village Health Team (VHT), let us interns, Becky, and a few other villagers into her home to lay the groundwork for the construction of a Permagarden. True to form, she was quiet yet determined: the first one with a hoe in her hand ready to dig, having already prepared many of the requisite materials prior to our coming. The rest of the VHTs followed her lead: David digging the water catchment areas, Inid helping prepare the fertilizer. Together, with the rest of the villagers we dug the small plot of land and finished one berm before the day’s end. Our clothes were sufficiently dirtied, but our hopes raised at the fervor with which the villagers took to this solution to malnutrition.
The second day began in similar fashion. By then we knew the drill and began to work to dig the rest of the planting areas. By the time we had finished we were as dirty as the previous day, but before us lay a beautiful new garden ready for planting; the VHTs experienced enough to teach others this valuable gardening technique.
As we look back at what we’ve done here in this village, what will happen to the villagers once we leave, and what we will leave behind, we can’t help but think of the garden at Zaina’s house and its humble attempt at beginning to combat malnutrition. It seems, in a way, a good representation of all our work here. The village needs more than just this, but the garden marks a first step at empowering our VHT’s to take ownership of their and their fellow villagers’ health; and we know that UVP’s work in Bufutula B for the next three years will build on what we’ve started. We have deeply enjoyed our time here and cannot express the level of respect we have for this community and the individuals with whom we have worked, lived, and learned. We hope that when it comes time to harvest, they will remember us as vividly as we will remember them.