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Crossroads School

Crossroads Gardening Club

Nutrition is an important part of everyone’s life, but for growing children, getting the right balance of proteins, micro-nutrients, carbohydrates, and fat is vitally important. Maintaining a healthy diet is directly linked to all aspects of a child’s physical and mental development and for the students at Crossroads Springs Primary School in Hamisi, Kenya getting enough of the good stuff as been a challenge. Out of the 323 HIV affected children attending the school only 36 can afford to pay their school fees, which means this is an institution limited resources is already stretched. Since the school serves predominately HIV positive and affected orphans, it means that the children’s need for good nutrition is that much greater.

Development in Gardening (DIG), in partnership with Crossroads Spring Institute, the Segal Family and Starbucks’ International Youth Foundation have set out to establish a large scale vegetable production garden to significantly improve the micro-nutrients going into the school’s kitchen. In addition to the vegetable production farm, a learning garden is being established on the school’s property to teach valuable small scale agriculture skills to the students. The hope is that with the vegetable production farm, DIG will be able to ensure these children will be well nourished throughout their critical school years. Then, with the skills they learn through actively working in the school club garden those same students will be able to continue nourishing their bodies into the future.


While DIG has been busy working out the environmental challenges of the land for the production garden, i.e. terracing for dealing with rain water runoff, water conservation, and soil improvement, DIG has simultaneously begun the school’s club garden which is now growing with full force. Twenty-five students ranging from ages eight to twelve have helped establish the school garden club who meet regularly to learn, practice, and transform their plot of land on school property into a productive learning garden.

When asked about what they’re doing there, the students will tell you about measuring and digging raised garden beds. Why small scale agriculture is important especially for those living in population dense environments like Hamisi. They will show you what has been planted in their garden and where you can find it; they’ll teach you how to check the compost pile and how you know when it’s time to turn it. But my favorite question to ask is what they are most looking forward to eating, which is almost always answered back as skumawiki, a local green that’s full of iron and calcium. The enthusiasm and work ethic of these kids has been amazing. With a little help from their agriculture teacher, Nicholas, and a few select groundsmen the garden club have become some of DIG’s star students. The kids have chosen to plant various local greens, cow peas, spinach, onions, green peas, green beans, peppers, and herbs and couldn’t be more excited about their pending harvest. More land has been earmarked on school property for the club’s expansion, and we hope to involve more students in the farm in the near future.

Maggarie's Gardening Group

Maggarie's Gardening GroupWhen we first met Maggarie, she was a single mother, frail, and ashamed of an illness she had no fault in contracting. She was struggling to feed her family after her husband died and there were rumors flying around about the cause of his death. She was lost, alone and unsure how she was going to take care of her children. “Before I joined the gardening group, I had problems. I was worried about my children, I did not think I would stay alive to take care of them.”

Between our project and the support of the other people in the group, Maggarie began to see things differently. She began to feel supported by her peers and realize that she was not alone. She began to realize the potential of abandoned spaces. She realized she could grow things including her own potential.

She started sharing her stories, sharing her fears and sharing her life. What she grew in the garden was a sense of community. “I was lifted, lifted by the project. Today, I have grandchildren. I did not think I would be alive to see my grandchildren.”

DIG gardens are not about saving lives but about transforming lives. They are about keeping HIV positive fathers and mothers, like Maggarie, healthier and productive longer so they can continue providing for their families.

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Koumba's Home Garden

Koumba's Home GardenLike so many of the women Development in Gardening (DIG) works with, Koumba stands out as a woman of strength. When she first got involved in our project, she was 52 years-old and the mother of ten. Koumba’s husband who had been frail and sick for some time, was married to five women, two of which had recently died of AIDS.

Koumba worked for many years as a community HIV/AIDS educator through the local clinic. She was known as a woman with information to share and this helped define her place in the community. After promoting HIV testing to so many individuals, she, herself, made the commitment to know her status. The day she went to be tested would mark the day Koumba would be asked to step down from her role as community educator. She had tested positive for HIV, and like so many of the individuals she had helped council she was lost in a discriminating world with little understanding of what she did wrong and what to do next.

