Kids living on the boundaries of Ruaha National Park in Tanzania have to learn to live with very little water in a long dry period season which stretches from April to December. Friends of Ruaha Society (FORS) encourages schools to have pleasant surroundings in their schools but wer stress the importance of doing this without wasting water. Typical ways of managing this is for child to bring one small (2litre) container of water to school every day, or for the whole class to go to the nearest water source with a small container to bring water for the garden. We emphasize that this should be done late in the day before going home, so that the water won’t evaporate in the sun although we suspect this sometimes doesn’t happen.
We also help the schools to think about which plants are suitable for a very dry environment, and we are really happy to see an garden of aloe vera plants in one school, which has just been laid out. More on this in a future blog!
One interesting thing that we have learnt while working with Friends of Ruaha schools is that there is a big difference between what we mean when we say ‘environment’ (or ‘mazingira’ in Swahili). When I talk about the environment, I think of everything surrounding me – the forests, the mountains, the rivers, the birds, the insects, etc etc, but when most people here use the word ‘mazingira’, what they mean is their immediate surroundings, i.e. the garden in school, the yard at home. Getting across this difference is quite a challenge in our work! When we say that we are coming to work with the environment, the expectation is often that we will help schools to arrange an attractive garden, and once that is done, then we have ‘sorted’ the environment. However, we feel that with all our schools in Idodi and Pawaga we have already got beyond this point!
But a greater challenge is the one of having pleasant surroundings without actually harming the environment, e.g. by using huge quantities of water which will evaporate and only produce a few straggly flowers wilting under the sun. Pawaga and Idodi divisions are on the banks of the Great Ruaha River which is a living example of what can be done to a once impressive water source by human activity. A huge river in the past, the Great Ruaha now dries up for several months a year. Getting the children (and the teachers..) to understand the connection between excessive amounts of water poured pointlessly onto their gardens and the drying of one of Tanzania’s largest rivers is something that we have worked on for the years that we have been visiting the schools in this area. It is quite a leap of imagination, but we believe that we are gaining ground.