Like so many of the women Development in Gardening (DIG) works with, Koumba stands out as a woman of strength. When she first got involved in our project, she was 52 years-old and the mother of ten. Koumba’s husband who had been frail and sick for some time, was married to five women, two of which had recently died of AIDS.
Koumba worked for many years as a community HIV/AIDS educator through the local clinic. She was known as a woman with information to share and this helped define her place in the community. After promoting HIV testing to so many individuals, she, herself, made the commitment to know her status. The day she went to be tested would mark the day Koumba would be asked to step down from her role as community educator. She had tested positive for HIV, and like so many of the individuals she had helped council she was lost in a discriminating world with little understanding of what she did wrong and what to do next.Because of the stigma surrounding HIV, Koumba is not open in her community about her status. “I talk to people about AIDS, but I never tell them I am HIV positive.”
Having been forced out of her job and left to care for a sick husband who could not work, all while trying to keep her ten children in school and fed, Koumba came to the DIG garden for the first time with a heavy burden and secret to bear. Being that Koumba is the kind of person who thrives when she is working, she soon took the garden on as an opportunity to learn. “I come here everyday so that I can learn new skills and use them in my own garden. I don’t want to sit down and rest because I might miss learning something. I come to the garden because I want to learn.”
While Koumba was being inspired by DIG, we were being inspired by Koumba. It was she who asked for and received DIG’s first Home Garden. She asked if we could help her with some of the initial seed money to get a garden started in the small space behind her home. Koumba knew she could feed her family from this otherwise discarded space and would use her newly learned skills to do so.
Despite having very little space to work with, Koumba transformed her once trash-ridden backyard into a lush garden. “I eat the vegetables I grow, especially the carrots and mustard, and I put basil leaves in my tea. My children help me with the watering, but I do most of the work myself.”
With a vegetable dense backyard, it wasn’t long before Koumba’s neighbors started coming to her for help on growing their own home gardens. Today she is known as an expert on the subject, one might even call her a community educator.