Adapting for Growth

In Senegal, DIG is adapting it’s program to serve students who are blind, visually impaired and hearing impaired, and the students have cultivated more than we dreamed.

Nature’s way of spreading seeds tells a powerful story; one planted under the right conditions will propagate many more.

DIG strives to mirror this natural phenomenon. By rooting deeply in a community and improving the conditions for farmers to grow healthy, nutritious food, the seed of DIG’s impact spreads. A farmer trains a neighbor. A hospital patient gets involved. A mother teaches her children.

The average DIG trained farmer shares their knowledge with an additional three people, without added investment or direct training from DIG. It’s a self-scaling model, and gives us hope that the community food systems we serve will be resilient.

Recently in Senegal, one of our graduating farmers spread the news of DIG’s impact and it inspired a new manifestation of our program. Mama Awa N’Diaye is a retired teacher and a member of a DIG garden group at Kande Clinic in Ziguinchor. She is eager to share how the program has helped solve many of her household challenges beginning with her most basic need, food security.

When visiting her family in Dakar, Mama Awa ran into a former colleague, Souleyman Geye. Although they both live in Ziguinchor, the two teachers had not seen each other in years. After sharing about her successes with DIG gardening, Souleyman was eager to know what Mama Awa had learned, so she invited him to visit her garden group at the clinic when they returned to Ziguinchor.

As he toured the lush clinic garden, Souleyman began to see what a garden could look like. Thriving vegetable plants grew from old tires, broken buckets and rice sacks lifted up thriving vegetable plants. He watched as the group worked together, joyfully caring for the unique space with pride and purpose. Souleymane began to picture his students here.

Most of Souleymane’s students had never gardened before, and many questioned how it would work. Souleymane teaches at the Ecole Elementair Alioune Badara Diallo, a school serving students who are blind and visually impaired. “Even with a degree or certificate, job opportunities for our students are scarce,” he said. “Part of our role is to teach the students valuable and practical life skills.”

Souleymane petitioned DIG to join him in adapting the garden program to serve his 23 students. Thanks to the unrestricted support of individual donors who trust and encourage DIG

to respond to needs where we see them, DIG had the resources to bring this group into our network of farmers. Close collaboration with the students and teachers, guided DIG to co- create a unique garden program for the blind. We adapted our teachings and trainings to use mixed methods of braille and sensory intuition, which enabled the students to grow food from seed to plate.

The students range from 13-50 years old. They meet twice a week during their free time, once in the evening and once on the weekend. Rather than just building a demonstration garden for teaching purposes alone, theirs is a community garden with a goal of providing nutritious food, the potential for future income, and encouraging a supportive community for the visually and hearing-impaired and their families.

Salam Sawadogo, DIG’s Senegal Program Manager boasts, “If you stepped into the garden with these students, you would see how smart they are. They use their strengths of touch and intuition to differentiate weeds from vegetables and can identify vegetables just through touch.” He goes on to talk about their abilities in watering the garden, improving soil fertility, and harvesting. “Certain activities, like digging and transplanting are supported by school staff and families, which brings the whole community together in a really beautiful way.”

Students in the program are growing abundant beds of lettuce, local greens, cucumber, squash, tomato, onions, bananas, papayas, and more. After one harvest, the students celebrated their success and enthusiasm for the program by preparing a shared meal featuring the actual fruits of their labor. They expressed how they felt accomplished and independent. Many of the students are orphans or rely on one living parent or grandparent. One student shared, “I worry about the burden I cause my family. When I’m out of school, I want to be able to earn a living for myself. This garden will help me do that.” Parents and caregivers are grateful that the school is offering an education beyond academia. It’s deeply important to them knowing that their children can also become inclusive members of society. And ensuring their ability to feed themselves is a huge piece of that puzzle.

We’d like to thank Mama Awa N’Diaye for connecting us to this amazing school as well as building-up nutrition and food security for her own community. She is spreading the seeds of DIG’s learning far and wide and we are excited to see her make them her own. We’d also like to thank the incredible students and teachers at Ecole Elementaire Alioune Badara Diallo for welcoming us and teaching us how we can adapt this program for them and others.