Taylor with her host family, Gonzale and Luisa.
By TAYLOR WHITTLESEY | The Borlaug Institute
We all start laughing. Our hands are covered in dirt but the final product was well worth it. We sat down to survey our creations and smile. The bottle gardens of Cajuil fruit look beautiful. With the feeling of satisfaction still lingering, the kids pick up their bottle gardens to take them home. I smile; we actually did this.
My trip to the Dominican Republic began mid May with a small group of students and friends from Texas A&M University to teach teachers about the Junior Master Gardening newest curricula, the Learn Grow Eat Go! Program and build a garden at the community school. Christine Tisone, my professor from the Department of Health and Kinesiology, believed the curricula would be beneficial to the community of La Esquina. Knowing the success of the AGTEC program and how the JMG curriculum has affected countries worldwide, I agreed and began preparing for this past summer over a year ago in August of 2012.
The Learn, Grow, Eat, Go! Program has only been used in the United States, but after talking with the director of the program, Lisa Whittlesey, to get more information my team was concluded this would be beneficial to try due to the nutritional components. The curricula consist of games, stories, recipes for cooking, nutritional videos in Spanish and English and much other information to teach kids about the nutrients of plants we eat from the garden.
However, similar to most international efforts, we were forced to reevaluate our plans several times. We didn’t end up teaching teachers, but fortunately, we were able to accomplish a foundation for the program.
The first month and a half we got to know the community and learn more about foods that were eaten there. We were interested in knowing the amount of fruits and vegetables people ate on a daily basis and where that came from. Unlike America, most of the children ate fruits for snacks. This is mainly because fruits like mangos and cajuil are readily available in their yards. However, vegetables, were less common to find growing outside. Most families bought them on a grocery truck that came every once in a while. This concluded that planting vegetables were essential for the garden at the school.
Taylor Whittlesey, Alicen Bessire, Kinsey Jeffers, and Susie Barr with the outer construction of the garden completed.
With this in mind, my team and I constructed a lay out for a key-hole type of garden that also included more recycling and asked the community if they were willing to help. Fortunately, they were excited and wanted to help. We came with no supplies for the garden because we wanted to use what they had there and build something they could reconstruct later. The outside barrier of the garden was made of chicken wire and plastic bottles that we found only the streets in the community. Not only did this aid in cleaning up the community, but it also increased awareness and excitement for what was going on at the school. The entire community helped us gather supplies like coffee grounds, cardboard, old clothes and food for the inside layers.
During the garden building, we also redid the curricula to make it more compatible with the Dominican culture. Then, we pilot tested out activities with kids and families in the community from our homes. Some of the activities we led were bottle gardens, fruits and vegetable bingo, garden art and the importance of meal substitution. The community was receptive and exceeded any expectations we had originally. Every afternoon, the children came to our houses to learn and create more projects with us.
Johanni and Trini creating bottle gardens.
The last week of July, I returned to the United States. However, my friend and teammate, Alicen Bessire, stayed in the Dominican Republic to teach at the La Capilla School. Now, I am working on research of food in the Dominican Republic and the nutritional aspects and health benefits they have on human bodies, while Alicen is using the curricula and this research to further implement the program.
Our goals for this next year are maintaining the relationships and contacts we made in the Dominican Republic, as well as providing funding to Alicen and for workshops to train teachers about the program so it can continue to flourish.
If you would like to help fund Alicen and our project, please visit the following link: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/vxb3/help-alicen-and-the-dominican.
To learn more information about the project and what’s going on now, check out ‘The Dominican Experience’ facebook page for photos and blogs updates from our entire team.
A beautiful sunrise at the vista in La Capilla.