As part of our new Wildlife Club, Victoria Ifold has been doing an amazing job teaching our students the uses of the fertiliser from our school compost toilets. She was kind enough to write a blog of her and the students’ first experience with the ‘Living Classroom’:
This month, the first two chambers from the school compost toilets had fully decomposed into a dark, microbe rich compost and were finally ready to use! The compost is being used as a learning resource for the Mlambe school wildlife club. Alongside Carlos, school teacher and leader of the club, we devised a plan for how best to use the compost to create a ‘living classroom,’ in which students can apply and see real life demonstrations of what they learn in the agriculture, nutrition and health and science syllabus. For the first session, the main focuses was on understanding what compost is and how it can be used as a free, safe, hygienic, and highly effective fertiliser. This is particularly important in Malawian villages such as Chikalongo where a large number of the country’s population are subsistence farmers. Each year, an average family spends between £22-44 on synthetic fertiliser.
Unsurprisingly, the students were hesitant when Carlos brought them to the chambers to demonstrate and explain the process of decomposition. Especially because they were toilets the students used themselves. However, this actually proved to be the most important part of the learning process, because all the students knew that these were functioning toilets and that sawdust and ash was added to the chambers. This, alongside seeing the compost being shoveled out with the texture, smell and appearance of soil, helped the students understand how carbon breaks down matter to create fertile compost. The students were also able to see and feel how much more healthy the compost was than the ordinary soil in the village.
Then it was time to plant some trees! The students planted fourteen trees, which we got for free from the Chikalongo fish farm. Carlos taught the club about the properties of the trees. For example, that nitrogen fixing trees such as Cassias improve the quality of soil. Now the students know they can get free trees and that these trees will stop soil erosion and help produce healthy soil. They also learnt that compost must be put under the plant and not be exposed to the sun. We still have lots of compost left to play with and, after the Easter break, the club will be practising what they learned about planting with compost with fruit trees!