We’ve learned to adapt our model, succeeding across a broad range of landscapes and climates. We’ve cultivated steep rural mountainsides, sandy floodplains, fields that seem to go on for forever, trash dumps and concrete patios with no soil at all.
We’ve dug for, prayed for, captured, and diverted water. We’ve withstood pestilence and disease, droughts and floods, and pandemics. Every community DIG has partnered with has taught us more about resilience, and continually renews our faith that a garden is indeed a place to make profound and lasting change.
DIG is always growing.
Here are a few of the things we’ve learned from the land, and from the amazing communities we’ve worked with…
In 2006, Dr. Salif Sow, head of the infectious disease ward of Dakar’s National Fann Hospital, approached Peace Corps volunteer Steve Bolinger with a vision for a garden. His HIV/AIDS patients weren’t healthy enough to handle the anti-retroviral drugs they required. Up to then, the hospital’s limited resources prevented it from providing more than one bowl of oily rice per day to its hospitalized patients, and Dr. Sow needed to improve their nutrition.
Steve designed and built a garden which would change everything. The Fann garden was an immediate success, and provided the hospital kitchens with more than 400lbs of produce each month with which to feed the patients. And the patients dramatically improved.
Recognizing the enormous need to replicate the Fann Hospital’s success all across sub-Saharan Africa, Steve partnered with fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Sarah Koch, and in 2006, DIG was born.
Almost immediately, DIG had the opportunity to partner with Family Health International and Catholic Relief Services to developed two new clinic sites in Senegal, which prioritized patients living with HIV. For both, discarded urban spaces were again transformed into lush, abundant gardens.
The patients, when healthy enough, learned to tend the garden themselves, and it became a safe space for them to gather, empowered and able to care for themselves, learning skills they took home with them when they left.
In 2008, an invitation from Soft Power Health brought DIG to Uganda. With two rainy seasons, and overall growing conditions more favorable than arid Senegal, DIG was eager to stretch out into a more rural landscape. Here, we developed three new clinic sites – the Alan Stone, TASO Jinja, and the Budondo Health Center – and one orphanage program at Bwuala Children’s Home.
In Uganda, DIG finally had a chance to work with traditional farmers, and learned how complicated it can be to challenge traditional local growing practices, ones that relied on chemicals or prioritized the growing of less nutritious, destructive crops such as sugarcane.
As we adapted to these new challenges, our programs bloomed. After working with the incredible children of the Bwala Children’s Home, they not only became skilled gardeners, but went on to train others in their community, teaching us the power of autonomy – Ugandans training Ugandans.
With the success of these projects established, we would go on to develop a multi-site partnership with Keep-a-Child-Alive, serving people living with HIV throughout Kampala.
Two invitations took DIG across the ocean – to a Haitian slum in the Dominican Republic, made up of migrant workers experiencing extreme discrimination and poverty, and to a small island off the coast of Nicaragua, to work with and empower women. Here we learned how to adapt to completely new landscapes, cultures, and marginalized communities.
But we quickly realized we were to small an organization to maintain a presence across continents. After graduating the programs in Central America, DIG discontinued them to make a deeper commitment to working in Africa, where the compounding challenges of hunger, climate change, disease, and poverty weighed heaviest, and where our programs had the most potential for scalable impact.
Wanting to work more deeply with both youth and women, DIG developed a Mothers 2 Mothers clinic garden just outside of Nairobi, as well as several school gardens around Kenya.
Soon, a partnership with the WISER Girls School took us west to the shores of Lake Victoria, where DIG designed a campus garden which supplemented over 300 meals per day. The garden also became a teaching classroom for the girls’ education. The students learned valuable life skills, which they in turn taught to their families and communities back at home. At WISER, DIG deepened its nutrition curriculum working closely with dieticians from the US as well as the school’s kitchen.
In Kenya, “Karibu” means welcome. The seeds had been planted; DIG would begin to grow roots in Western Kenya for years to come.
An exciting partnership with The Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia challenged DIG to expand into yet another country. Focused on supporting people living with HIV at the clinic level, this opportunity necessitated us to scale our model. DIG’s gardens sought to meet the needs of the community, not just the aims of the clinics and researchers, and what the people in Zambia wanted was income.
DIG’s gardens were ripe with opportunity.
Eventually, teaming with a number of Zambian partners around Kafue, DIG developed what would become our Farm Enterprise Model. The strong women’s cooperatives we worked with would go on to sell high quality produce to restaurants in the capitol, Lusaka, as well as supply local demand.
Even with all our experience serving people living with HIV and working with youth, DIG was not fully prepared to address the enormous needs of Project Hope in Namibia, and the Karama Connection Youth Home in Tanzania. Both organizations served orphaned and vulnerable children, adolescent girls, and young women living with HIV. Additionally, Karama Connection took in children living with severe disabilities.
DIG’s farm in Tanzania was designed to ensure Karama’s food security and boost the kids’ nutritional wellbeing. Here, DIG strengthened our thoughtful incorporation of permaculture design, dietary diversity, and high yield production. When the home was forced to close temporarily and move locations, they were capable of reestablishing their farm from what they learned with DIG, continuing their commitment to provide the best nutrition possible for the children.
The US Dept. of Defense’s DHAPP program provided DIG an 18 months public grant to work within Camp Lamizana at the main Military Hospital in the capital of Ouagadougou. Our primary focus was to serve the families of military personnel affected by HIV through a demonstration garden that was transformed from barren dusty land into a lush productive farm.
It was here that we also made a commitment to transition all our African programs to indigenous team leadership. DIG had always worked with local facilitators to deploy our trainings at the community level. We we understood that people learn best from their peers, but until this time, DIG’s programs were still mostly directed by American foreign nationals. In Burkina Faso, we trained and hired locally, top to bottom. Salam Sawadogo went on to lead this program and continues to work with DIG today in Senegal as we restart our programs there.
These last 13 years have shown us that the DIG model can be applied almost anywhere. It is not only replicable, it’s scalable.
As we continue to grow our organizational capacity, DIG has made a long-term commitment to grow deep roots in Kenya, Uganda, and Senegal.
These locations offer significantly different landscapes, climate challenges, community dynamics, and vulnerabilities which DIG must and will adapt to.
When we root deeply, DIG’s impact grows exponentially. The success of our work – built on trust, listening, and mutual respect – comes down to our partnerships with the communities we serve. We commit to honoring their unique stories and celebrating their successes, while continuing to learn from them, and share what we learn with others in the field. We’re proud of our history and what these communities have taught us, and we thank them for the opportunity to grow alongside them.
Since 2006, DIG has partnered with over 50k farmers to develop 110 projects across 8 African countries. Going forward we are making a commitment to go deep into Kenya, Uganda, and Senegal. You can learn more about our current work by exploring the map.
May 3, 2017
December 13, 2016
January 28, 2014
September 23, 2013
September 23, 2013