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School Gardens for Rural Nicaraguan Communities

by SosteNica
School Gardens for Rural Nicaraguan Communities
School Gardens for Rural Nicaraguan Communities
School Gardens for Rural Nicaraguan Communities
School Gardens for Rural Nicaraguan Communities
School Gardens for Rural Nicaraguan Communities
School Gardens for Rural Nicaraguan Communities
School Gardens for Rural Nicaraguan Communities
San Antonio School students planting their garden
San Antonio School students planting their garden

In previous years, work in SosteNica's school garden program has been restricted to the oldest students (5th and 6th graders) in each school, working with SosteNica staff.  This year, the Garden Program is unfolding very differently.  Thanks to the collaborative training and curriculum design workshop between SosteNica EcoCentro staff and schoolteachers, a tremendous interest has emerged on the part of faculty.  At the start of the school year, teachers shared principles of agro-ecology and techniques such as double digging beds and the use of compost with students and their parents, who became highly engaged.  At every school, parents have taken a new role, helping with the heavy work of double digging into highly compacted soils to expand the gardens.  With so many people getting into the act, even the youngest students have taken an interest, showing up in the garden to contribute their part. 

Soil preparation is always the first step in reactivating gardens.  Unlike previous years, this year SosteNica staff offered only guidance and supervision while students, parents and teachers did the heavy lifting of double digging the beds. Two feet wide by two feet deep, every bed was prepared to receive baby seedlings.  "It's not only that the garden produce vegetables.  It's also about the students and the parents having a better understanding of garden science.  In the past I have tried to grow tomatoes, but they always get infected with disease and die.  Here I have seen that by planting natural repellant plants, the vegetable plants stay healthy.  I want to try this in my home garden and experiment with companion planting." commented a parent from Silvio Mayorga school during the inaugural opening of the school garden season.

Teacher Luisa from Betania School predicted with pride "We are going to win the prize for best school garden this year." But there will be stiff competition.  At Candelaria Elementary one enthusiastic student is leading his peers.  They call him "Señor Lopez", a term of endearment earned by his maturity and commitment. "We never have to call him to help out.  In fact, often we will notice that this little boy has let himself into the garden where he is happily attending the plants." observed teacher Aurora.

In previous years, the school gardens have awaited the start of the rainy season to reactivate their gardens.  But this year, all six schools began working their gardens in March, thanks to newly installed gravity fed drip irrigation systems, paid for by donations to SosteNica through GlobalGiving.  The schools are now demonstrating that, despite climate change, rural families can produce three crops per year, even through the dry season by taking advantage of sustainable appropriate technologies.  

All of the schools in this year's program are well on their way to producing healthy nutritious food for the children.  At the same time, they are acquiring confidence and understanding for self-sufficiency.  Who knows? Before long, these children may become successful entrepreneurs, producing non-traditional crops such as cucumber, pepper and tomato, produce normally imported into the region and too expensive for a rural family to afford.  Only time will tell.

 

 

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Signing the School Garden "Contract"
Signing the School Garden "Contract"
Candelaria Elementary student "Senor Lopez"
Candelaria Elementary student "Senor Lopez"
Parent and teacher preparing Candelaria soil
Parent and teacher preparing Candelaria soil
Earliest stages of bed preparation
Earliest stages of bed preparation

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Final remarks
Final remarks

Unlike in many other parts of the world, the school year in Nicaragua begins in January (not August or September).  2019 marks the start of SosteNica's fifth year promoting school gardens in rural elementary schools around the city of Nagarote.  In the past, our staff has directed the school gardens with the approval of the Ministry of Education and the individual school teachers.  The school officials teach the standard subjects such as math, Spanish, science and geography (to name a few) while SosteNica has been responsible for teaching topics that relate to garden bed preparation, soil fertility, seed germination, pest management, irrigation and nutrition.  This year will be different.  During the first week of January, 2019 faculty from six elementary schools gathered for two days of training at SosteNica's EcoCentro in Nagarote.  During several days of intense collaboration, teachers and SosteNica staff worked together to find areas of overlap, working lessons from the garden into the complete curriculum.  

