Why you should volunteer – especially if it’s your first time

Women from Matam, Senegal learn to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. Women from Matam, Senegal learn to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. Women from Matam, Senegal learn to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. Nancy Scott had never volunteered for a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment before, but after encouragement from her supervisor at No More Empty Pots, a food hub in Omaha, Nebraska, she applied for a two-week position in Senegal—sharing her vast knowledge of preserving and processing vegetables with nearly 70 women.

Representing 21 villages from the Jokkere Endan Federation, Scott unpacked the theory and history of food preservation and walked through practical examples such as dehydration, making jams and jellies, pickling and canning using a water bath canner over eight days with two central villages in the region.

“I had admired people who had been in the Peace Corps and this sounded like a mini experience like that where I could try it and not be away from my garden for very long,” Scott said. As a Master Gardener who trains others in her community garden in Nebraska, it was this knowledge that made her perfect for the assignment. She dove in to the assignment, even drawing her training materials by hand.

Heading out for two weeks with the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program that NCBA CLUSA implements in Senegal, Scott worked with 69 women in two villages—Thiankhone Hirey and Fete Niebe Dienga. Those that attended would then go back to their villages to train the women in their associations who were unable to attend.


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While many of the women already knew about drying herbs for teas and had dried okra in the past, it was a surprise to discover they could dehydrate so many other vegetables from their garden. The women were also interested in making a substitute for processed bouillon cubes and learning how to prepare ketchup from scratch to sell in the markets. 

Nancy Scott prepares her training materials. Nancy Scott prepares her training materials. When Scott and the Farmer-to-Farmer coordinator and translator Abibou returned to the first village at the end of her two weeks, the group had dried and powdered vegetables and created their own seasoning mix, which they used to flavor the last lunch.

“It tasted wonderful and was a success for everyone,” Scott said. 

In addition to flavor, preserving and drying vegetables means families have access to nutritious and vitamin-rich food throughout the year. And it saves money too—preservation not only curbs food waste, but also extends the life of the harvest, allowing families to buy less processed food later in the season.  

One woman was particularly excited to learn how to dry tomatoes, Scott recounted. Because the crop tends to ripen all at once, many tomatoes went to waste or ended up as livestock feed. But now, she can utilize her entire harvest. 

“After the experience, I believe I am able to introduce ideas to other women that they will be able to experiment with and expand upon to enrich their lives and those of their families,” Scott said. 

Even though it was her first time working halfway around the world, Nancy said she would absolutely recommend the program. “The little I was able to do will expand and touch many more lives as they share the ideas with many more women,” she said. 

To learn more about the Farmer-to-Farmer program and how you can volunteer your expertise, check out open assignments here.

 

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