Mar 12, 2019

Grow Liberia: 4-H School Gardens

Second place winners at the agricultural fair
Second place winners at the agricultural fair

Hi folks,

4-H Liberia is a long-term SPI partner who has been accomplishing good work with students through school gardens for years. Their school-based clubs have reached over 4,000 young people over six counties, serving students between the ages of 13 and 25. 4-H Liberia’s garden programs empower young people to become self-sufficient citizens by developing their potential in premier leadership, agricultural sustainability, and essential life skills.

Each school club maintains their own garden, which serves as a platform for learning agriculture. These school gardens are a way to:

  • Equip students to become competent and self-sufficient in food production
  • Scout out future farmers
  • Inspire students to become productive citizens
  • Enhance students’ potential in premier leadership

As part of their support for youth development, 4-H Liberia has integrated a commitment to gender equity into their programs — almost half of their members are young women, many of whom are in leadership positions alongside their male peers. Their staff and students understand better than anybody that the empowerment of women and girls in Liberia is not where it should be in this day and age. They see it in their homes and communities, much like many other places around the world. 4-H Liberia Executive Director Umaru Sheriff repeatedly shares his mantra with his staff and students, “when you enable a girl or a woman to be in charge of her future and livelihood, you become part of the change and development of communities, and it makes waves of positive changes that raise everyone, including boys and men.” This is only one of the reasons we’re proud to be in partnership with 4-H Liberia!

Annual Agricultural Fair

Each year, 4-H Liberia hosts an agricultural fair in Monrovia where students participate in workshops and educational competitions about their school gardens, agriculture, and agribusiness. Students from 42 schools throughout Bomi, Montserrado, Bong, Margibi, Lofa, and Gbarpolu Counties gathered in January to celebrate the theme: Grow Liberia — Promote Youth In Agriculture.

Six of the schools were chosen as finalists who earned points by answering trivia about nutrition and gardening. Points were also earned through debate, dramatic presentation, and public speaking meant to share their challenges and successes from the past year. Mr. Alvin Wesseh, Assistant Minister for Regional Development Research and Extension, presented the competition awards after delivering his keynote later in the day.

The fair and accompanying school garden competition are the culmination of the 4-H school garden program. Students extend their education by learning the business of agriculture, networking with government officials, and participating in market activities like exhibiting and selling their crops. Umaru outlines the goals of the fair:

  • Train young men and women in improved agricultural science and techniques that they will use to impact other youth, parents, and community leaders
  • Allow students to share ideas through communication and leadership training.
  • Encourage students in pursuing agriculture as a science and a business by rewarding them for their hard work in the school garden with this event.
  • Help young people see agriculture as a profitable business and viable livelihood removing the stereotype that agriculture is a poor person’s job.

Remarks from Mr. Sheriff

During the fair, Umaru shared more about the early days of 4-H Liberia, their work in the community, and what is needed to move forward. A recent report about the fair reads:

“Mr. Sheriff mentioned the successes of 4-H Liberia, how it grew from 3 clubs in 2006 to a little over 80 clubs in 6 of the 15 counties in Liberia at present. He further stated that training received by the students at the 4-H Club’s meetings or on the field is taken back home by the club members to practically train their parents in improved agriculture techniques.

He said besides teaching students in agricultural education, the field officers of 4-H Liberia are also helping local farmers within the school community improve agricultural techniques for income generation. Mr. Daniel Mollay, a 4-H Liberia field officer assigned in Lofa County organized farmers, and they planted pepper. The total amount raised from the sale of the pepper was L$ 300,000 (US$1875.00).

He mentioned that the 4-H Club’s agriculture curriculum, leadership guide and the enterprise curriculum printed by the partnership of 4-H Liberia and the United States Africa Development Foundation are all worn out. The students, teachers and the 4-H field officers are going through challenges in teaching without the printed curriculum, and this is presently hampering the growth of 4-H in Liberia; the field officer's motorbikes purchased by the Ralph C. Norman Foundation in 2013 have lived their useful lives, causing serious challenge for the field officers to make regular follow-up visits to the schools. Mr. Sheriff called on the Government of Liberia, and International and National Partners to come to the aid of 4-H Liberia to help develop youth in agriculture.”

