Last week I conducted a training on how to make moringa powder with a SST CDO, Baskar. Baskar is a motivated individual who is passionate about community development. He graduated from a MSW program in Madras School of Social Work and has been working with SST since 2009. Baskar brought us from Chennai to Padavedu when we first arrived. During the ride, we discovered that we both had interest in the use of moringa powder to enhance nutrition. His enthusiasm made me excited to work with him on expanding each other’s knowledge of the tree’s benefits. Since working with Baskar, I have found at least four reasons why working with a counterpart on a project is vital to international social work practice.
1. Collaborating and Preparing Logistics: During the planning stages of our training, Baskar and I talked about what we already knew about moringa and filled in gaps in each other’s knowledge. Baskar told me about how moringa is used in Padavedu, such as healing wounds from dog bites and making juice. My previous experience with moringa was in Togo where I met people who made tea from moringa flowers and others who used the seeds to make water potable. Prior to our discussions, Baskar had already started making a poster for the local SST hospital on moringa’s benefits. Despite our different experiences on different continents, we were both aware of the nutritional benefits of the leaves.
When we decided to conduct the training, Baskar was essential in arranging all of the supplies. He arranged access for us to harvest leaves from two of his animator friends, Ganesan and Bharathi. While we waited for the leaves to dry, he also borrowed a blender (mixie) and filter from other friends for our training. I prepared educational documents and fixed a time for the training. Together, we used our strengths and combined previous knowledge to arrange an event we were both excited about.
2. Identifying Challenges to Revisit: I felt confident discussing moringa with SST staff members, because the training was intended to be a trial run with people who I knew personally. The moringa tree is already acknowledged to have medicinal properties, so a brief training on moringa powder was meant only to expand on knowledge which many people already have. At the start of our training, when asked if anyone already made moringa powder, one animator said he has already made the powder in his home in the tribal area surrounding Padavedu. Looking back,we benefited from using time to highlight moringa powder’s overall nutritional benefits (instead of focusing mostly on its high iron content) rather than spend time establishing trust and legitimacy with the audience.
During the training, we found some challenges in how we prepared the leaves and what tools we used to make powder. After harvest, we gave the leaves two days to dry. At the cusp of Togo’s dry season, two days was sufficient time for a few leaves to dry. In Padavedu, due to the volume of leaves that we harvested and the higher humidity during rainy season, the leaves we harvested were not completely dry for the presentation. Also, our decision to use a blender instead of a mortar and pestle was problematic when the electricity went out. We were not prepared to crush the moringa leaves in another way. Fortunately, our audience was forgiving and we went forward with other trainings until the power came back on. Despite our hurdles, we ended up having enough dry leaves to produce powder that everyone could taste. Going through the ups and downs of conducting training with a counterpart like Baskar was comforting because he made light of the situation and we worked together to problem solve for trainings in the future.
3. Adapting Educational Materials: Baskar and I agreed on presenting a brochure, a song and a dance we made up about moringa powder so that people would remember the benefits and process of moringa long after the training. I prepared a brochure in English which Baskar translated into Tamil. After our training, one of the animators- who also works as a pharmacist at the SST hospital- asked us to provide her brochures in both languages for the doctor and patients. After a day, we got feedback that the brochures were helpful in educating community members about one way to prevent anemia. We also got positive feedback about the dance and song we made. We are looking forward to presenting the English and Tamil version to students in the Padavedu area. Our collaboration allowed for our teaching method to evolve into culturally appropriate and accessible trainings.
4. Continuing Work: As time winds down in Padavedu, I am increasingly confident that moringa powder is a sustainable undertaking. Baskar has already coordinated for us to visit the tribal area where we can conduct training at a school there. Also, the animators have an initiative to collect one kilogram of moringa powder each so they can distribute samples at the next anemia camp. I started working with one counterpart and now I have over 20.
My experience working with Baskar on moringa powder helped me gain perspective on my role as a student, teacher, and guest. Visiting Padavedu for a short-term internship is a unique learning opportunity and I know that I have so much more knowledge to gain about SST and the community with whom they work. Observing site visits sheds light on the organization’s work and I felt that the moringa training was a way for me to thank the staff by sharing a useful experience I had. I do acknowledge my role as a visitor and that I must be sensitive to how I present information. In working with a counterpart, I realize that I am more of a catalyst rather than a vehicle for change. The limited time I have in Padavedu created a sense of urgency in Baskar, and prompted him to devote time to a project he had been meaning to undertake. Though I may not see the developments unfold with the time I have left, that is not my goal or purpose. I am motivated to contribute anything I can in the time I have left and I look forward to our continued collaboration wherever I am.