This week’s participant blog post is written by Darya Watnick. Every week, we ask a different participant on the Yahel Social Change Program to share their experiences.
I spend a lot of my time outdoors during my volunteer placements through Yahel. And by no means am I complaining about this situation. I am relishing the opportunity to be outdoors. After being in college and seeing more of the library than I care to admit, this has been a welcome change of scenery.
Every Tuesday, I work at the Gedera Community Garden. The garden is one my favorite activities because it is a beautiful space and because the people who go there are so diverse and interesting. It draws people, of all ages, from all parts of the broader Gedera. For two hours we work both in the community and our personal plots. Yahel was lucky enough to get our own plot as well! I am most excited about the prospect of someday soon eating our homegrown gomen, or Ethiopian kale.
On Wednesdays, during my placement at the Pines School, I help out with the third grade school garden. This garden is really a miraculous achievement because there are very little funds provided by the school, yet it is starting to thrive. The parents have been involved in its creation, by making scarecrows and coming to the school to pull weeds and build planter beds. I can see how excited the students are when they have the opportunity to plant more flowers or seedlings for their garden. Eti, the third grade teacher, and I eventually hope it will become a space for learning as well as gardening for the entire school.
My last gardening-related work is just starting. I will be helping some men and women from Shapira, an Ethiopian Israel community, with a for-profit agricultural project. So far, we only cleaned up a few large bags of trash from the field. The planting season is ending soon so hopefully this project will begin in the near future.
While I enjoy the manual labor side of gardening, the work has also provided me with the impetus for some significant introspection. One of my many reasons for doing Yahel was to take me out of my element, namely school, and allow me some time to think about who I am and what I want to do with my life. I’ve come to realize, through my work in the gardens and fields, that being outside is important to me. I hope that I can incorporate the outdoors into my future career to some degree. The idea of being cooped up in an office for the rest of my working life is, pun intended, claustrophobic.
As an Environmental Studies major, I spent four years learning about the myriad problems facing our globe, from pollution to fracking to desertification. I know that I cannot possibly solve all these issues but I want to be able to make some sort of headway on at least one issue in my lifetime. But I know that sitting behind a computer all day will drive me crazy and also will not be the most effective use of my abilities. I want to be out in the world, being active in the environmental movement.
Earlier this year, I was asked a question that really resonated with me. I have not forgotten how I answered. I spent 3 years of college working for my school newspaper, so someone asked me if I planned on working as a journalist covering environmental issues. I said that I would rather be creating the news, not covering it.
This speaks directly to why I ended up on a program like Yahel rather than just teaching English somewhere else. I wanted to be directly involved in the community, learning and doing social change. While I may not make a career out of development or social work, Yahel has thoroughly influenced me to see that being outside, whether it is in a garden or elsewhere, is the best way for me to make an impact on a community.
During our seminar on community last week someone said something to the effect of “Even if you can’t change the world, you can change someone’s world.” The gardens where I work are some small part of someone’s world where I can make a difference. I get to be proactive, working outside, and create tangible change with my own hands. Gardening and agriculture are also intimately tied with the environmental movement. While I doubt that gardening will be a part of my career path, it has become a large part of who I am now and will be in the future. I have begun cultivating my metaphorical garden with new and exciting plants.