For school children in the African nation of Burundi, classroom gardens are living laboratories for horticulture, chemistry, entomology, and nutrition, and an important source of healthy food.
Training Burundian teachers how to grow learning gardens, researchers at Washington State University’s Department of Human Development and WSU Extension are pioneering new ways to share knowledge across oceans and continents.
In Burundi, many children go to school hungry in classrooms and schools with no lunches, limited supplies, and no running water or electricity. To help, WSU researchers teamed with partners in Burundi, developing a 4-H program aimed at solving food insecurity by training teachers to use gardens as a learning tool.
Knowledge that crosses the globe
Political unrest in Burundi meant that the Extension team—including Mary Katherine Deen, associate professor in the Department of Human Development; Kevin Wright, King County Extension Director; and former faculty members Lauren Scanga and Suzanne Smith—couldn’t travel for in-person lessons.
That’s why they turned to Zoom, a low-cost, easy-to-use videoconferencing tool, offering face-to-face training sessions on classroom gardens for 25 teachers at four primary schools over two years.
The trainings helped Burundian teachers and Extension researchers build relationships and share new skills and cultural understanding, closing the distance for educators on both continents. The new model was cost effective, easy and engaging.
“For Extension, the new approach provides a method to work globally at a reduced cost and in areas where unrest may make it unsafe to travel,” said Deen. “It provides knowledge for schools and communities in impoverished areas to increase food security, and can lead to opportunities for students and community members to gain access to the newest research and technology.”
Already harvested, the school gardens have been a success, and teachers now use them to teach pupils about plant health, pests, the environment, and more. Students took the vegetables they grew home to share, and created their own gardens at home with family members.
“These gardens have given the students new knowledge, a sense of pride and most of all, a sense of self-empowerment,” said Deen.
Their model continues to be used in Burundi, with WSU faculty and staff meeting regularly with the local 4-H staff. There is a new focus on sustainability, and 4-H staff in Burundi are assessing their resources and seeking local funding for their work.
Learn more about this project in the Journal of Extension.