I’m a reluctant gardener, a few too many memories of seemingly endless chores in my parents oversized farm-cum-common; using a pickaxe to dig a pond, or a hoe to tear down overgrown bushes.
The Canadian volunteers who visited last week graciously donated ninety-five hedge saplings to fence the playground area. They didn’t have time to plant them, but I promised I’d round up the teachers and students to plant them over the next few days.
A really common problem I face this year is transferring ideas and intent – often well meaning – into results. I’m not sure if it’s just me or if it’s the people I’m working with, but what starts with incredible hype about a great idea usually ends up dissolving into a damp puddle of inaction.
Despite getting buy-in from teachers, students, and management, any request for time and labour is usually met with low-key excuses and promises of ‘badme, badme’ (later, later). Even when I manage to get a team to the site of my latest project, they often degrade the idea through an intense critical analysis of how it won’t work, or pry at the tiniest crack in implementation until it becomes an impasse on the route to completion.
When it came to planting the hedge saplings, I managed to get a whole morning assembly of time, that’s one hour, from all the children and teachers as a community investment project-of-sorts. I was convinced this was going to work so I prepared in advance, digging three trenches for the hedges.
Somewhere along the way it didn’t quite work, and we ended up with horticultural-genocide, suffering more broken saplings than planted saplings; their protective sacks torn and the valuable soil they were planted in thrown around. Both teachers and I were reluctant to take ownership of the project, so there was more freewheeling than instruction. In the reflection that followed the massacre, the teachers promised they would return to the battlefield after school to finish the job.
They didn’t. I was faced with a little moral dilemma. I wanted more than anything for the teachers and staff to realise the value of what we’d been given, and how wasting these resources was both stupid and needless. I had flashbacks to Indian government schools where resources are squandered because teachers are not concerned with teaching so much as they are with salary and prestige. I didn’t want that to be my school.
But a combination of Holi – the religious festival – and sporting activities meant that teachers wouldn’t be available for the next six days, by which point the plants would have likely been trampled and trodden – if they hadn’t caught fire in the savage desert sun.
Planting the saplings by myself didn’t seem a sustainable solution. When I leave there will be no one to rescue one hundred saplings from the scorching sun. The dilemma I faced – I could let the saplings die in order to teach the staff a lesson (if they did learn it), or I could plant them myself and the teachers would see me – an outsider – as the solution, thereby justifying their inaction.
I decided to plant them over the weekend of Holi, spending one sun-baked afternoon re-digging the trenches and collecting the plants, and another day planting them with compost. I’m glad I did, not least because of the guilt that would have come from my own inaction, but also because I am an actor and the teachers realise that. I like to think that if I wasn’t here, they might not be so complacent about their responsibilities.
But something positive did come out of this, besides the fifty or so surviving happy saplings.
Today Sagar came to help me water the plants. He explained that he’d never considered gardening to be something he would enjoy, but he saw me invested in it and decided to give it a go. Within five minutes of taking over he declared that he really enjoyed it, he offered to take the responsibility from me.
It’s just a small victory – and watering plants is hardly an achievement worth writing about. But Sagar and others give me faint hope that I am making some progress towards sustainability.