Students at Valley Bridge Primary School, Nairobi
First, thank you to all of our early supporters! We’re really excited about this project. Not only do school gardens grow vegetables, they keep kids in school, provide lifelong agronomic skills, and become community hubs for nutrition and training. We know this from years of work with partners who host or coordinate school gardens. Over the years, our partners in Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, and Kenya (among others) have proven how vital school gardens can be for children and communities.
Today’s update is more personal than usual. In 2016, SPI Program Manager Naima Dido spent some time visiting several partners in her home country, Kenya. During her visit, Naima made a point to look up Valley Bridge Primary School, the school she attended as a child in Nairobi. This stop wasn’t only nostalgic — Naima spoke with the headmaster about establishing a school garden and partnering with SPI.
Why school gardens?
Naima quickly connected Valley Bridge with seeds to start a garden, and then followed up over the years to ensure that they had access to SPI seeds or locally-sourced seeds for subsequent seasons. Earlier this month, Naima reached out to the school’s headmaster, Mr. Mbugua, for an update about the school garden. Asked why he started the school garden program, he replied:
“Access to nutritious food is a motivator for many parents to send their children to school. As a teacher, my goal is to teach my student to not just merely exist, but to be part of the change we need. When children are not hungry, they are able to exercise their right to receive an education in school and beyond. That is is why I prioritized the school garden and expanded to join forces with neighboring schools.
We can already see evidence that our school gardens are increasing awareness of healthy nutritious eating and helping dispel the myth that farming is the trade for poor people. The gardens are also helping improve students’ understanding of our impact on the environment and attitudes towards the importance of environmental sustainability.”
The success of their first school garden project prompted them to expanded the program and include other schools. Now, four primary schools each have their own garden. He explained:
“The four schools are within a 30-minute walk of each other. It was important to us that the students see the project as a community effort. We also wanted to include a sense of competitiveness. Our goal is to host a garden fair that will include the best garden competition. Our children in Kenya are very motivated when it comes to competition with their peers. It also makes the project exciting with a reward at the end.”
Is farming cool?
Attitudes about farming can discourage students from participating in the garden project. What child wants to be uncool, right? Mr. Mbugua addresses this head-on by facilitating discussions about how farmers are perceived, and he also acts as a role model for aspiring students.
“I grow the same vegetable the students grow in my own garden at home. I believe farming is the answer to many of our challenges but it has been overlooked and seen as a very undesirable profession.
The first question we ask our student is: Why is food important? And we always end at everyone needs food. Doctors need food, teachers need food, politicians need food, and someone needs to grow that food. The projects elevate the status of the farmer to the most important person in the circle of our life.”
By showing farmers’ relevance, Mr. Mbugua is demonstrating the value of land stewardship and the livelihoods that stem from it. Valley Bridge Primary’s network of schools is engaging a generation of youth who will have the basic skills to enrich their communities as food entrepreneurs.
“School gardens are one strategy to tackle the ongoing issue of hunger. This is the only way to break the cycle that has been passed down through the last two or three generations of people living in the slums.” — Mr. Mbugua, Valley Bridge Primary School Headmaster
So far, two schools have sowed SPI seeds and two schools sowed seeds purchased locally. Mr. Mbugua shared, “Most of the seeds from SPI did very well, but we had challenges with soil and pest control. The local seeds didn’t do as well, but they managed to produce something.” Looking forward, Naima has laid out a partnership plan with Mr. Mbugua to support the Nairobi school network with high-quality vegetable seeds.
With access to good resources, community and peer support, and a strong curriculum, these students are being positioned to build a strong network for food production. These livelihoods can form the foundation for greater health, economic growth, and resilience to crisis.
This project helps provide this kind of direct support — your donation has made this possible! From Mr. Mbugua, his students, and the team here at SPI, thank you!
Greetings from Valley Bridge in Nairobi, Kenya
Students in Liberia, Kenya, Haiti, Ethiopia (CW)