As I travel around Africa, I see potential everywhere. Everyone is an entrepreneur and thirsty for knowledge and always looking for ways to improve their communities and then their own lives. No one wants to live on handouts. They are all determined to make a sustainable future for their families.
In the beginning of the year Mama Hope formed a partnership with Yes to Carrots to create the Yes to Hope Garden project where we are providing the funding to build school gardens throughout Africa. These schools in Africa are then partnered with schools in America who also have gardens and the students work together virtually to teach each other about gardening and protecting their environments. In February, we made this little video that shows the unique partnership of these schools.
For the last week we have been at Comfort The Children International (CTC) in Maai Mahiu, Kenya , scouting schools to partner with for the next Yes to Hope food gardens. Maai Mahiu is where our first garden was built at Ngeya Primary School and now it is thriving and supplementing the school meals of over 1800 children daily. Our goal is to get this program into 5 more schools by the end of the 2012. During the last two days, we have visited over 8 diverse schools throughout the county. We visited schools that were one room school houses with 11 students and large schools with more than 110 students to a room. No matter the size of the school one thing was apparent that the key to a good education is proper nutrition.
At each school we visited Amy, Bryce and I fall into the background leaving the assessment of the schools to our community partner CTC. We did not want to create expectation of American funding so we sat quiet like shadows and listened to each headmaster as they were interviewed by Rocky Muri, CTC’s Environmental Director.
At each interview his first question is, “Does your school have a feeding program?” The answers to this question are varied. At Karima Primary, the Headmaster told us that the food that was given to them by an aid organization had run out last week. He took us to meet their cook who was just sitting outside the outdoor kitchen with nothing to do since she had nothing to cook for the 456 students that attended the school. “You see,” he told us, “education is really important but in order for students to learn they need food or they can’t concentrate on anything but their hunger. We have a lot of students who only come to school so they can get their one meal a day and now they are not here because we do not have lunch for them.”
Most of the schools that we visited already had active Environmental Clubs but did not have the resources for a food garden even though they had the space. When we drove up to Maai Mahiu Primary School it was obvious that they had an active environmental club because the school grounds were landscaped with trees and flowers. The proud headmaster told us, “The environmental club plants and cares for these trees. And in a few years this school will be green.”
The headmaster at Namcha Primary School (550 students) was very interested in how the garden could be used as a demonstration plot to teach the greater community about agriculture. Namcha Primary school is down in the Great Rift Valley in Maasai land. The Masaai are traditionally herders and their diet mainly consists of meat and milk. Sai Toti, the Deputy Mayor of Namcha, explained to us, “We are not farmers and when the dry season comes our animals starve and then we also have nothing to eat and this creates a dangerous cycle.” He told us, “If the school is given a garden we will use it to teach the community how to grow a variety of food and hopefully, over time, it will allow our people and animals to no longer go hungry.”
At each school, Rocky always ended on the same question, “If you had a school garden how would you sustain it?” All the headmasters had the same solution. They said they would save the seedlings from the previous harvest to plant for the next season and that they would sell the surplus vegetables and put a portion of the profit into an account for maintenance, expansion and sustainability.
The last two days have reinforced in me again how important it is to listen and allow people to envision their own solutions to their needs and design projects that will solve these problems. Even though all the gardens will have the same goal, to supplement the daily meal of students, the actual gardens will be as diverse as the schools they are built in. I loved being a fly on the wall in these interviews and I am so excited that these gardens, in the true African way, will be used to not only improve the lives of the students but also the nutrition of the whole entire community.