Veggie gardens saving little lives

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Project helps community to grow, make own baby food

IN AN effort to help combat malnutrition in children, the Small Projects Foundation (SPF) has established sustainable vegetable gardens at needy homes and Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in rural Newlands.

SELF-SUSTAINING: The Small Projects Foundation has started vegetable gardens to ensure children in rural Newlands grow up with proper nutrition. From left, Zandile Matyila, Siyolise Kwaza with her 15 month old son, Sophumelela, and one of the heads of the project, Ruth van Kets, at Siyolise’s household garden Pictures: MADELEINE CHAPUT

The gardening project was started in November last year.

Headed by the SPF’s Alan Wild, the SPF team identify homes and ECDs where nutrition issues are prevalent and, through various phases, help establish vegetable gardens for them.

The team also teach mothers how to make baby food from the fresh vegetables they grow, in order to cut the transport and commercial costs involved in buying food from supermarkets.

This gardening project forms part of SPF’s Capacity for Active Citizenship Programme funded by the European Union (EU).

“Through this programme, we’re trying to give people the necessary skills to empower themselves and empower their community.

“Nutrition and food security play a big role in this,” SPF dietitian Shawn McLaren said.

Initiated by experienced gardener and caterer, Ruth van Kets, the project has changed the lives of, not only children, but their mothers as well.

“The idea came to me when I was in the shops one day. I saw a Xhosa woman battling to pick a Purity baby food product for her little one.

“I went up to her and offered to help. I suggested just making your own baby food from fresh veggies as it’s much cheaper and more nutritious, but she had no idea how to make it,” the gardening guru said.

Foundation a lifeline for girls

Van Kets eventually found SPF, who were willing to implement and supply funding for her idea.

Together with the SPF team, consisting of social worker, Zandile Matyila, McLaren and Rehab Natural Farming worker, Nondyebo Makapela, they taught women in the community how to plant and grow vegetables in a sustainable manner.

Van Kets also gave demonstrations on how to make nutritional baby food from homegrown vegetables.

“Through the demonstrations I show mothers how to make baby food with nothing more than what they own. The first time I did a demonstration I didn’t bring anything with me; we made a fire outside and used a fork to mash up the vegetables,” Van Kets said.

Soyolise Kwaza, one of the many mothers who have benefitted from SPF’s project, said: “I am so happy I don’t have to buy food for my boy anymore. It was very difficult before.”

Chronic malnutrition in young children often causes stunted growth, limiting a child’s life in numerous ways.

McLaren said: “Stunted growth and cognitive development really go hand-in-hand.

“A malnourished child will not develop as fast as a healthy child will and this means they often fall behind in school, battle to finish school and ultimately battle to find jobs.”

“Proper nutrition is important throughout life, but a child’s first two years of life are vital, it’s an extremely crucial time where children need to be fed proper nutritious food in order for their growth not to be stunted,” he said.

McLaren said many mothers did not realise the vital importance of proper nutrition for children between the ages of six months and two years old.

SPF’s project directly tackles this knowledge gap by teaching and giving the community the necessary skills to supply their children with nutritional, healthy foods.

Although the project is aimed at combating malnutrition in children, the household gardens are an empowering tool for the community as a whole, especially for women.

“Empowering women in this area is so important and these household gardens are doing just that,” Van Kets said.

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