During the multi-day training session teacher Luisa from the Betania School observed: "Elementary school teachers have been prepared to impart the basic curriculum.  But most of us know little about bio-intensive gardening.  We've never been taught to double dig a bed, or to prepare compost.  This year we are being trained by the SosteNica agronomy team so that we can reinforce the lessons that our students are learning."  During the same training session teacher Kenya from the Silvio Mayorga school shared: "Think about native and non-native plants.  These are perfect topics for teaching geography.  From which part of the world do these plants originate?"  Similarly teacher Asalia from San Antonio Elementary remarked: "We can integrate common and scientific names of plants as a way to teach both Spanish and science.  When working with spices we can engage students at multiple levels: geography, math, language and nutrition."  Teacher Hervin from the Candelaria Elementary expressed enthusiasm about learning and then imparting information about making organic insect repellants and how to create bio-fermented foliar fertilizers.  "These are practical skills and valuable life lessons that will serve the children throughout their lives, in addition to being great ways to teach theoretical topics."

Together, the SosteNica staff and the school teachers worked hard to craft an agreed upon curriculum that will enrich this year's school garden program.  SosteNica is very grateful to all of you who have donated to make this program possible.  Recurring gifts are especially useful because they allow us to plan for the future.  The more funds we have donated, the more schools and school children can be integrated into the program.

Proud student farmer harvesting produce
Proud student farmer harvesting produce

The SosteNica School Garden Program began in 2013, as a pilot experimental project. Our goal five years ago, was to test whether elementary school students and their teachers would respond to practical lessons in self-sufficiency, combined with instruction regarding nutrition, soil science and small scale horticulture. Today the program is solidly established in 6 different elementary schools, serving more than 600 students between the ages of 6 and 12. The program is supported not only by the teachers of those schools but also by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education, as well as by many of the parents of those children living in the surrounding areas.

For the first time this year, each of the six schools have begun competing with one another to see which school could produce the greatest amount of vegetables. Plants evaluated in the competition include: cucumber, tomato, green pepper, string beans and sweet corn. To everyone’s surprise, Candelaria -- the most recent school to join the network of SosteNica School Gardens -- won this year’s prize for sweetest and largest quantity of tomatoes harvested. By the end of the growing season, the Candelaria students had picked 105 pounds of tomatoes. The Candelaria students were led to victory by their teacher Erwin, who had himself received training from the SosteNica staff while working at a different elementary school five years earlier. At the beginning of the growing season, Professor Erwin had motivated his students by challenging them to lead the region in tomato production. “It was an ambitious goal, but by motivating everyone to work together, after five months we can see the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor. Mission accomplished!”

Parents of the Candelaria school children are also pleased to see their children having their diets improved by consuming a wider variety of foods than they have available at home. The children produce a wide variety of organic vegetables which they then eat with enthusiasm as part of their daily school lunch. Teacher Aurora added that when there are more vegetables harvested than can be consumed, the school offers the surplus produce for sale to parents at the end of the school day. Those vegetables go home to feed a school family, while the proceeds of the sale can be used to buy glasses, plates and silverware for the school. “Our goal for next year is to enlarge the garden by adding more beds, as well as to plant 100 hardwood trees. We plan to win first prize in the region as the best school garden!”

Another success from the past three months came from the village school of San Antonio, now in its second year participating in the School Garden Program. This year, the school inaugurated a new drip irrigation system, complete with pump and gravity fed water tower. Representatives from the Nagarote Mayor’s office, from the Regional Government, and from the Ministry of Education attended the ceremony, showering praise on SosteNica, the teachers and students of San Antonio for their dedication to sustainable food production practices. “This school garden is very large and is succeeding in producing not only nutritious garden vegetables, but also students who know how to grow crops other than the regional standards of corn and sorgum,” proclaimed Mario A., the regional Delegate for the Ministry of Education attending the ceremony.

At the same event, SosteNica’s Nicaragua Director observed “The great triumph of this School Garden Program is the extent to which communities have embraced the project and supported it with their volunteer labor. At the same time, two schools have been able to improve their school facility such that plants AND children have clean healthy water to drink. It is rewarding to observe students harvesting the crops they have produced themselves, then drinking water from a tap whose water is not drawn up from a well in a bucket but is hygenically delivered through a modern system of pump, gravity storage tank and pipes. This is an achievement made possible by the collaboration between donors, SosteNica staff, teachers, parents and students. Thanks to the friendship and hard work on all sides, we see concrete results” he added.

Kevin and Edwin, two students at San Antonio school, prove that the program is on the right track. Both boys always smile whenever they work in the garden. They work hard, and express curiosity, asking about the scientific names of plants, and enquiring about how best to help them grow healthy.

At times superstition interferes with education, even at the level of the school garden. One little girl, Alejandra, had been told by her family that she was born with a condition known as “hot hands.” Anyone with a “hot hand,” she was told, could not succeed in farming because whatever those hands planted would wither and die. She shared that information with the SosteNica staff, who immediately put Alejandra in charge of planting the school’s row of cucumber seeds. She beamed, two months later, as she showed off her row of healthy cucumber plants that were now producing cucumbers for the school lunch.

