Have a green thumb? Like wearing casual clothes to work? Always dreamed of traveling to exotic places? Then don’t waste any more time – schedule your next vacation with the people of DIG (Development In Gardening).
DIG is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization launched in 2007 to “cultivate health in urban HIV hospitals, orphanages and outpatient centers.”
DIGs staff and volunteers work together to implement vegetable micro-gardens that support poverty-stricken families affected by HIV/ AIDS. The gardens offer food security, nutrition, income generation and empowerment to the patients and their families. Once the gardens are up and running they teach the locals how to sustain them. Outpatients establish gardens of their own, feed their families, and make income by selling to the hospital staff, fellow patients, and local restaurants.
The co-Founders and co-Executive Directors, local San Diegan Steve Bolinger and his business partner Sara Koch are both Returning Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). They began their first garden project in Senegal, a location they’d both served during their time in the Peace Corps, and have been expanding rapidly ever since. Currently their work has stretched to the Dominican Republic, Uganda, and Namibia, with new projects already scheduled in Kenya, Tanzania, and Nicaragua.
According to their website, www.developmentingardening.org, DIG has a long list of objectives, although nutrition will always remain their top priority:
· Improve the health of HIV patients being treated at the host site through an increased access to nutritious vegetables;
· Provide a consistent and diverse supply of those vegetables to the host site;
· Train gardeners in the knowledge and skills required for a successful micro-garden (e.g. implementation and maintenance);
· Establish gardeners as the future source of information and instruction;
· Teach economical ways for interested out-patients and staff to duplicate the process at home;
· Educate the gardeners, any interested out-patients, or hospital staff on plant care, crop rotation, and how to coordinate vegetable production with nutritional needs;
· Help provide technical assistance with marketing and selling of surplus produce;
· Reduce overall costs of caring for HIV patients; and,
· Provide concrete support to struggling health facilities dependent on public budget.
Through these lofty but clearly obtainable goals, DIG also contributes to five of the United Nation’s eight Millenium Development Goals: Eradicate poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; reduce child mortality; combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases; and ensure environmental sustainability.
Unknowingly, the gardens have also become a safe and social haven for the local affected communities, strengthening them and acting as a support system for the patients and relatives affected by deadly disease.
As a non-profit, DIG stays alive by donations, fundraising and sponsorships. There are fundraising and networking events coming up in both Birmingham and Chicago in the coming weeks but you can get involved from here, too.
If this sounds exciting, remember that Steve, Sara and their DIG staff are also always looking for short-term volunteers or long-term internships to help with their various projects. Their website has all the information you need to make a decision on how to get involved, whether that be by making a donation, buying through internet sponsors, attending or hosting an event or actually rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty at one of the many locations.
At the very least you can start by keeping up with their activities. Sign up for their newsletter, or begin following them on Twitter or Facebook, just in case you decide to help more down the road. Go ahead. Step out of your comfort zone. Make a difference, make an impact, and affect the world.