ECHO: ECHO Impacts Youth Through Mentorship Program in East Africa
At any one time you can find around one hundred kids boarding at a rehabilitative center for children located in Arusha, Tanzania. The children housed here are either waiting to go into surgery or are recovering from orthopedic and plastic surgeries. It’s common to find children with severe burns, club feet, cleft palates, or missing limbs playing together in the yard. Safe spaces can be hard to find when village life so often is based on living within the standard of normalcy, which many times includes appearances. Children who don’t look ‘normal’ are sometimes shunned, abused, or abandoned. This particular rehab center gives off a fragrance of acceptance and visitors can see a smiling community in the midst of such trying circumstances.
Children can spend an indeterminate amount of time here depending on the severity of the surgery. Volunteers come and visit regularly, but oftentimes the older boys can be overlooked as they don’t quite fit into programs that are directed to young children. As a result, one of the nurses invited ECHO to come and design some educational opportunities for the youth. The goal was to construct kitchen gardens and provide a mentorship between the boys, the gardener, and ECHO staff.
ECHO East Africa staff members and volunteers visited weekly. On the first visit, ECHO staff explained that the purpose of ECHO was to encourage creativity among farmers in order to solve problems that they’re facing. Before leaving, they challenged the boys to make something new out of used water bottles. The following week, the ECHO staff were happy to find that the youth had made several garden designs, a simple drip irrigation system, and a number of other things out of the bottles, showing immense creativity.
The consecutive weeks included activities surrounding sack gardens, tire gardens, medicinal uses of native plants, and nutrition. The ECHO staff planted chaya and leaf cassava cuttings and explained the uses of certain perennial greens and encouraged the cooking staff to incorporate these various plants into the children’s diets. Along with the sweet potato greens from the sack garden, the amaranth and celery in the tire garden, and the garlic to be planted in the keyhole garden, ECHO has worked to supplement the diets of the children who stay there.
ECHO was very pleased to host a group of youth from the center at the ECHO demonstration farm in Arusha. Most of the time, a trip off of the campus means going into surgery, so the teens were relieved for a chance to explore and learn outside of the walls. Through ECHO training the center’s gardener is now equipped to be the on-site teacher and mentor. As each new group of boys and girls hosted at the center benefit from this mentorship program, the “ECHO Effect” will continue.