Cultivating Health for People with HIV/AIDS

– Steve Bollinger, RPCV, Senegal

I began my Peace Corps service in Dakar working with 5 urban community micro-gardens in collaboration with the Micro-gardening Center of Senegal. One of these projects was the installation of a micro-garden at the Fann Hospital for Infectious Diseases. This hospital is a public institution and has always struggled to meet the nutritional needs of its HIV/AIDS patients. Dr. Salif Sow, director of the infectious disease ward, conceived of a vegetable garden to supplement patient meals. Seeing the desperate need of his patients, Dr. Sow approached the Peace Corps for assistance in building this garden adjacent to the hospital. The project was assigned to me, and with a $4,000 grant from USAID, we started the garden in October of ‘05. With the combined efforts of the Peace Corps and the Micro-Gardening Center, the garden was rapidly constructed by Serry (my counterpart), Sani, Lopez (two local groundskeepers at the hospital), and me. Over the past year Sani and Lopez were taught gardening techniques that included pest control, crop rotation, organic growing methods, and customizing the garden to meet the hospital kitchen’s cooking demands.

The project has exceeded all expectations, and has been an overwhelming success. Before the garden existed, patient meals consisted of a plate of rice served with an undersized portion of meat. In order to supplement these meals with vegetables, the garden needed to produce about 100 kilos of vegetables per month. As the garden matured, production grew to a staggering 400 plus kilos (880 lbs) per month. This amount surprised us all, and we began selling the excess produce to the hospital staff. With this additional income, the garden not only improved the lives of the patients, but became much more self-sufficient. As a side note, the portion of the produce that has been supplied to the kitchen in just the first year had a market value of around $9,000.00, more than double the initial investment allocated to the project.

As successful as this original garden is, it doesn’t even begin to address the scope of malnutrition and HIV in low and middle-income nations. In many of these places, AIDS is the number one cause of death, with far-reaching devastation. For example, by 2010, 18 million African children will be orphaned by the disease. Obviously, drugs alone aren’t the only answer to this epidemic. The most overlooked and under funded element of essential care for people living with HIV is proper nutrition. It is clear that the Fann Hospital project needs to be duplicated many times over, and to achieve this, I created my own non-profit organization, Development in Gardening (DIG).
During the past 4 months, we have met most of the challenges associated with getting DIG off the ground, including finalizing our non-profit status and holding successful fundraisers in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Denver. We now have some initial seed money to get us going on our next 2 projects, which will be duplicating and perfecting our model at Fann Hospital. These projects will be in collaboration with organized associations of HIV outpatients living in Dakar and Ziganchour. The gardens will be built, managed, and utilized by the outpatients for their own nutrition and for income generation opportunities.

In addition, continued work needs to be done with the kitchen at Fann Hospital in teaching them how to prepare the vegetables in an efficient and nutritious way. Once these projects are wrapped up and stable we will be headed back to the States for another set of fundraising and preparing for the next country. The goal is to spend at least one year in each country putting in three urban gardens: one in an HIV hospital, one in an orphanage, and one for an organized outpatient group. All the staff at the gardens will be properly trained to carry on the necessary tasks and be able to teach other institutions how to duplicate this model.

The type of gardening technology that DIG is implementing and teaching is new to some countries and is becoming a model for others. Nutrition, food security, and income generation are becoming top priorities for low and middle-income nations, and urban agriculture is on the forefront of making a difference in the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.

We are a small organization confronting a global problem. The demand for DIG’s services reaches beyond our resources. We have projects in-waiting across Western Africa but are limited by personnel and funding. So many people want to help but do not know how. Funding is currently our priority to meet the needs of future hospitals and orphanages. There are many other ways to help, so if our projects interest you please check our web site for in-depth information You can contact me at


About LGBT RPCV Association
We are an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and others who are Peace Corps volunteer alumni, current volunteers, former and current staff members and friends. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1991, we have several hundred members throughout the country and around the world who have served in Peace Corps since its beginning in 1961. We are an active affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association.

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