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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

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Girl Farmer

The Caribbean, Dominican Republic


When I arrived in my community as the promised agroforestry technician and Peace Corps Volunteer, a number of men said to me, "I thought we were getting a man."

I usually smiled and replied, "There must have been some sort of horrible mistake." They would smile back, and I would swallow hard, knowing my work was more than cut out for me. Living in a remote village in the mountains was difficult, but getting the male farmers to look to a female technician for help with their land seemed impossible.

For the first few months, a male technician working for a local nongovernmental organization took me under his wing. I accompanied him to the farmers' properties and began to get to know a few of the farmers this way. After some time mostly observing their work, I began to ask my own questions and make my own suggestions. I found the technician less responsive to me than the farmers were. I knew that I would have to make my break from the technician soon, or the locals would never listen to me. I took advantage of the days when the technician did not come up the mountain to work with the farmers one on one.

I would help the farmers with their work, talking about projects and possibilities for their land. I asked many questions and learned much more alone with the farmers than when I was with the technician. Nevertheless, in the first six months, I got very little accomplished with the men. In the meantime, I started a home-garden workshop for the women, to strengthen the existing gardens. We had weekly meetings and demonstrations, and each week worked in a different garden.

After spending months on the gardens, I tried once again to turn my attention to the farmers. Some days I would find myself alone, planting a hundred trees, and some days, with a group of farmers, planting 2,000 trees. I continued to wake up early every morning and strap on my work boots. After nine months working in my site, I had established a few strong friendships with farmers. I encouraged them to start building soil barriers in the dry season, in preparation for the next rains. Then, one morning, a farmer came to my house and asked me if I would like to come out to his land to start building barriers. I looked into his face, expecting him to laugh, but he was serious. In that moment, I felt nine months of persistence and struggle all come together.

After I worked a few weeks with that farmer, some of the other farmers came to me asking to build barriers as well. With three farmers and other helpers, we formed a work party and rotated our work among the different pieces of land. In two months, we had established more than 11,000 feet of barriers and I had created a strong bond with these men, who now talk with me daily about work and projects.

As a woman who works with male farmers all day long, while their wives stay close to home cooking, washing clothes, and tending to children, I am challenged every day. The work in the fields is often physically demanding, but with sheer persistence, I have managed to convince most of the farmers in my community that my work is useful. Although it took time to wedge myself into the farmers' lives, I feel I have accomplished something great. Today, I spend most of my time with the farmers. Recently, they even voted and made me the official "educator" of their farmers' association.

About the Author

Angela (Rich) George

Angela (Rich) George served as an agroforestry community development Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 2001-2003.

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