Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
Well, here we are in Chintheche and on the last leg of our study tour. It’s hard to believe that a whole month in Malawi has come and gone. In some ways it feels like we just left home, and in others like we have been here forever. Yesterday we visited a school garden at Chilala Primary School in the GVH (Group Village Headman) of Jumbo in the STA (Sub-Traditional Authority) of Fukamalasa, Malawi. I think I can speak for us all and say we were glad to return to Chilala. We were scheduled to visit them last time we were in Chintheche, but arrived to an empty and sobre school. On that day, the students were attending the funeral of their teacher, only 30 years old, who passed away from AIDS, leaving her own 3 children orphaned. This time, we were happy to see the school much more alive with the voices and laughter of students excited by the mysterious arrival of our land cruiser.
In 2007, the school introduced a permaculture project, with the aim of supplying students with fruits and vegetables to supplement the nutrients that they lacked in their bodies. What was just dust has been transformed into a lush and beautiful garden containing bananas, papaya, pears, oranges, guava, mangoes, yams, potatoes and peppers, as well as some medicinal plants (this is where Eric has his shining man vs. wild moment in identifying blackjack).
The students, aged 6-14, have been involved in all aspects of the garden. They brought the seedlings and materials to plant the garden from their villages and constructed composts to produce fertile soil. The students also do all the planting and harvesting. “We want every child to have a picture of what is happening here so when they go home they can utilize it in their own villages,” said Mr. Gilbert Kauna, Headmaster of Chilala Primary School.
At this time, the garden produces just enough to feed the students. Because students no longer have to go to school hungry, school attendance has increased since the garden was planted. In 2007, there were 163 boys and 194 girls enrolled. Today, there are 199 boys and 186 girls.
The garden is also benefiting the larger community: “Community members are now getting planting materials from here and bringing them back to their homes, so it is beneficial to all,” said Boyce Mhonea, a school teacher.
This particular garden reminded me a lot of the Takwonda Freedom Garden that we visited last Friday near Lilongwe, where in almost 30 years, 10 square metres of “useless” land has been transformed into a 10 hectare, entirely organic and self-sustaining farm with aquaculture. After 4 weeks in Malawi, I have learned more about farming and agriculture than I did in 23 years in Manitoba. Farming is just so much more interesting when you can grow exotic things like sugar cane, mangoes, bananas and papayas.
After an inspirational morning, we were off to Chintheche Rural Hospital where we dropped off the second suitcase of medical supplies we brought from International HOPE, an organization in Winnipeg that collects and distributes donated medical supplies. We left our first suitcase at Kabadula Rural Hospital near Lilongwe, where we were shocked to discover that they previously had no thermometers. It was great to see that what we brought was indeed quite needed. If only we had known before we left home, we could have brought a whole case of thermometers instead of just 3.
We spent a beautiful afternoon at Kande Beach, where we were joined by a bunch of locals in a volleyball match. After a short swim in the lake, we were all exhausted and ready for bed. I keep forgetting to charge my camera battery, so there is a shortage of current pictures. After three days, I remembered last night, but forgot to put it back in my camera this morning. Sigh.
We miss everyone back home and are looking forward to seeing you all when we are home next month.