Pump Inauguration Ceremony
Pump Inauguration Ceremony
String beans anyone?
String beans anyone?
Elevated tank powers drip irrigation by gravity
Elevated tank powers drip irrigation by gravity
Harvest time
Harvest time

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On April 18th the first of a series of protests began in Managua then quickly spread to other parts of the country including Nagarote, disrupting transportation, tourism and other parts of the economy and even school schedules.  "Despite this difficult situation, SosteNica - Nicaragua reaffirms its commitment to the School Gardens program.  It is with the rural children that we plant the seeds of agro-ecology, of reforestation and care for Mother Earth, since these are Nicaragua's farmers of the future.  They are the ones who will supply food to the cities years from now." said Ing. Mendez, SosteNica's Director in Nicaragua.

In this report, we highlight the stories of two students at the Silvio Mayorga elementary school who have become leaders in their School Garden program: Sugeig and Jackson.  Jessica, the mother of ten-year old Sugeig, runs a bakery in the village near the Silvio Mayorga school. As a baker, Jessica knows the meaning of dedication and hard work.  She observed that, thanks to the School Garden program, her daughter is learning the value of hard work and dedication to a cause.  Sugeig loves working in the garden and has become a leader of other students.

Similarly, 12-year-old Jackson loves his school's garden.  He was able to participate in the Silvio Mayorga garden last year.  This year, he has been put in charge of the irrigation system in the afternoons.  "Ever since I was a little boy, I enjoyed helping my parents with their farm work." said Jackson.  His teachers observe that he is always one of the hardest working students in the garden.  He and other students prepare the soil, sow, take care of the plants, including watering them, looking forward to the day when harvest can begin. "It is a beautiful thing to observe when students like Jackson shows love and enthusiasm for nature." says one of his teachers.

As a suppliment to the School Garden Program, in which six schools with over 600 students are learning, SosteNica has begun an effort to guarantee adequate nutrition to the schools disrupted by the unrest.  Any school that is not adequately supplied by the Government system with basic items for the daily snack, SosteNica will be supplying.  We hope that the unrest will resolve soon.

In the meantime, we continue to serve the students and teachers in new and creative ways.

Garden students march in the Mother Earth Parade
Garden students march in the Mother Earth Parade

     Every year, the Nicaraguan national government awards the “Cleanest City in Nicaragua” prize. And every year, the prize is won by Nagarote. This year, SosteNica’s EcoCentro was invited by the Mayor’s office to participate in a parade honoring Mother Earth, thanks to our school garden efforts. EcoCentro’s multi-year project continues to garner attention and appreciation.

     Mario Alemán, delegate of the Ministry of Education for the municipality observed:  "SosteNica is doing so many things for our schools that we, as a ministry are not capable of doing. Sostenica has well prepared support teams, they supply tools and plants to our schools, and most importantly they transfer knowledge to our children. These kids are our future, and with the seed that SosteNica is sowing we have great hope for that future."

     Children from Valle de Jesús marched proudly in the parade: “This is the first time our school has received so much support. We never imagined that an organization would provide assistance, training and dedicate so much time to our children. Today we have SosteNica and my students feel that they are part of the organization. Their gratitude is so immense that they were willing to participate in the Mother Earth Celebration parade for the first time.” said a very happy Professor Hermongenes. She directs and teaches at the Valle de Jesús school.

     Each year, the school garden program adds additional schools. In 2018, the program will impact more than 600 children attending seven rural schools. That represents a lot of families, as well as faculty trained through the students. This year, thanks to ongoing and recurring donations we are adding Candelaria School to our list of participating schools. With the students, we have already begun building the new fenced in garden area.

     Unlike in the US, the Nicaraguan school calendar runs from February to November. December and January are vacation months. During the school vacations, most school gardens are deactivated until February when replanting begins.

    12 year-old Heysel and 10 year-old Yuri, two Valle de Jesús students, report that they are learning a lot.  “We are excited to reactivate our garden ... let's eat tomatoes, squash, watermelons, papayas. We are so happy. We don’t mind, even if we need to water the plants during vacation. Sometimes we go to school just so our plants do not die."

     That is true dedication. Students going to school during their vacation!

It
It's all about loving Mother Earth!

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Organization Information

SosteNica

Location: West Chester, PA - USA
Website:
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SosteNica
Alan Wright
Project Leader:
Alan Wright
West Chester, PA United States

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