The Piccoli Louh School is located in the village of Foumban in Cameroon. It is the country's first example of secular education, created on the initiative of Louh Amadou, a native Cameroonian, and developed by a group of dedicated African people. For his great effort and the results thereof, the school has been recognized by the administration of the vast Western Region of Cameroon as an outstanding institution for efficiency, hygiene, aesthetics, and educational results. This achievement is thanks in part to the contribution of the 10,000 Gardens in Africa project.
To celebrate the occasion, Louh Amadou tells us about his vision for the project.
What kinds of activities does the school offer?
The educational activities offered to the students follow the official syllabi of the Ministry of Education of Cameroon. In the kindergarten program, we welcome children as young as three years old. The main activities include educational games, practical and artistic lessons. During their stay at the school, we try to provide them with a basic understanding of reading and mathematics, to better facilitate their acceptance into elementary school. Students begin elementary school at six years old where they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic over the course of two years. They are groomed for further education in high school not just with theory lessons, but with practical activities like handicrafts, horticulture, gardening, sports, and many others.
Tell us about the school's garden (this is not a question)
The garden is part of the 10,000 Gardens in Africa, a Slow Food project. I bought a large piece land and divided it into three parts: my own private garden, the school garden, and a playground for the students. There are around 200 students, but only 30 (ranging in age from 8-10 years old) are actually involved in garden activities, which are supervised by three teachers. During the academic year, the students plant seeds, pull weeds, hoe the soil, prune, compost, and much more. Only organic fertilizers are used: The students collect the chicken manure and other organic materials and bring them to the garden. The seeds are bought or exchanged in the village, while irrigation is provided by collected rainwater.
What do you grow?
We grow lemons, mandarins, grapefruit, cherries, avocados, mangoes, macadamia nuts, safoutier (Dacryodes edulis, an oleiferous tree), trees from the Bombacaceae family, neuphrier, to list but a few. We also tend banana, palm, acacia, podocarpus (a conifer), eucalyptus, teak, and apple trees. Of the flowers we grow, there are hibiscus, roses, bougainvillea, dalias, and frangipanis (a shrub also known by the name of the temple flowers).
What difficulties did you encounter while developing this project?
In the beginning I didn't quite know how much work a garden was. We consulted experts for help on how to sow seeds, to compost, and to replenish the earth with the necessary nutritive elements. Today, we transfer this knowledge to our students. Our only problems are drought and insects that attack the fruit and the leaves. We have started to collect rainwater, and I hope this will better allow us to manage the gardens.
Do the kids continue to tend gardens after they leave the school?
It is difficult to respond to that question. At the beginning of every year I hand out seeds to students and I ask them to follow through with the growing the seeds to fruition. At the end of the year I ask them to bring me the plant so that I can give them a grade. I ask them then to plant it in their own garden. I don't have much contact with them when their scholastic term ends, so I can't know if my efforts have been rewarded. However, what I think is most important is that I have provided my students with the necessary knowledge to grow a garden, as well as the importance of pursuing this activity. In any case, it is never time lost. I'm an optimist.
What plans do you have for the future?
Besides continuing our work with school gardens, we would like to create a botanical garden that the kids of Foumban can visit, and where they can benefit from hands-on practical lessons. We most definitely want to convey the importance of these activities, perhaps even abroad. Our sister school is the Italo Calvino school in Moncalieri, in Italy. They students write to each other and tell each other about their experiences in the garden; it is an excellent tool for encouraging one another. The support of Slow Food has been and will be fundamental, especially because it has provided us with the materials and tools we need. Slow Food has helped teach us how to grow genuine crops, to fertilize our soil with nutritive and organic components, and to collect rainwater.
This is only one of the 10,000 gardens that Slow Food is developing across the African continent! You can participate too and help support a garden!