Gaborone Teen Club: A Day in the Garden

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The following post is courtesy of Linnea Rudeen, a short-term volunteer at the Botswana-Baylor COE and Adult Volunteer for Gaborone Teen Club:

A Teen Club member prepares a vegetable garden plot for planting.

Gaborone Teen Club: A Day in the Garden

When I first came to the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence, at the start of November, I was 3 months into a study abroad program and itching for new experiences.  At Baylor, I not only found a wide range of new responsibilities and opportunities, but an organization that is downright inspiring to be a part of.  The staff and teens warmly welcomed me into their community and continuously put smiles on my face, and being a part of Teen Club is an experience I’ll never forget!

On Saturday, November 28th, I had my first opportunity to participate in a Teen Club event.  During the event, the teens were split into 2 groups.  The 15-19 year olds went off to the University of Botswana to complete a survey on issues related to HIV-positive adolescents, and the 13-14 year olds stayed behind to do an assortment of environmental activities that I helped to design and implement.  Instead of broadly discussing a range of environmental concerns, however, our primary focus was on soil and organic gardening.

The premise of the whole day was that a healthy environment promotes and sustains a healthy life. There is a strong relationship between the wellbeing of our environment and the wellbeing of ourselves and soil is a great example of this relationship because its health affects the health of the food we eat and the water we drink, all factors that sustain us.  Our hope for the day was to help the teens learn how to have a positive impact on their surroundings, as well as how best the environment can be utilized for their own health.

After a brief introduction we split into small groups where the facilitators used apples to demonstrate the scarcity of fertile soil on earth. With the apples representing the earth as a whole, they slowly cut the apple into 4ths, 8ths, 16ths and so on, each time pausing to discard chunks that are equivalent to the oceans, mountain ranges, swamps, etc as just a few of the examples of areas that do not have soil suitable for farming.  The facilitators ended with 1/32nd of just the skin layer, and it is this tiny bit that represents the proportion of soil on earth that is fertile and able to produce the food that sustains us. The groups then held a brief discussion on why the soil is important in regards to supporting our lives, what is currently threatening its health, and finally, different methods to combat or prevent these threats, such as minimizing litter and practicing sustainable agricultural techniques.

We then moved into a recycled craft activity to commemorate World AIDS Day. For this, we all moved outside and the teens enthusiastically decorated recycled aluminum cans with construction paper, markers, ribbons, the works!  Once completed, we provided them with potting soil and bulbs. They could then bring these miniature potted plants home with them, the idea being that as they water and care for these flowers, they will be reminded of how important dedication to their own health is, such as good medication adherence, proper nutrition, and a positive attitude!

After cleaning up the craft supplies and scrambling to fill enough watering cans, the teens dug up and planted 6 garden beds.  Baylor has recently procured a plot across the street from their main clinic which, over the next year, will be transformed into a new Adolescent Centre.  This will include a computer lab, a recreational room, a multipurpose court out back and among other exciting things, an organic garden.  The teens, back in their small groups, prepared, set up, and planted each bed.  This involved shoveling, adding fertilizer, raking, measuring distances between plants and rows, planting the seeds or seedlings, and watering.  Each group, however, went above and beyond my expectations!  They raked their beds into perfect sunken rectangles, added decorative bricks around the edges, and even made trellises out of old bamboo and yarn from the crafting materials!  It was a hot day, and the work was arduous, but the teens were full of smiles and enthusiasm and we all ended the day very satisfied and proud of the work we had done.