On Friday, all of GHI’s staff, a few staff kids, two dogs and a puppy, gathered in the bungalow behind the office for a meeting. Staffers trickled in slowly, some dragging chairs and others carrying notebooks. By 10:45am, we had all squished into seats, at times with two or three people to a chair, and were circled around wooden table. Sitting with a thick moleskin planner stuffed with notes in front of her and a four year old local on her lap, Julie began the meeting. She welcomed the group, “karibu,” and then asked that each of GHI’s main operations run through program updates. Moses, a Global Health Corps Fellow from Rwanda and GHI’s agricultural expert, explained that he and his staff were in the throes of preparing families for the dry season. He said that all families with access to land were ready to grow crops but that many families lack water access — the greatest growing challenge in the dry season. Moses plans to follow up with families after they have gotten the chance to plant their seedlings in order to reassess how GHI might improve its dry season farming techniques. Moses and his staff have also been developing an agricultural curriculum (to complement GHI’s health curriculum). They conducted five focus groups of community members to learn what the community considers a priority agriculturally. From what the focus groups shared, the curriculum will likely include ways to increase yield (compost, irrigation), soil management, general food production, income generation and pesticide/disease recognition.

Solange, GHI’s health program manager, then took over, sharing that attendance at the Ngyrgi health center has been very consistent, with 40 mamas showing up for each lesson. She explained that the health trainings she herself had been running that week at Akila with high-school age students were very successful and that the students asked that she return as soon as possible! She expressed excitement about applying GHI’s health curriculum, initially designed to educate community mothers, to other groups. She ended by explaining that in the upcoming week (this week), she, Anunciata and Claire will train 60 Community Health Workers to be able to teach GHI’s health curriculum in their own communities.

Simon Pierre, the mastermind behind GHI’s demonstration farm, spoke next. He explained that he has been mulching a lot in preparation for the dry season. He also described a meeting he had with the district in which GHI was able to draft a contract for its partnership with the district in tree delivery. He mentioned that the vice mayor would like to collaborate more with GHI. Simon Pierre was quite excited, and so was Julie — because GHI might be able to get some of its inputs for families from local governments that are interested in reforestation using agroforestry and fruit trees.

Caitlin, GHI’s managing director of programs, just returned from a vacation in Istanbul, followed. GHI has received great interest from individuals who are excited to join GHI’s board and who will give GHI advice about legal contracts, resources and future expansion, she explained. She added that GHI is also developing a local advisory board and has recruited a business man from the community. GHI considers it a necessity to have a local board as the organization seeks to involve  itself in governance. Caitlin’s last comments regarded GHI’s recent fundraising successes and her determination to continue that success.

Johan, a Harvard fellow who has worked with GHI for almost two years (with a semester of school thrown in the middle), gave a final report on his irrigation research. The plastic bags which he had recently used to collect water were tearing, so he plans to fund raise when he is in the US so that GHI can purchase plastic water collection tanks. Those tanks, he explained, will be distributed in a rent-to-own model, allowing families to have more consistent access to water, which would increase their crop yields and generate income directly whenever a family was able to sell excess water.

The meeting ended on a sad note as Julie explained that Brad and Johan, two staff members who have been with GHI almost since its founding, were leaving on Sunday. She spoke with genuine appreciation for both Brad and Johan as co-workers, friends and family. Brad spoke after, mentioning the wonderful growth that GHI has undergone during his time here. It was clear that for all of the work that Brad and Johan did to advance GHI — beginning the home garden program, training GHI’s health workers and creating the health curriculum — the loss of their presence as family at GHI was the most difficult concept to grasp.

Gardens for Health represents so much exciting innovation in the agricultural development field. Its staff members are absolutely committed to their work and attack any obstacle they face with creativity and passion. That GHI can be so productive while creating such a tightly knit community — a family really — is truly inspiring.

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