Planting Little Seeds

Located on the banks of a river, The Woodpecker is a popular venue for church and mission events in Gaborone. With green leafy trees lining the river, and buildings scattered through a garden-like setting, it offers an escape from the dust and concrete of the city. At least it used to. As I drove onto The Woodpecker property today, I was astonished and distressed by the lack of vegetation. Drought has taken a terrible toll, and the riverbanks are now barren.

My purpose in going to The Woodpecker was to observe a Little Seeds training course. Little Seeds is a nonprofit organization committed to helping needy communities in Southern Africa through training preschool teachers. The Little Seeds program in Botswana is sponsored by Flying Mission and focuses on training teachers of AIDS orphans and vulnerable children.

As I walked down the red dirt path, I was drawn toward a room from which I heard loud laughter and excited voices—but the noise was being made by teachers, not children! Thirteen ladies, including ten preschool teachers from throughout Botswana, a Little Seeds trainer from South Africa, and two Flying Mission volunteers, were playing a game that taught problem-solving skills.

The lecture that followed was titled “Record-keeping.” I was disappointed that, out of all the lectures during this 2-week course, I had shown up for the one that was sure to be the most boring. I settled back in my seat and prepared to daydream the session away. Instead, the liveliness of the lecture, and the spirited discussions that ensued, held my attention throughout. Gertrude, the Little Seeds trainer from South Africa, did a great job of making budgets, income and expenditure reports, accident reports, and child assessment forms relevant to African culture and to the situations that these ladies are in.

At one point Gertrude encouraged the ladies to make sure that they always leave something in their petty cash box and to not spend carelessly. “If a guest comes to your room, are you going to run out and buy them a cold drink, or are you going to offer them water or tea? Water is healthy and tea is an economical choice.” The discussion that followed was the longest and liveliest of all. “Ao!” said several of the ladies. “We can't offer water or tea to our guests! What will they think?” “But,” said others, “if you buy them a cold drink, they will come back every day!” By that time, so many ladies were talking at once that it became difficult to hear what was being said. But by the time Gertrude called the class back to order, it had been decided that you must be selective: Buy a cold drink for someone who is coming from a distance, especially donors, but not for someone who lives close enough to come back every day!

When I looked around the classroom, I was not surprised to see stacks of “junk” lining one of the walls. Because of its commitment to help needy communities, Little Seeds tells teachers to “begin with what you have.” Teachers are taught to build upon the resources already in their community, and it is stressed that the use of foreign concepts and materials should be limited. What resources might these poor communities have? Empty cereal and toothpaste boxes, styrofoam food trays, old newspapers and magazines, plastic bottles—all can be used creatively in preschool classrooms. I watched with great interest as Gertrude took a small empty box, stuffed it with crushed newspaper, and then covered the outside of the box with glue-soaked strips of newspaper. Within a few minutes, she had converted a piece of rubbish into a building block for a child—a quality building block, I should add.

As I walked back down the dusty path toward my car and surveyed the parched gardens around me, I no longer felt distressed. The death of numerous trees is indeed a great loss, but many Little Seeds of eternal value were being planted today.