Written by Bethany Fisher (current WorldTeach Marshall Islands volunteer)

The island of Wotje is known for having good soil to grow a multiplicity of crops. However, since the El Nino draught of 2016, the extreme heat and lack of rain that swept through the RMI dried up most of the gardens on Wotje. Despite this setback, a group of students from Northern Islands High School on Wotje have succeeded in growing some vegetables this year. As a new school project for the grade 9 and Pre-9 students, they have been learning how to grow a garden. English and Agriculture classes have found a happy blend this year for the NIHS freshman students.

Our freshman English class of 81 students started preparing our garden back in January. In January and February, we went out to the school garden, where we weeded and tilled the ground and gathered rotting coconut trees for fertilizer. We learned how to start a nursery, how deep to plant everything, how much sunlight the plants need and ways to fertilize you garden with limited resources. For example, on outer islands, we don’t have eggshells and coffee grounds to make a good, rich compost. So instead, we use crushed crab shells and lobster shells. Sea cucumbers also make an excellent fertilizer. We gathered several rice bags full of sea cucumbers and we tossed them straight into the soil. We also filled a 5 gallon bucket with several sea cucumbers and water. After 5 weeks, the water was ready to use as a fertilizer in our garden. We planted seeds bought from Do It Best in Majuro, such as Corn, Green Beans, Sweet Potatoes, Bell Peppers and Papaya.

NIHS used to teach an agriculture class, but due to the need for teachers in other subjects, the agricultural program was discontinued. The school garden has been kept up and running by 12th grade English teacher, Bonnie Kotes. Bonnie and her 12th graders grew and harvested Sweet Potatoes, Papaya and Taro from 2015-2016, and they even sold some of the vegetables to the Wotje villagers, raising over $100 for the 12th grade school budget. This year, the freshmen have partnered with the seniors to keep the garden growing. The grade 9 and Pre-9 students plan to harvest this year’s veggie crop in May, selling some for the class budget and then eating some themselves. Each student will receive their own packet of seeds when they leave Wotje at the end of the school year, to plant on their respective islands: Aur, Maloelap, Ailuk, Utrik, Mejit, Likiep and Wotje. Fresh vegetables are hard to come by on the outer islands, and this causes lack of nutrition in the diets of our students, which in turn, affects their ability to learn effectively in the classroom. The hope is that each student will learn the necessary skills to plant their own gardens on their home islands and teach others how to garden. Every day, our students get to learn with both their hands and minds. It is fun and incredibly rewarding to see something tangible come out of the work of your own two hands. We have already begun to enjoy eating fresh papaya from our garden, and soon, we will be harvesting some Sweet Potatoes. Yes, we are learning English in our class, but the English lessons are couched in life lessons that will be used beyond the classroom, like practical living skills. And on Wotje, our students are learning both.

To learn more about the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, please visit http://bit.ly/1Pgeza4!