One of the many pieces of wisdom that I took from my years working at a children’s museum is that you have to “eat like a rainbow, to help my body and make my brain grow, helps my heart beat and my blood flow, I want to eat like a rainbow…” I sing this little ditty whenever it comes to mind because I know how much Rebecca enjoys the profound underlying message. But alas, not everyone eats like a rainbow. Our increased time hanging out with the hostel kids brought to our attention that their diet consists mostly of maize meal porridge, beans, rice, and sometimes bread.
After bringing the issue up with the head teacher, we decided to host a ‘brief’—brief being one of those English words that means exactly the reverse when you use the word in Swaziland—meeting with all of the teachers to discuss what exactly we can do to make life in the hostel a little better. We came to the resolution that the hostel needed to start growing its own vegetables.
Over the next few weeks, one of the teachers that lives in the hostel and I began to apply for a grant to buy seedlings and some other supplies. Once we got the OK, we rounded up the children and began to prepare the plots. At one point during this process I dug up a puff adder (a venomous snake responsible for most snake bites in southern Africa) and immediately began yelling “SNAKE” repeatedly. The hostel kids, ranging from 1st grade to 7th grade all moved in at once and between all of the hoes and shovels thrust at the snake, it was soon no longer an issue. The whole episode lasted about 30 seconds, most of which was spent with me yelling.
A week later we bought the seedlings and began planting. Planting went well and we decided to top everything off with a little mulch—and the kids took that quite literally. Soon all of our seedlings were buried deep in piles of dried grass. After much explaining, I think we’ve finally come to an understanding about the mulch—that it goes around, not on top of, the plants.
We now have healthy tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, peppers, onions, eggplant, beetroot, and cabbage growing and will be planting maize and beans in a few months. The hope is that not only does the garden produce ample vegetables to be consumed in the hostel, but that any excess produce can be sold to finance next season’s planting.
None of the kids have gardens on their own homesteads, and I think this has been a great experience for them. A few days ago, we saw several of the children standing in the middle of the tall grass. We walked over to see what they were doing and found that they cleared a small patch of land and planted some things that they found. There have been several improvements around the hostel building including flowers planted, a new watering method put in place, and they have seeds growing in containers inside. So far the entire project has cost about 40 USD and not only are the kids looking forward to a more fulfilling diet but they are already demonstrating a greater awareness of what they can do.
P.S. Our personal garden up by the house is flourishing. We’ve got all sorts of things growing and have visitors over frequently to look at and talk about the garden. Our initial plan of using thorn branches to mark the fence line turned against us as the winds picked up. The thorns that were once protecting the garden were now attacking the plants with brutal force.
Luckily, I found a ton of discarded bricks – I started hauling them myself but received some help from some of the hostel boys. Also, Rebecca wanted me to note that she also helped (she carried four). Our new wall is not only less likely to become tangled in the plants, but it gives the garden a nice, put-together look.
Here’s some photos of both gardens, enjoy!