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Inspiring Youth at Kuna School

Mary Owindo and George Okoth

CIDRZDIG's Kuna School Garden lies west of Nairobi in Nyanza Province. With over 800 students and only 12 teachers, this government school struggles to meet the students' needs.

Through partnership with Lwala Community Alliance, the Segal Family Foundation, the International Youth Foundation, and Rotary, DIG helped the school develop a garden education program that addresses many of the students nutritional and food security needs. The garden is a space for the kids to work and learn in. They take the skills they learned at the school garden and apply them with their families at their own home gardens.


When interviewed, here's what Mary and George, two of Kuna's students had to say about the DIG Garden Program.


Mary Owindo

CIDRZQ: What do you think of the DIG program?
A: DIG is teaching us a lot of things. In the past, I didn’t know so many things about farming. But DIG leaders came and started developing in us some skills. I did not know what a butternut squash looked like but I do now. I didn’t know how to plant a carrot and now I do. I didn’t know how to make a compost and now I can.

Q: Can you tell me more about this?
A: When a teacher asks a question about the garden we will answer it easily. Questions about compost, how to weed, how to make herbs that can kill pests. We learned, just a week ago, how to make an organic solution that can kill the pests that were killing our plants. Two weeks ago the skumi wiki was being eaten and cut by these pests so we made this solution which was so much cheaper than what you can buy in the shops or market. We used it and when we visited the farm the next Thursday we saw an improvement – some pests were lying on the ground dead and the skumi wiki was coming back to life.

Q: What have you learned from the garden?
A: When I went home, I told my father about the DIG organization that is helping so much. When he sees me digging and making a raised bed he copies me. I think more parents should attend the training. I also learned that compost is not corrosive like some fertilizers that you buy in the shops. Some people who don't know how to use those chemical shop fertilizers, use too much and burn the plants.

Q: Do you think your attitudes about foods have changed because of the garden? What are you learning about nutrition?
A: Plants in the garden are very good and help us stay healthy. and some add flavor to our food. When your eyes are not seeing well, you are advised to eat more vitamins; tomatoes are a source of vitamins; beans are proteins. There are foods that give you energy, others for bodybuilding and vitamins protect us. Mangoes have fiber which can help soften waste so we may not have difficulties, and yams are good for our blood.

Q: What are some other things you have learned?
A: I have learned that planting on a small scale can be good. My family now has a small garden and it is producing as much as the bigger plots. Bigger is not always better.

Q: Have you sold anything from your garden?
A: Yes, I am making some income and do not have to disturb my mother for my school requirements. I am not only earning income but the garden is also part of my family's nutrition. I can sell it, or I can cut and eat because my plants are big and I only have to take a little. If I want to buy fish, then I can just go and sell enough to buy some fish. Also, I don't need to buy things like skuma wiki or cow peas now because I grow them.

Q: Do you have anything you want to tell the DIG program?
A: I want to encourage DIG to do this in all parts of Kenya so it can decrease poverty. So many children are lacking education because of this poverty. And we need educated children for the future. I think this program also increases respect of girls.

I like when DIG comes to the school because we learn something new every time, like what nitrate in the soil means. DIG is working with us for a better future.


George Okoth

CIDRZ Q: How long have you been involved with DIG?
A: Since the program started, about 3 months ago. I am a student leader.

Q: When do you work in the garden?
A: During sports time 3 days a week. I weed and put the organic pesticides on the plants.

Q: What have you learned from the garden?
A: DIG has taught me how to make my home garden and different organic fertilizers. We are always planting new crops, and some teachers have used the garden for science class as well.

Q: How are you using (or planning to use) your garden skills and knowledge in the future?
A: There were many things I did not know before, but I'm now teaching my parents about. We are growing maize and skuma wiki at home and my parents are happy because I have taught them how to make fertilizer without having to go to the market to buy chemicals.

Q: What has been a meaningful or favorite experience from working in the garden?
A: The garden brings some income when we sell the mature plants in the market. With that money we can do more, like make the garden bigger to grow more produce. I want the school to buy chickens, but we will probably buy exercise books with the extra money.

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