TEAM worker Marinda has been counseling people through their fear of death since she was 18 years old. The death of their plants, that is.
From her first job out of high school at a retail garden center to her certification as a master gardener, she taught customers, school children and landscaping clients how to tend plants with confidence. But these days, training kitchen garden teachers at an international study center in Southeast Asia, she’s engaging a culture whose cultivation struggles extend far beyond a pair of brown thumbs.
“[This country] really came on the map for me when I learned how much of the population lives in mountainous, isolated and food poor areas,” Marinda says. “They import nearly all packaged foods and beverages, as well as vegetables, fruits and dry goods.”
The economy in Marinda’s host country is primarily driven by agriculture, but population growth and environmental changes over recent years have left the country with a food deficit. Because the country is landlocked, it has little choice but to depend on its neighbor India to fill the rest of its needs.
“Especially in rural places, they’re reliant on people literally portering food in on their backs, and you see that any time you go into a village,” Marinda says.
Despite this dependency, farming is generally looked down on as a lower status job. As opportunities expand, many local parents are urging their children to be engineers or doctors, and agricultural knowledge that has been passed down for generations is being lost.
In response, the government added agriculture to its sixth- through eighth-grade curriculum. But many teachers teach through rote memorization, never giving children a chance to experience — or discover a passion for — farming themselves.
“The more I read about this place … I knew it was where God wanted me to be,” Marinda says.
From Beauty to Utility
Like many educators in Marinda’s host country, Marinda’s first love is not agriculture. She studied landscape design in college because she was drawn to the aesthetic aspects of gardening more than the science of cultivating crops. As a freelance designer, she worked with clients to create beautiful outdoor spaces they could enjoy with their families and friends. But early on, God started leading Marinda’s career in a different direction.
Noting her passion for the kids she taught in Sunday school, her church hired her part-time as a children’s ministry director. And soon, she says, “I began to pray for a way to combine my two loves, plants and children.”
Marinda believed God would call her abroad one day, so she decided to put her focus on sustainable food gardening. She found a part-time job teaching gardening at a local school, and she earned her certification as a master gardener, with a focus on community education and sustainable gardening.
“I thought maybe someday my work would be somehow tied into that, either addressing food scarcity or malnutrition,” Marinda says.
When she heard about a position training agriculture teachers in Southeast Asian schools, she knew she had found her place.
From Memorization to Dirt
The program Marinda serves in was founded in 1987 to educate missionary kids. More recently, it started an education quality improvement program to provide advanced training to school teachers. One of the featured subjects in the program is gardening.
While the memorization-heavy teaching style in many Southeast Asian schools is problematic for multiple subjects, it presents great obstacles for hands-on subjects like agriculture. The study center invited Marinda to come and take over a kitchen garden program to teach teachers how to get their hands dirty with their own school gardens.
Marinda arrived in September 2015 and started surveying schools to see who had the land and commitment to plant a school kitchen garden and teach students how to care for it. Marinda incorporates subjects such as math, science and social studies into the gardening program which means all corresponding teachers and their principal have to be on board.
“Our goal is to find the teachers that want to do it. And so a lot of times it’s teachers who’ve already started in some way that just want added support,” Marinda says.
Marinda meets with urban teachers once a week to provide one-on-one training and help get their students out into the gardens. Rural teachers, located up to 12 hours away by bus, see her about once every other month, when she provides several days of training and works with students.
“It’s a victory just seeing that the students are going outdoors during their normal school hours and that they are planting vegetables and planning out their gardens,” Marinda says.
At the end of packed days of training, teachers might invite her over to share a meal and time of fellowship. In between visits, Marinda and the teachers chat over Facebook, sending each other updates and pictures from their garden clubs.
As relationships grow, talk of garden clubs becomes something deeper.
From Work to Jesus
“Spirituality and religious ritual is woven through every aspect of life in Hindu and Buddhist religion, and conversations about spiritual things easily emerge,” Marinda says. “This has given me numerous opportunities to share my life story and about my relationship with God.”
Marinda’s work has its challenges. She’s learning how to handle new pests, harvest rain, work with different seasons — and how to teach her new knowledge to others. But through it all, she sees God working in the lives of teachers and their students. And as she looks back at her life since her first job, it’s clear that God has been preparing her for this work all along.
“If God has given you a passion for education,” Marinda says, “listen to that excitement. … Give your concerns to God and watch him more than provide. TEAM was God’s provision for me, to connect me with a community here in [Southeast Asia], a job that perfectly suits my skillset and experience, and the training I needed to get where I am today.”
Are you ready to see how God can use your passion for education? Check out more than 350 teaching opportunities with TEAM and discover the possibilities.