A Longmont man’s interest in wildlife photography has led to a collaboration that will create a learning garden for a tiny village in Botswana.
Andrew Lee and his wife went to Botswana in the fall of 2021 with a safari company, Natural Selection, that designates a percentage of their revenue to fulfill philanthropic endeavors in southern Africa. While Lee was mostly interested in wildlife photography — especially the birds — his wife wanted to experience the culture of the country.
That brought them to the Khwai Village, a settlement with about 400 people on the banks of the Khwai River in northeast Botswana.
“It’s way off the grid — I mean, way off the grid. It’s a tribe of hunter-gatherers,” Lee explained.
A member of the Longmont Rotary club, Lee spoke with the school and students about their needs. The teacher explained that the village doesn’t grow any crops and said it would be a dream to install a working garden where they might teach children and parents how to grow nutritional food.
“They have a lot of reasons why they don’t grow crops, but one of them is no tradition in doing that,” Lee said. “The crops are brought in by trucks. There’s animals that get in and crush the crops, so they have to have security.”
The lack of a reliable source of water for irrigation was also an issue. After returning to the U.S., Lee asked the village leadership if they might be interested in pursuing a grant.
“They had this idea, the village chief and the leadership of the village, of using the kids as a magnet to change the behavior rather than just relying on a truck that comes from Maun that comes with four day old vegetables, creating this opportunity to educate,” he said.
The village was able to designate a learning garden plot on the school grounds, which is pretty secure from wildlife, and will install a water pump to bring water from the river and store it in a cistern.
The Longmont Rotary is collaborating with the Twin Peaks and Boulder Rotary Clubs, along with the Natural Selection Foundation, which has committed to funding future expenses for the maintenance of the garden to ensure its sustainability.
The Rotary Club of Gaborone, the largest Rotary Club in Botswana, will manage the effort locally and obtain materials for construction. That includes a former Colorado Rotarian who lives in Maun, about 70 miles from the project, who will be the project manager.
“It’s just thrilling. It is absolutely fantastic to see everybody pulling together,” Lee said.
Lee has collected the nearly $14,0000 needed for the project and expects the garden to be complete in the next 120 days — just in time for the spring in Botswana. The teachers will create a curriculum around the crop growing, and parents will be invited to learn as well.
Lee said he’s excited to know that the people of the small village will get to learn a new skill, become more self-reliant and experience the joy of gardening all thanks to this project.
“You know how enthusiastic you get, when you see something growing, it’s a different kind of deal,” Lee said. “They’re going to be planting a lot of seeds and watching them grow. I think it’ll be a super positive outlet for the children and therefore the parents.”