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Camosun Environmental Technology co-op students Erin Sanderson and Mitch Brost recently travelled to India to complete a work term volunteering with Fertile Ground, a non- governmental organization which provides training and resources to farmers and small-scale tea growers in the state of Assam. In the program, volunteers participate in outreach activities to promote healthy food production, and share their knowledge with farmers and tea growers as well as teachers, students and families living in the state.

A different kind of tea

Erin Digging

Sanderson and Brost spent two months working on two different projects. Their first stop was in Digboi, where Fertile Ground runs the Adarsh Seuj Prakalpa - Organic Demonstration Garden and Resource Centre to teach farmers and tea-growers organic gardening practices. Sanderson and Brost received training, assisted staff in the maintenance of the garden and also helped to create an organic compost tea.

Compost is in short supply, says the students, and by adding a few ingredients such as gobar (cow manure), gur (hard molasses), and water to make a “tea,” it stretches out to provide adequate fertilization for the beds. For two individuals who recognize the importance of environmental responsibility, the students expressed great satisfaction in having the opportunity to share their knowledge and support organic farming in Assam.

Sanderson says the use of chemicals is not regulated in Assam, so DDT and other harmful chemicals are still used. “Peggy Carswell, director of Fertile Ground, shared extensive knowledge and resource materials regarding the harmful effects of chemicals in fertilizers, which helped us to prepare for our outreach work with locals. The hope is to prevent a crisis in Assam that has happened in other parts of India,” says Sanderson.

One way to use a machete

The students’ second project took them to Sadiya, the most remote region of Assam, where they were based at the North East Affected Areas Development Society (NEADS) Resource Centre.

Green Revolution

Many villages of Sadiya were wiped out in a 1950 earthquake, and the people living there today are refugees from tribes in surrounding areas. Fertile Ground partners with NEADS, and the aim of their program is to build a demo garden at the centre and gardens at each of the seven schools in the area.

Brost and Sanderson helped build the demo garden, along with Fertile Ground and NEADS staff, as well as locals. “Building the garden was no easy task. We had to create soil by adding compost to sand, and raise the beds using cuts of bamboo – we didn’t expect to learn how to use a machete on a work term, but it does a great job of splitting the bamboo!”

The garden was left ready for the next group of volunteers to plant. For interested locals who lived close enough to visit the new garden, the team would go to their village to teach them how to make compost, demonstrate the importance of organic gardening and raise awareness of how farmers can get into serious debt from using pesticides.

”Farmers are known to use genetically modified seeds which help with the initial crop, but the amount of chemical fertilizer they require then damages the soil for future use, to say nothing of the harmful effects of the fertilizer. As a proud people, rather than ask for help, sadly these individuals often become desperate and even suicidal, as was the case with farmers from the Punjab,” say the students.

Somewhere to go

Sanderson’s and Brost’s co-op experience also included building latrines for local schools. Through Rotary Club of Canada funding, the students helped build latrines digging holes, laying concrete and constructing walls of bamboo. Once the first latrine was built, community members were involved to help with the construction of the rest.

An eye-opening adventure

Sanderson and Brost’s co-op experience was more than an eye-opener and both agreed that “we take so much for granted living in Canada.” Regardless, they both had a wonderful time in Assam. For seven weeks, they saw no other foreigners and were warmly welcomed by the local people.

Mitch Compost

Both Sanderson and Brost completed their first co-op work term in government positions in BC, so travelling to India to volunteer with Fertile Ground was certainly a different experience. According to Brost, working with Fertile Ground has changed the direction he is taking in his life and the type of work he intends to pursue. “If not for taking co-op, I wouldn’t have had this amazing experience,” says Brost. “Although I may have travelled to India, it would have been as a tourist without the opportunity to work with locals and connect with them as I have.”

Sanderson agrees her experience has broadened her perspective. “Co-op allows you to try different jobs in your field and really understand the range of possibilities. My career path will now likely involve working with children and educating.”

“This experience has made me so aware of how our actions affect others,” adds Brost. “I definitely want to do something that directly benefits other people.”

For more information:
Co-operative Education
Environmental Technology

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Last updated: April 16, 2019 12:40 pm

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