From Little Things, Big Things Grow…

Author Pru Allison
Date May 02, 2024

Every guest who travels with us makes a positive difference to the environment and wildlife they visit, but for some the impact is even more significant.

Three years ago, Hyena Pan was visited by a guest called Andrew Lee, a member of the Rotary Club of Colorado. His guide was Daniel Ntsogotho, from the local Khwai Village community. During his stay, Andrew paid a visit to Daniel’s village where he enjoyed the cultural tour and spent time at the Maria Ramsden Learning Centre.

The learning centre was established as a preschool in 2019 and later renamed in memory of our colleague Maria Ramsden who was deeply involved with the welfare of the community. The centre provides a safe learning and playing environment as well as nutritious daily meals.

Upon returning home, Mr Lee got in touch with Sandra Rubins, our brilliant Community Outreach Manager, to find out whether there was a way in which he could support the preschool.

“I proposed a school garden, the idea behind the garden is to feed the students at the Maria Ramsden Learning Centre and to transfer skills,” Sandra tells us. “Teaching children how to grow vegetables and to be self-sustainable.”

Andrew and his associates at the Rotary Club of Colorado joined together with the Rotary Club of Gaborone to kindly fund a green house, grow boxes, a 10,000 litre JoJo water tank, a borehole with solar pump system, gardening tools and seeds.

“My experience in Botswana started with my passion for wildlife photography and morphed into a desire to make a difference to the people of the country through my efforts as a Rotarian,” explains Andrew. “I fell in love with the country, the land, the animals and the people, so it was an easy decision to get involved after visiting Khwai village. With Sandra’s help the project was defined and it has exceeded our expectations. To bring the joy of gardening and ensure improved nutrition is a double win and super satisfying to myself and my Rotary Club. We will duplicate the project, hopefully again and again.”

The garden has been developed and the preschool children are actively involved in growing the vegetables which are then harvested. So far, they’ve been successful in harvesting spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and kale and have planted the same as new seedlings along with beetroot and carrots.

In addition to their generous contributions to the garden, the Rotary have also donated six hippo rollers to the Khwai Community and the Khwai Social Welfare Officer is in the process of assisting us in identifying the most appropriate beneficiaries (if this has sent you on a confusing Google search, hippos rollers are innovative tools for water transportation).

Unfortunately, between Andrew’s visit to Hyena Pan and the development of the garden, his original guide Daniel Ntsogotho passed away. In light of this, Andrew asked that the garden should be dedicated to this exemplary guide and conservationist who is deeply missed by us all.

Daniel’s brother paid a moving tribute during the handover ceremony, saying “In commemorating Daniel’s memory, let us also reflect on the values he embodied and the lessons he imparted. His deep respect for nature, his unwavering commitment to conservation, and his ability to instil a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world serve as a guiding light for us all, reminding us to cherish and protect our environment for the future generations.”

He also outlined the benefits of vegetable gardening in preschools which include hands on experiences for the children, encouraging healthy eating habits, environmental awareness, physical activity, responsibility and patience.

The official handover of the garden from the Rotary Club to the learning centre took place on 17th April and we were honoured to be joined by two representatives from the American ambassador’s office, the chief of Khwai, representatives from the Ministry of Education, the Botswana Police and the Khwai Social Welfare Officer, all of whom attended as our esteemed guests.

Assisting the children and Sandra with the garden are deft gardeners Daisy Hancock and Amy McBride. Daisy sells trees in Maun and Amy works for Love Botswana, a community based NGO and is the founder of the new Okavango Rotary Club that was initiated because of this project. The women have helped the children develop the garden further by preparing the plots. They did this by using elephant dung as a base and then adding top soil collected from nearby riverbanks. Planting trays were used to nurture the seedlings initially until they’re ready to be transferred into their plots.

“Each kid got to plant their own seedling in a recycled yogurt container, water bottle or tin,” Sandra notes. “The aim of this was to teach them about reusing and recycling. They also got to choose which vegetable they wanted to grow – this was a very interesting exercise as some couldn’t decide what they wanted! They will take their vegetable home when it’s ready to be eaten. Eventually we’d like to have a section where we can grow veggies to be sold to the community.”

This is truly a community venture that embodies the qualities of Daniel and Maria, who the garden and preschool respectively are in memory of. We’ve no doubt they’d be very proud of the change they’ve inspired.

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