On Tuesday, July 3rd, the Goldenrod administration staff said goodbye to intern Bijay Kumar Murmu as he prepared to return to his home country of India. Bijay began his internship with Goldenrod in August of 2017, and was instrumental in getting the new Goldenrod Gardens off the ground.

Bijay Murmu teaches community members about produce in the greenhouse.

Bijay was a participant in IVEP (International Volunteer Exchange Program), which is a part of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). According to the MCC website, IVEP is a division of MCC that connects young adults from over 25 countries with volunteer opportunities in the U.S. and Canada. Participants gain work experience, and build lasting relationships that span diverse cultures.

MCC approached Goldenrod CEO, Tammy Friesen in the summer of 2017 and asked her to consider accepting an international volunteer from India. Kristin Yoder, COO, and Renee Shipton, Program Admissions and Operations Coordinator, acted as Bijays mentors and supervisors when he arrived. Bijay worked mostly with Renee on Goldenrod Gardens.

“She took care of me,” Bijay said of Renee. “For the time that I came and I wasn’t speaking English very much. She helped me a lot to read the books and translate things into the Hindi Language so that I was able to read it.” When Bijay joined IVEP he had only a couple of months to learn English, now he is much more confident in his speaking skills and will even get into friendly debates about best gardening practices.

Bijay had a background in sociology, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University in India. However, his internship with Goldenrod was his first real experience working with people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).

“This was all new to me, but I was working with older people [in India],” Bijay explained.

Through the summer and fall of 2017, Bijay learned about the IDD community and researched other garden programs. He was then able to use this knowledge to aid in planning for the garden’s first season the following spring.  According to Renee, another important aspect of Bijay’s experience was getting hands on training. He was able to explore other agricultural projects, including Clay Bottom Farm of Goshen, the hydroponic green house at Growing Opportunities, a not-for-profit urban farm in Bloomington, Indiana, and Bittersweet Farms of Ohio, which specializes in working with those with Autism.

Once spring came, Bijay put his new knowledge to the test by helping staff and volunteers begin growing in the greenhouse.

“He got the chance to shine when he got involved in the day-to-day operations, growing seedlings and transplanting and overseeing the daily care of the garden,” said Renee.

As his internship wound down, the growing season at Goldenrod Gardens is just getting into full swing. Bijay stated that he was sad to leave so soon and not to be able to see the garden progress further or to spend more time with the Goldenrod community members who volunteer in the garden. Overall, he is happy with his experience working at Goldenrod and feels that the internship has had a positive impact on himself.

“I want to work mostly with poor persons or disabled persons, to connect with them so that they can feel good,” Bijay said of his plans when he returns home. In India, he said, that many people do not want to get involved with people with disabilities. He hopes to one day start a similar garden project in his hometown. “Goldenrod is a very good organization and like what we don’t do back in India, is what you all do here.”

Bijay’s was also able to teach others during his internship. Not only did he pass along his knowledge of agriculture, but also shared about his culture. Bijay even hosted one of Goldenrod Garden’s Learn to Earn sessions. During this program Goldenrod community members had the opportunity to learn a little bit about Indian culture and cuisine, including sampling an authentic Indian dish which Bijay helped make.

“I think the thing about international volunteer experiences is that by learning about how we are different, we also learn how we are the same,” said Renee reflecting on her own experience  with Bijay.

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