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Students Prepare for Service Work in Tanzania with Visit to Local Sustainable Home

January 14, 2015

It's a long way from Tanzania, but Jamaica Plain's own "Green House" served as great inspiration for BISB high school students traveling to Africa next month, demonstrating the power of sustainable living.

Owned by Andree Collier Zaleska, the Green House was an abandoned 100-year-old house now transformed into a zero-carbon home and community garden. The house features super-insulation, passive solar heat, an air-to-water heat pump, and organic, sustainable community garden.

On Tuesday, the home served as local inspiration for a British International School of Boston project abroad: a service learning trip to Tanzania.

A group of five high school students will travel to Tanzania for two weeks this February, to volunteer in a small primary school and help kick-off a sustainable farming initiative.

For one week, the students will collaborate with others from Nord Anglia Education schools around the country, working with British charity Seeway Trust to refurbish a school building and provide vital supplies for students and teachers. 

During a second week in Tanzania, the BISB students will set out on their own, helping the company Summits Africa develop a permaculture project in a small village called Engare Sero, near Tanzania's Lake Natron.

Students will work with the community members of the village school to begin farming their own foods, teaching sustainable methods tailored to their climate and culture to ensure the project is successful after volunteers return home.

"The aim is to make the permaculture ideas accessible enough that they think they can move forward with it and be successful with it," said BISB high school teacher Ruth Williams, who is leading the trip. "It's about embracing their culture and doing it in a way that the locals want to buy into it and that it makes sense to them."

The students' visit to the Jamaica Plain Green House provided a local look at the work that goes into developing and maintaining sustainable living and farming practices.

Green House owner Collier Zaleska told students that she spends anywhere from 10 to 20 hours working on her small urban garden plot each week throughout the planting and harvesting season. 

She advised students that planting crops wisely is more important than planting a large quantity of crops. Some crops do best near others, she said, while others work to improve the soil for better growth in future years.

After touring her sustainable home, which is used as an educational facility for those interested in learning about sustainable living, students toured her small community garden, learning about different kinds of plant beds and planting containers that can be used for crops.

While Collier Zaleska reminded students that sustainable farming must be tailored to the climate in which it is being developed, the students said their experience Tuesday will be very helpful when working in Tanzania.

"I think with this information we will really be able to teach them," said BISB student Paula Gutierrez. "If we go in there and just do everything, it's not going to help them. But if they do it with us, and learn things along with us, it could help them more in the long run."

To support their service work, the students are trying to raise about $16,000. To learn more about the service projects planned and to support the cause, visit