Nov. 13, 2012
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
Deforestation is a growing problem in many parts of the world, and one Ojai resident is doing something about it.
Garrison Harward, a graduate of California State University at Chico, is a volunteer with Peace Corps, a philanthropic program created by President John Kennedy in 1961. It sends American volunteers overseas to serve in developing countries.
Harward has been living and working in Senegal since 2010 helping to rehabilitate a mangrove forest that is part of a vital and sensitive ecosystem.
But it hasn’t been easy.
“Peace Corps is hard but hard in different ways than American life is hard,” Harward wrote in a blog he writes to chronicle his experience. “We talk about how much we grow during Peace Corps, but there’s also so much of us that stays the same. I still have so many of the same insecurities and hopes and I’m still very vague and unsure about weather [sic] or not I succeeded in my one main goal, ‘to help my village.’ I like to think that I helped them in some way, but who knows in the long run. We plant trees under which we will never sit, or that will never mature at all because they were eaten by goats. It’s really a crapshoot. Like all of life.”
Senegal is a country slightly smaller than South Dakota. It borders the Atlantic Ocean on the west and Mauritania and Mali on the east. It has a population of more than 12 million who are predominantly Muslim.
The terrain suffers from soil erosion, desertification and deforestation — and that’s where Harward comes in. He collaborated with more than 70 other Peace Corps and community members to rehabilitate a mangrove forest in the Sine Saloum Delta in Senegal.
Senegal’s mangroves help clean the water and air, prevent erosion, provide habitat and contribute nutrients to the incredibly fertile waters off its coast. The Sine Saloum Delta is home to countless species, including some that are endangered. The red mangrove tree is slow-growing and is especially susceptible to deforestation.
To date, Harward, along with Senegalese and Peace Corps volunteers in the area, have planted 40,000 mangrove seedlings. Local community members picked the reforestation site, and with the volunteers, will continue to monitor the health of the new trees.
“It is really amazing how the program has grown over the years,” says Harward in a recent press release. “It is a testament to the effectiveness of Peace Corps’ grassroots approach.”
To those wishing to make a difference too, Harward offers advice based on his own experiences.
“There is no cookie cutter way to be a good volunteer or make a difference,” he writes. “It’s about really getting to know your village and being willing to put aside your personal desire to feel helpful in order to really have an impact. It sounds counterintuitive and it is, which is why so many charity organizations stifle developing countries rather than really helping them … In other words, before you dig a well or build latrines or buy seed for a women’s group, find out why they couldn’t do it on their own and how they’ll do it when you’re gone.”
Currently 254 Peace Corps volunteers serve in Senegal. Typically, Peace Corps volunteers hold a bachelor’s degree in their chosen field, and commit to serving 27 months.
Visit www.peacecorps.gov to learn more.