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School vegetable gardening improves learning, farming in Lesotho

Page history last edited by Rosemary 8 years, 2 months ago

School Vegetable Gardening Improves Students' Nutrition, Learning, and Farming in Lesotho

Mrs. Letela, the principal in a small rural primary school in Lesotho, stood at her office window, watching the children playing on the field outside. She was wondering what to do about the increasing number who were coming to school hungry and how tired and irritable the teachers said the children were. How could they be expected to learn? We’ve got hungry children, whose parents are farmers, and empty fields lying here. Surely we can do something?

She started visiting some parents, asking questions, chatting to them about the idea of growing food at the school, listening to their ideas and encouraging them to speak amongst themselves. When she felt the time was ripe she invited parents to a meeting where they agreed to take responsibility for establishing a garden at the school to feed their children. But they would have to do it differently to the way they farmed, because the food needed to be grown and harvested throughout the year, unlike their own annual maize crops.

Mrs. Letela asked around town at the offices of a few development organisations and was told about a regional association of NGOs who promoted small-scale organic farming. She wrote to them and they soon replied, agreeing that two trainers would be sent for a few weeks to teach a group of parents an approach that would combine their own farming methods with permaculture, enabling different foods to be grown throughout the year, and without the need for costly fertilisers and pesticides. Fortunately the association had access to flexible funding that enabled them to move quickly on this request.

The trainers began by spending good time surfacing what the parents already knew about vegetable gardening, before introducing them to the essential permaculture principles and methods. Throughout the process they involved the parents in every aspect of designing and developing an integrated gardening system for the whole school garden.

It was less than two months later that all the children started getting a nutritious meal every day at school, grown by the parents and harvested and cooked by the domestic science students. And it was not long, Mrs. Letela heard, before the parents started adopting some of these farming methods in their own gardens and farms, as did she herself.

Soon the word got around and a delegation of parents and teachers from the neighbouring school marched over the hill and asked if they could be taught to do the same. So parents began to teach parents, farmers learning from farmers. And it continued to spread through the district.

Within three years 58 schools and communities had started similar initiatives, each taught by a neighbouring school. The idea has since spread even further, with official sanction and support, to another four districts involving a further 200 schools.

A part-time advice centre was set up at Mrs. Letela’s school, with one person employed on a small grant from an overseas donor, to give advice and information and to put people in touch with each other. Mrs. Letela’s school has been piloting organic vegetable gardening as a part of the school curriculum.

(Dan Craun-Selka worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho, teaching at Mrs. Letela's school. He says he has never met a greater visionary. "Each evening we would walk around the school grounds, which at that time had exactly four classrooms. She would point to a parched field and say 'That's going to be a sewing room,' then to another field and say 'That's where we'll put the woodworking shop.' Fifteen years later the fields are now gone and in their place are classrooms for sewing, drafting, metal working, a science laboratory, library, complete operating farm, and community gardens.")

This story is told in "Engaging freedom’s possibilities", by Doug Reeler, in the 2004/2005 Community Development Resource Association Annual Report. CDRA, established as a nonprofit NGO in 1987 in Cape Town, South Africa, works to build the capacity of organisations and individuals engaged in development and social transformation in southern and east Africa. Used with permission.

CDRA, P.O. Box 221, Woodstock 7915, South Africa. Email. For more information: Berea Agriculture Group, Mrs Molly Letela, Principal, Assumption High School, PO Box 572, Teyateyaneng 200, Lesotho.

 

Also see:

Food program dramatically increases girls’ school attendance in Pakistan

Corporate social initiative project brings hot daily meals to South African students

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