Plenty Belize GATE Project
When | Spring 2019
Background | Plenty Belize is a division of the global not-for-profit Plenty International that operates in Belize’s southernmost district of Toledo. Thirteen years ago, Plenty Belize obtained a 10-year grant for their Garden-Based Agriculture for the Toledo Environment (GATE) project. With part of this grant, the organization’s board and staff installed gardens in many of the Toledo’s primary schools.
Objectives | 1) Evaluate the effectiveness of the Plenty Belize GATE Project; 2) Create a report summarizing evaluation findings and recommendations to move forward
Partners | Plenty Belize, Lily-Anne Trainer, Audrey Schuttak, Sarah Scott-Cruz, Lily Cowen
Advisors | Marcia Eames-Sheavly, Fiona Doherty
My Roles | Evaluator, report creator
Highlights | International travel; creating evaluative tools; building relationships; learning and appreciating a diversity of cultures; reflection
My Story | A week before the course enrollment period at my undergrad university, I received an email from Marcia, my informal mentor and favorite professor, about her experiential course. “Send to your networks please,” she wrote. Eagerly, I read through the attached flyer as it spoke of international travel to Belize, work with a longstanding Cornell partner, and a chance to lead an evaluation of a decade-long garden-based learning program. I forwarded the email along. I signed up for the course that next week.
On the first day of class, I arrived fifteen minutes early and waited for students, my mentor, and the other lead instructor to trickle into the room. There were seven of us total. After light conversation and personal introductions, the instructors gave a vibrant presentation on the GATE project and their partnership with Plenty Belize. They showed us photos of past Cornell students building garden beds, of lush forests surrounding polyculture gardens and schools, of the gorgeous diverse people of the Toledo district. This would be the first year that Plenty Belize would invite us to evaluate the program instead of support them agriculturally. This would require us to delve into our biases, expectations, and understandings of the world. We were all up for the challenge.
For the next few months leading up to the trip, I learned a lot about evaluation techniques and worked with my small team to find the best methods for our mission. We also had to rethink language. We had to abandon the false notion of white, western objectivity. We had to let go of complex, technical language lauded by much of academia in favor of simple storytelling. Every phrase had to be succinct and clear. Every word and its connotation mattered. We were writing questions to not only understand, but to be understood. It felt liberating.
We did not get to Belize on time. It did not matter much as we quickly learned that time mattered differently outside of Cornell’s busy culture. Our days were just as long if not longer and more filled in Belize than at Cornell, but they did not feel like it. There was time to breathe, to wait, to sit and listen, to respectfully engage, to learn, to explore. I acquired so many new experiences in Toledo, from making chocolate and watching traditional Garifuna dances to learning the nuance of question asking and the struggles of gardening in a tropical climate. By all of them, I was made better.
When we returned, we got to work making sense of our interviews, surveys, and other data. This proved to be just as difficult as creating questions. After hours of group and individual work, we managed to turn dozens of notes into a report of findings, summaries, powerful quotes, and a list of key recommendations. Although cumbersome, it was a task that I would gladly accept again.
Photo Descriptions | Greenhouse of The Jalacte Primary School GATE garden program; Photo credit: Marcia Eames-Sheavly (top left) | Property of The Jalacte Primary School in the Toledo District in Belize; Photo Credit: Lily-Anne Trainer (middle) | Facilitators and advisors sit at a bench at a evaluation site (last)