For several weeks now, I travel to my weekly market with more than the goal of consuming. Now, after eating a bean sandwich for breakfast, buying several kilos of fresh vegetables for my family, and greeting women in my village who sell mangos, I set up a table and begin educating people about the value of moringa.
Moringa is fondly known as “the miracle plant” because it prospers in dry, sandy soils (aka Senegal). Literally, without much care and no gardening knowledge, anyone can grow a moringa tree. In addition to growing easily, it grows fast; in just 2 or 3 years, it can reach heights greater than me or my tall Senegalese host father. But, even more importantly, the leaves of this tree can provide nearly all the necessary vitamins and minerals. (The Wolof word for moringa is “neberdie,” a version of the phrase “never die” since moringa can drastically improve health.) With just 3 spoonfuls of leaf powder, an adult can have 4 times the potassium of bananas, 6 times the vitamin C of oranges, 3 times the protein of yogurt, 4 times the vitamin A of carrots, and 4 times the calcium of milk, in addition to folic acid, vitamin B complex, vitamin K, iron, and more. Due to its dense nutrient value, moringa is extremely effective at countering malnutrition, fighting many illnesses (including reducing hypertension, diabetes, blindness, worms, fevers, headaches, diarrhea, constipation, and fatigue), and supporting both pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Moringa is truly an impressive plant and quite prolific here, but most people are unaware of the benefits. If the Senegalese only know the importance of the tree as well as the proper way to prepare it (the traditional method of boiling the leaves to make a sauce for couscous denatures some of the vitamins and causes the rest to leak into the water which is subsequently dumped and the leaves are left nutrition-less), their health could be drastically improved. So, armed with some visuals graciously created by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, I stand at my table and teach men, women, and children. Attracting an audience is extremely easy; my very presence as a white person immediately draws attention to myself as people come over to see what the Toubab is selling. Once a few people wander over, a large crowd gathers to see what those few are examining. And so I find myself with an eager group of people ready to absorb what I have to tell them (after they understand that I’m not selling anything, but just offering them knowledge).
After being at the market for a few weeks, I’ve learned the best way to explain the information so that people will take away as much as possible. However, I still prefer when others around me explain the facts instead. Luckily, this happens often. Once one person understands what I’ve said, they begin to show the visuals to the newcomers, repeating the do’s and don’ts of preparation and why moringa is so useful. I also often gather a following of children, who enjoy explaining the information to the adults or to me during brief pauses between groups, and who I then encourage to teach their parents when they return home.
Teaching at the market provides me with immediate gratification, much different from a lot of my work as a Peace Corps volunteer where the effects are hard to measure. When I finish explaining the information, nearly everyone says, “Neberdie am na solo” (Moringa is important). They tell me that they never knew that it was healthy, and that they are will begin to make the powder. At first, I took this as a sign of their appeasing me, of telling me that I understand Wolof now and that they appreciated that I’m trying to help them. But I’ve realized that they’re actually taking away my message. They’re remembering it, teaching it, and acting upon it. As I walk around the market now, I hear people talking about moringa, teaching their friends about the benefits and how to prepare it. I also have many people (both men and women) who approach me to say they’ve made the leaf powder and have begun to eat it every day. Some have even sworn its effectiveness to me in treating their illnesses. Everyone has become excited by the potential of moringa, and I’m hoping to start my own, small moringa usage epidemic in this area by teaching and planting some in my village.