Umaru is a strong advocate for 4-H students and school gardens. He believes in the power of school gardens as a tool for education and economic empowerment. He recognizes that learning alone is not enough to facilitate livelihoods — it must be accompanied by access to resources and a viable market. This fair is an example of how he is helping to weave the future of Liberia’s youth.

We hope you found Umaru’s work with 4-H as inspiring as we did! We rely on your support to deepen our service to partners like 4-H Liberia. Thank you for your continued trust, and for your support of SPI and our partners.

With gratitude,

The SPI Team

 

All photos are courtesy of 4-H Liberia.

A student talks with a judge about what he's grown
A student talks with a judge about what he's grown
First place winners at the agricultural fair
First place winners at the agricultural fair
Student-grown pineapple and sweet potatoes
Student-grown pineapple and sweet potatoes
A judge quizzes a student about nutrition
A judge quizzes a student about nutrition
Feb 21, 2019

Tecpan: Sprouting After Ten Years Fallow

Tecpan Women's Group has seeds!
Tecpan Women's Group has seeds!

Hi folks,

This month, our update comes from Tecpan, Guatemala, where a group of Mayan women have recently begun gardening again with SPI’s support. These farmers aren’t newcomers—in addition to their traditional knowledge, most have vegetable-growing experience from a program that was supported by Wendy de Berger, the First Lady of Guatemala from 2004 - 2008.

When the government changed, support for this program was ended and the Tecpan farmer’s gardens went fallow without access to good seed. However, their group didn’t disband. Led by Paula López, women continued to meet regularly to preserve their Mayan culture and find ways to support each other. Gardens are one way to facilitate the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge and also provide nutrition and income to communities. This is such an important activity for people whose communities and cultures have been disrupted by generations of political violence aimed at destroying their identity.

With your support, we were able to provide Paula with good seed. The group immediately gathered to determine how best to share radish, cucumber, eggplant, cabbage, and carrot seeds amongst the 55 women. Over several meetings, Paula distributed the seed and reviewed basic planting instructions. These are strong, self-organized women, and they only needed access to a few resources to re-establish their gardening program.

Since most of the women already have gardening knowledge and experience, Paula led several discussions about post-harvest topics like how to cook and incorporate new vegetables into a traditional Mayan diet. She also encouraged the farmers to favor a native Guatemalan cuisine that features natural, unprocessed ingredients like fruits and vegetables instead of relying on processed foods. If that sounds like a boring meeting to you, we can assure you it wasn’t. After discussing the project, the women played traditional games, sung Mayan songs, and danced!

“This project has the potential to benefit the women’s group in Tecpan in many ways, for example, it will help foster connection with the mother earth, team work, and family work, as well as, increase the production of food without insecticides. People will to learn and get used to having a garden at home and saving money. But the one of the most important benefits is that this project will help the women and families eat healthier by consuming products that come from the earth. The women are very happy about this project.” — Paula López, Women's Group & Gardening Project Leader

We’re proud to partner with Paula and the Tecpan Women’s Group and hope to see the project grow in the coming year. You might remember Naima and Nancee’s visit with Pop Atz’iak in San Cristobal, a Mayan women’s group who similarly established a gardening program with support from SPI. Both Nancee and SPI volunteer Alejandra Sanchez have visited with the women and Alejandra’s report is promising.

“After my most recent visit to Guatemala, I have very high hopes for the gardening project in Tecpan. Paula is a woman that learned from a very young age how to garden, and all the women in the Tecpan group also have some sort of experience in gardening. After talking to some of them, it became evident that they know very well what they are doing, and everyone is excited about the project. Some were already planning on selling the surplus of the harvest and using that profit to buy more seeds and make the project bigger.” — Alejandra Sanchez, SPI Volunteer

As always, thank you for your support. A little goes a long way with determined people who just need good seed to transform their communities. Again, thank you!

