Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Tropical Garden of Paradise by Sami Abdelmalik

In an effort to extend learning far beyond the classroom walls, a school garden project was developed as part of GVI and COTERC’s environmental education program, being implemented here in the northeast Caribbean cost of Costa Rica, which brought together all of the features of hands-on science to the primary school students of the San Francisco village.

Students intently working during an outdoor environmental education class.

With garden-based curricula, students can learn about Decomposition and Soil Composition, The Water Cycle, The Effects of Pesticides, Medicinal Plants, Habitat Diversity, Plant Succession, and The Role of Pollinators and Seed Dispersal. As a facilitator and project coordinator, I noted how much my students enjoyed having class outdoors and engaging in activities that allowed them to utilize all their senses. The idea to create the garden came naturally, seeing how it would enhance the esthetics of the school grounds and inspire inclusive-green-based curriculum.

Equipped with the knowledge gained from past experiences with community development projects, I was prepared and aware of the organization, planning, and collaboration required for insuring the success of such a project. Thus, the project took on several phases of development.

The initial step was to identify a need and then gain the support of the teachers and students. It was then critical to create conditions and avenues for participation along every planned phase, which provides an opportunity for individuals to work together and gain pride in the establishment and creation of the project. The support gained also insures the long-term sustainability of the garden, which would need ongoing care and maintenance long after construction is completed. After rallying support from teachers and students, a meeting was held with the teachers and an 8 by 16 meter (26 x 52 feet) plot of land was allocated for the project. Work started immediately as the chosen plot was the existing school litter-dumping site and a cleanup was required before any construction could take place.

The allocated garden plot prior to cleanup.

Simultaneously, I was seeking project funding and collaborating with Caroline Greenland who is the manager of education at the Toronto Zoo. From the inception, Caroline has been a phenomenal supporter of this project and a solid cornerstone that linked our fieldwork needs in Costa Rica with the resources offered in Canada. Thanks to COTERC supporters, we managed to raise the needed funds and we were able to purchase the required building materials. Soon after, posts were erected, a fence was raised, a drainage ditch was trenched, and planting beds were constructed. GVI research volunteers who reside at Caño Palma Biological Field Station devoted a lot of heart and sweat in ensuring the completion of the project. To boot, they also utilized their artistic talents by creating colorful wildlife plaques and a trellis, which were placed to adorn the garden perimeter.

With the construction phase near to completion, we informed the local community members, many of which showed there support for the project by donating plants to propagate the garden. In an effort to increase participation, we also held a school-wide competition for the naming of the garden. Approaching the final phase, we then held an official opening event, packed with environmental education activities. The activities varied from planting, to role-playing, to painting – all of which had a garden-based theme. With each activity, an information session was given in order to reinforce the topics, which included the Basics of Compost, the Water Cycle, Basic Plant Necessities, and Impacts Of Pollution, just to name a few.

An information session given to reinforce curriculum topics.

The final treat came when the selected name for the garden was revealed. “GARDEN OF PARADISE” was the winning entry from Martha, a twelve-year-old student. This marked the end of the event and the successful completion of the garden. I can honestly say that this has been a great privilege and rewarding experience and I hope it has a lasting impact on all who were involved. I’ve learned that it takes a community to raise a garden and the support of caring individuals is really what makes it bloom.

Thanks to all who were involved!