If a Squash Can Make You Smile

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Toidoram with Agricultural Booklet“I don’t just sit!” Toidoram exclaimed and sprang up from his desk chair. With eager animation and arms spread wide, he explained his heart for agriculture-education for his people.

Since his childhood, Toidoram Tripura has longed to help his people, the tribal people groups of Bangladesh. When he was young, villagers slashed and burned the jungle off of hillsides to cultivate gardens. Every 2-3 years, they would move to new, unoccupied areas and repeat the cycle. The land was verdant, and crops were plentiful. But now there is no more free land, and the government has outlawed slash-and-burn agriculture. Obviously tribal people are in desperate straits.

“You were a village school teacher for 13 years before beginning this project, weren’t you?” I recalled. “You are certainly using your teaching skills now.” Toidoram smiled and nodded in hearty agreement. He yanked out photocopied instructions for various vegetables, and he flipped through colorful agriculture pamphlets and books. He’s benefited from various government-run agriculture seminars, he told me.

“Hands-on learning is what agriculture-education is all about,” he explained. “Villagers need to apply my instructions immediately so that they will not forget. I want them to grow levels of plants: Low plants like okra and beans can be seasonally planted. I want them to understand which vegetables grow in which season. Then high level plants need to be planted in each village; banana trees begin producing quickly and provide bananas for 3 years; mango trees produce for 30+ years.” He pulled out pen and paper and showed how much income a family could make with just one banana stalk a year. “And imagine the benefit” – his eyes glowed at the thought- “for a village that plants 300 banana trees!” He grinned, “So remember- where you can’t plant rice, plant trees!”

Toidoram told me that he is supervising and encouraging projects in 12 villages this year: 3 projects are helping Tripura people; 3 are helping Mru people; 3 are for Marmas; 3 are for Chakmas. “But I don’t limit myself to villagers though.” He leaned forward. “I love school kids and want them to grow up with good training in gardening. I don’t want our kids to be lazy. Hard work brings joy!” He told me the teachers and children in each tribal hostel (dormitory) grow their own potatoes. “They grow the potatoes, and they get to eat them. They don’t just see the benefits of their labors; they taste the benefits.”

Boat taking bananas to market“So what’s your greatest challenge?” I asked.
“We face 2 problems,” he acknowledged.
1. “Marketing: Some tribal villages are so far from bazaars, that they struggle to take their produce to market. Middlemen will buy, but seldom do they pay what the produce is worth.
2. And frankly, our program simply doesn’t have the money to expand and meet needs. A lot of projects are on hold. I’d like to distribute more saplings and seeds. While I’d love to introduce hydroponics, that will have to wait.”

“So how can we pray for you?” I asked.

Toidoram looked me square in the eye. “Pray with me that we truly benefit and bless people,” he said. And he bowed his head and prayed.
 

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