The SPI Team

Discussing the Garden Project
Discussing the Garden Project
Talking about Nutrition
Talking about Nutrition
Dancing!
Dancing!
Feb 21, 2019

Starting with Gratitude

Fate harvesting corn in a Grow East Africa field.
Fate harvesting corn in a Grow East Africa field.

Hi folks,

We're happy to open this project on a bright note by featuring the continued work of Grow East Africa, our local partner in Ethiopia. One purpose of this project is to increase long-term resilience to climate change, social crisis, and political crisis for communities most vulnerable to upheaval. Grow East Africa is doing just that!

Grow East Africa is an Ethiopian-American led organization working with about 1,000 families at a crossroads for Kenyan - Ethiopian IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). Co-Founder Yohannes Chonde understands the families' journey, the experience of displacement, and what they need to be successful because may of the families come from his ancestral home, Burji District.

We recently heard from Wato Seif, a Grow East Africa Officer, who shared what it was like to be displaced:

“Not many years have passed since we became internally displaced, leaving our homes and properties, and escaping with just the shirts on our backs and the few belongings we were able to carry. Upon arrival, we found ourselves in the midst of a different culture, a foreign language, and hardships from lack of shelter and ownership of land necessary for an agrarian society.”

Wato continues, talking about his work with Grow East Africa and plans for the future:

“Thanks to the local communities, Soyama Ladies Association, Burji District management, and assistance from our local son Dr. Yohannes Chonde and SPI, we are starting to turn our lives on the path of recovery. With the newly installed solar energy powered drip irrigation system, we are set to plant vegetable year round. We have harvested abundant yields of quinoa and teff. The vegetables (tomatoes, cabbage, chard, carrots, and onions) are growing well and show promise for a good yield. The abundant harvest will be able to feed our children and enable them to attend school. The excess produce will be sold on the local market, and the income will be reinvested into the project to further our efforts in self-sufficiency. We tirelessly strive to contribute to the wellbeing of our new community by introducing nutritional vegetables and quinoa to the diet of the residents, especially for the children and pregnant women. This where we want to be, a place and situation where we can build a future that is sustainable.”

It might be easy to underestimate what gardens can mean for someone who has been displaced. Fate is a farmer with Grow East Africa who has stepped into leadership through her participation in Grow East Africa's garden project. She shares, beautifully:

“Just a few years ago, we were a community that was worried about what we would eat tomorrow and what the future looks like. … Today, not only are we growing our own food, but we're making plans for the future of our people and our community. … Thank you for choosing to invest in our community and in our well-being.”

Grow East Africa has already accomplished important work with these IDP communities, and their vision is broad. Yohannes outlined the next steps for GEA in a recent conversation with SPI Program Director, Naima Dido. As they prepare for the planting season with the Mega women's group, GEA will conduct a water access assessment and test the soil health. They'll also begin offering farmer training to establish individual livelihoods. Finally, four women will participate in advanced training to train future farmer trainers with an agronomist instructor who will travel to their villages for two sessions of four-week trainings.

Gardens are providing GEA farmers with new livelihoods, a crucial component for long-term resilience against upheaval and crisis. By offering agricultural training, water access, and extension support, GEA ensures that farmers and farmer trainers will have the skills and tools they need to facilitate the wellbeing of the whole community for generations to come.

Your support helps provide trainings like this, which develop local leaders and put economic power into women's hands. From our partners, their farmers, and our team — thank you!

The SPI Team

Preparing seedlings for relocation.
Preparing seedlings for relocation.
Fate working with young cabbage.
Fate working with young cabbage.
Fate monitoring the onion and carrot patch
Fate monitoring the onion and carrot patch
 
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