As part of the Bridge Year program, each student is assigned to a particular service site with a local NGO or grassroots association. I’m happy to have been paired with Naam Joodo, a school gardens project currently based at the International School of Dakar (ISD) with a satellite site at the local public school, Lycée de Ouakam.
The garden at ISD is tucked behind the library and wedged against the outer wall of the school compound–accessible via the library or by a small path that extends from the music classrooms. Security guards occasionally pass through the garden, appearing and disappearing through the small alleys between the concrete wall and the buildings. The main space is filled with vegetable and flower beds, shaded in the morning by banana, lemon, orange, pomegranate, and mango trees growing alongside the rows. The scattered papaya trees are high enough that the compost beneath them is never shaded. Each day in the gardens starts and ends with a thorough watering of every plant, from the trees to the trays of seedlings. Working in the garden is steady and methodical, but never slow–seedlings have to be transplanted, compost turned, rows weeded, trees treated, fruit harvested, and soil amended.
Lycée’s garden is a bit different from the regularly watered and groomed grounds of ISD. Walking to the garden brings one through a (sometimes) muddy path bordered by tall grasses laden with copious amounts of burrs. The garden has several rows and raised beds of the typical produce–various vegetables, herbs, and the occasional native sapling. The plot is lined with–or rather, was cut out of–a grove of huge baobab trees that shade most of the land. The baobab fruit dangles over the rows and bumps your head if you forget to duck while standing up. In one corner is piles of compost and manure; in another a small clearing lined with papaya trees that will soon be used as an outdoor classroom space. There are three hoses taped together that run to a faucet on the other side of the school complex. (If you turn the faucet just right, there will be enough water to slowly fill each of the three barrels throughout the course of the morning.)