March 23, 2015
The women quickly and politely return to their posts-there's a lot of work to do today. The transition is orderly: Several women migrate down-field and begin digging in the fertile, brown soil; others move toward the 1,000 liter water tank and commence filling it with water containers that look like yellow gas cans; a few move into the greenhouse. The greenhouse! I am taken back by its size and beauty. "When was this delivered?" I ask Monica Brown, the Founder and CEO of Africa Development Promise. "About a month and a half ago," she replies. "It can't be," I think to myself. Have they really done all this in six weeks? The greenhouse stands strong and erect, the ground has been tilled into perfectly straight rows, and the tomato plants are flourishing.
"Isaac, everything you see here was donated by ERM."
"Yes. The greenhouse, the water tank, the dripline, the tools, the seeds, the fertilizer. Everything." Suddenly the project has a deeper level of meaning to me. It's one thing to check a box on a donation form, wherein I agree to have x dollars automatically moved from my paycheck to the ERM Foundation. It's quite another to stand on site, viewing hundreds of such donations in action, seeing the impact it has on people's lives.
"How about her?" I say, gesturing at a young woman carrying a delicate seedling. Vincent works his magic and portrays my words in his native tongue. The young woman turns around. She is beautifully adorned in bright blues and greens. "This is Beatrice," I am told.
"Can you show me what you are working on today?" I ask.
Beatrice kindly obliges and begins explaining how the tomato plants require full sun for the first few weeks, but then are transplanted into the greenhouse where the temperature and humidity is ideal for the production phase of the plant's life.
"Can you teach me?" I inquire.
We walk back toward the location of the seedlings. On the way, I trip on a shovel and nearly fall to the ground. I look back at Monica and give her a nervous smile. I'm a bit out of my element, I suppose.
Upon safe arrival at the seedling plot, Beatrice bends to the ground and explains how to gently uproot a seedling. "Dig around the plant, and lift up a large handful of dirt. Like this."
Although both sets of my father's grandparents made a living through agriculture, I know virtually nothing about farming. This is demonstrated by my continual questions, such as, "is this hole big enough?" and "when do we add the fertilizer?" Beatrice is patient and eager to help.
In the end, we share some small talk and joke about the day. We are not so different, after all. We each have hopes and dreams, fears and worries, joys and heartbreaks. The difference is that a trivial amount of our income can have a lasting effect on their well-being.
Why is it that so few of us have realized this? Why do we give such little thought to how we can help? Perhaps many of us have not yet found a way to make a difference. Perhaps we have assumed that our meager contributions couldn't possibly have a measurable impact. I can now say confidently that such contributions have a life-altering impact.
After digging in the dirt with my hands, I receive a personalized hand washing from one of the women.