“I enjoy to plant and get the vegetables,” says Dickson with pride.
“I like to eat the vegetables!” says Sumaira with a shy chuckle.
The children wander through the neat rows of green in the mild winter climate. Separate beds of kale, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and carrots are labelled with cardboard signs to show which grade oversees them. A nursery for new seedlings occupies a corner of the garden and a few free-range chickens peck around for worms or other insects.
Our organisation prides itself in helping create gardens like this one that we started several years ago as well as providing agricultural training for teachers like Lydia Fernando.
“Agriculture is a subject at school,” explains teacher, Lydia. Children learn how to prepare beds, plant seedlings, mulch and fertilise, weed and water using their school's borehole and their watering cans.
The school also has a nearby plot which is used to cultivate crops like beans, maize and millet. The crops and vegetables are used to feed the children at school and any surplus is sold so that they can buy seeds for the next season.
When a cyclone hit the area recently, the school was able to provide food to the community from their crops, so they really do benefit the entire community.
“The children eat from the harvest, they take some home and they also teach their families how to plant their own,” says school principal Antonio, pointing to a small plot just outside the school fence which mirrors their beautiful garden.
“The gardening and school meal each day reduces dropouts,” he says. “It also increases attendance. The pupils know that at break they will get a meal and it keeps them coming! They are also learning valuable skills for the future.”
Behind Antonio, on the other side of the garden gate, children are lining up for lunch. Sumaira, Dickson and their friends are eager to secure their place in the queue. They quickly gather up all their tools and leave them in an orderly huddle at the gate.
Soon they are washing their hands and receiving a bowl of fortified rice, smothered in a fragrant, creamy sauce. Cooks have crushed coconut and peanuts and mixed them with freshly plucked kale and onions from the school garden to make this local delicacy.
“It’s very nutritious,” says Lydia, taking in the aroma.
Dickson grabs his bowl and scoots over to sit under a tree.
“Yes, I know what’s in here,” he says. “It’s rice, coconut and my couve [kale]!”
Sumaira, who can’t speak with her mouth full, nods enthusiastically when asked if she is enjoying her lunch.