HISTORY OF THE KOSSOYE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
The Kossoye Project traces its origins to October of 1963 when Dennis Carlson first visited Kossoye village with students from the Haile Sellasie I Public Health College and Training Centre. As Co-Director and Professor at the college, Carlson’s intent was to make classroom learning relevant through service and research projects in rural communities where it was hoped that most students would eventually work. The Kossoye community, located 25 kilometers from the historic town of Gondar, proved to be an ideal rural laboratory and class room. Community leaders warmly welcomed faculty and students . Over the past 50 years several hundred students and faculty members from the University of Gondar and other institutions have worked in Kossoye.
The Kossoye community has remained important at what is now the University of Gondar because of its long history as a rural outreach center. In 1994 Dennis Carlson returned with his son, Andrew, a professor of history at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, to write a book on the college’s work in Kossoye. In 2005, as they were winding up research for the book, local leaders asked for help in addressing current community-wide health problems, particularly trachoma, diarrhea, intestinal parasites, HIV/AIDS, and malnutrition. Specific household-based interventions from 2005 to 2007 dramatically reduced trachoma and intestinal parasites, but malnutrition proved a more difficult problem. Indeed, levels of stunting in children were dramatically higher than they were when similar health surveys were conducted in 1967.
In response several faculty members from the University of Gondar initiated a household vegetable gardening program. A Management Team was created to coordinate activities between the University of Gondar, district and regional governments (especially the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Agriculture), as well as teachers and community leaders. Local community health workers were trained to provide instruction on basic health practices as well as household gardening for mothers in their neighborhoods. Demonstration gardens were built at the health post and the elementary schools. Students at the elementary schools were provided with vegetable seeds, tools, and gardening manuals. Mothers were invited to coffee discussions to learn about nutrition. And friends and family in the United States were asked to help support these activities. Currently Andrew Carlson serves as Director, Dennis Carlson as Associate Director, and Beulah Downing as Secretary and Treasurer. Project activities are guided by a nine board members, all of whom have volunteered at project sites, as well as the University of Gondar’s Kossoye Development Program Task Force.
In 2010 administrators at the University of Gondar conceived of the idea of “scaling up” the Kossoye Project so that other communities through the region would also be able to learn about household gardening. This is now part of a university-wide effort to engage faculty and students in service and research to help rural communities improve food security and family nutrition. The main strategy is intersectoral collaboration—the coordinated engagement of all the stakeholders in health and development—to spread the idea that household gardens can be an important complement to food security. Between 2007 and 2011 about 20% of the 1600 families in the 28 neighborhoods that make up the Kossoye district established household gardens. Since then the household gardening program has been taken to twelve other districts. The goal of the Kossoye Development Program is to help the University of Gondar faculty and students spread household gardening to as many neighborhoods and families as possible using community workshops, seed distributions, and school gardening and nutrition education.