The scent of palo santo wafted amidst the offerings of fruit and hibiscus that adorned the freshly dug earth. Big and small had a clear view of the hand-held circle’s center, where their teacher began to sing.
Her song was for Pachamama, an offering and a blessing for the garden we had just created together. The day was April 21st, Earth Day, that arbitrary date where we oft imagine do-gooders planting trees in public spaces, coming together briefly in the spirit of earthly inclination. And trees were planted, the seeds we were most keen on sowing were a bit more wide-sweeping.
Using this quintessential platform of Earth Day, we launched full into a school-wide collaboration to build a banana circle mandala garden at Bena Jema Primary. The process had all started with the wash station, whose water flowed down over the kids’ play area and pooled foul muck directly in front of the latrines. The obvious fix of a banana circle soon morphed into something much grander: a mandala of vegetables and fruit trees that would serve as an outdoor permaculture classroom.
The old adage of many hands making light work really came alive as we watched a garbage-littered patch of grass transform into a multi-functional space with long term potential to nourish and teach. Some kids learned to plant seedlings and identify their physiology while the typically rambunctious ones mixed soil, keeping everyone engaged and showing them what it meant to work cooperatively.
There is huge potential for learning and community building here in Bena Jema. It is an urban hub where
Shipibo migrate from their rural villages along the Ucayali and beyond to pursue education and employment opportunities in the city. For many, poverty is all they find here, and land stewardship is low on their list of priorities. Many live in crowded semi-urban sprawls with no access to basic sanitation services, surrounded by degraded pastureland and concrete.
In laying the foundations of a permaculture school garden, we are investing in what will become an environmental education program with permaculture-centric curriculum that aims to revitalize traditional knowledge. Not only will children have a hands-on component for their conventional subjects; they will also have the opportunity to learn about permaculture firsthand by exploring topics such as companion plants, plant guilds, soil structure and fertility, composting, and water management.
By reinvigorating the ancestral land stewardship of Shipibo youth in this urban hub, we hope to reach out youth who have been torn from the land and rivers to encourage their embracing and redefining of their own culture. Our hope is that by remembering the abundance that is possible through working with the wisdom of the Earth, life and culture can flourish in these places where scarcity is the status quo.
To watch the video of our dig-in, click here.
Sunday, 15 June 2014