A Multipurpose Garden For A Gambian Health Clinic
By Janet Burnell and Wolfgang Bopp
Ardingly in Sussex, the village closest to Wakehurst Place, has been `twinned’ with Old Jeshwang, a suburban village of Banjul, the Gambian capital. The Ardingly-Old Jeshwang Association’s main concern is to build a health clinic in the Gambian community as a self help project. Wolfgang Bopp and Janet Burnell, both students of Diploma Course 30, have been asked by the above association to develop a plan and proposal for an appropriate garden to surround this clinic. Following some literature research the two authors travelled, supported by The Kew Guild and The Kew Rotary Club, to The Gambia for one week on a fact finding mission.
The Gambia, a country two-thirds the size of Northern Ireland and situated at the western most point of the African continent, is virtually surrounded by the Senegal. The population pressure, highest near the coast, has resulted in widespread destruction of the native coastal palm woodland. The prime land use outside habitations is for agriculture and farming. At the same time there is very little green-space in towns and villages, which is particularly noticeable in the greater Banjul area, including Old Jeshwang.
Although cases of extreme malnutrition are rare amongst the Gambian population, the authors learned from a national adviser on food and nutrition, that it is important to raise the population’s awareness of the importance of fruits and vegetables for the daily diet, which primarily exists of rice. The above, together with the fact that the new health clinic is being built in the centre of the community, has defined the priorities for the plant selection of the garden, namely fruit and vegetable cultivation as demonstration garden, ornamental plantings and the incorporation of native species as far as possible. The garden is to be used as a teaching aid for health, environmental and horticultural education. Several `meeting places’ (Gambian meetings are held outside, preferably under a tree) will also give the community, including the local school, the opportunity to use the site.
During their visit the authors saw comparable projects and consulted people from Government Departments and non-governmental organisations to hear their advice and learn from their experience. In several meetings with the Old Jeshwang community, the authors had to match the community’s wishes with the seemingly most promising way for the long term success of this self help project. At the close of the last meeting consensus was reached that the newly established Garden Development Committee (G.D.C.) will be fully responsible for the management of the project. Their funds will be separate from those of the clinic and the G.D.C. must ensure that the garden is self sustainable and is not dependent on the clinic staff and/or its funds. For this reason the G.D.C. will encourage all members of the community to take part in the decision making process, the development and the maintenance of the clinic garden.This will give the community as a whole a sense of pride and ownership in their new garden and the overall benefit and learning process will be increased. In their proposed budget the authors made an allowance for on-site training (horticultural and management), which should further this process.
The authors were also able to establish a Gambian Technical Support Group, consisting of (at the time of leaving the country) four individuals, who volunteered to give their expert advice to the Old Jeshwang community, after having met the authors and heard of the project.
Following their visit the authors prepared a project proposal including a budget for the development and maintenance of the site, which was sent to the Old Jeshwang community and will, in due course, be used by the Ardingly-Old Jeshwang Association to raise the funds for the site development.
In summarising their project the authors would like to say that, despite being hard work, it has given them a unique opportunity to learn a great deal about people, a different culture and how to deal with sensitive issues. Janet and Wolfgang hope that the Old Jeshwang community will make their clinic garden a great success and eventually increase the cultivation of plants around the family compounds in their own as well as other communities in The Gambia. On behalf of the Old Jeshwang community and themselves, the authors would like to thank the Kew Guild for their support of this project.
P.S. Having read this short account, many Kewites will quite rightly ask themselves why Wolfgang and Janet did not include the cultivation of medicinal plants in this garden which, after all, is to `serve’ a health clinic? The answer is, that although this was brought into the discussion at the beginning, on speaking to community members of Old Jeshwang as well as to a doctor at the Medical Research Council Hospital, the authors had to accept the fact that, at least in this part of the country, the western medicine appears not to value the use of local plants as alternative medicines and the native people themselves have largely forgotten how and what to use.
P.P.S. Editor’s Note: Liaising with Ian Leese, Principal of the School of Horticulture, the Rotary Club of Kew Gardens were able to pay for a large part of Janet and Wolfgang’s return air fare for this project.