Empowered to grow a school garden

written by Lenka Knoetze

When Heather got the news about a financial package that was available for COVID relief from OM International, she knew exactly how to put it to good use. Over multiple years, she and her 6-member team of Empowered Generation ministry have been giving lessons to school kids in Eesterust -one of the toughest neighborhoods in Pretoria, South Africa. In an area where teachers regularly see malnutrition, crime, and substance abuse, her team comes in and teaches children about the most pressing issues like human trafficking and what to do in an abusive situation.

In 2020, her team played an active role in the school’s feeding program, delivering basic food supplies to the neediest and most affected families by the pandemic. Especially in the last few months, and probably because the world has been spending more time at home than ever before, her mind has been captured by the surrounding environment where her students live that is littered with trash and pollution with little to no greenery. As she dug deeper into environmental issues our planet is facing, that have been only highlighted during the pandemic, she could see how much these issues are connected and how looking after the environment inevitably results in our own quality and longevity of life.

“It was just going to be a lesson,” recalls Heather. Through the story of creation in Genesis, she explained how humankind is given stewardship of God’s creation, to respect it, and take care of it as a personal responsibility. This came with continuous practical tips, like picking up litter in their neighborhood, how to utilize greens, and create compost, which in turn can be used to enrich the soil for future planting.

Funds became available and the next thing she knew, she was researching creating compost, planting, etc. “When we started it all seemed like such a simple idea, but I had no clue what I was getting into. I plant flowers, but I have never planted a vegetable garden before. So here I am teaching children as I am learning! It was a huge learning curve for me,” Heather says with a nervous smile. The OM team purchased compost bins for each of the two schools, where kids are encouraged to bring their home compost, but also where the school kitchen will deposit their plant-based scraps. The school grounds-keeping staff softened and prepared the soil with the use of chicken droppings compost, to add extra nutrition, also funded by OM.

“We wanted the naughty kids to come and help us with the smelly compost, not as a punishment but because we want to give them extra attention because that is why they are acting up - they want attention. They were so excited to get their hands dirty and work with the gardening tools.” After a month of theoretical classes came the time for planting, about 400 students from grades 4 and 6 already knew what to do and with excitement got their little hands to work. Each class was planting different seedlings of beetroot, carrots, spinach, etc. They loved the time they had during this special outdoor hands-on learning. When the vegetables grow, they will be used to add extra nutrition to the school’s feeding scheme that gives one meal a day to about 300 kids from the most difficult economic situations. “The meals that they are given don’t contain a lot of vegetables, it is mostly rice and starchy carbs. There are no greens, no vegetables. But, you know, for most of these kids this is probably the only proper meal they get in a day at all,” says Heather.

This effort was backed with the help of Missions Discipleship Training Plus (MDT+) interns, focusing on training their trainees using business and agriculture in missions. Today, as the smell of chicken manure slowly subsides, little vegetable seedlings are growing stronger and so are the students of Eesterus, growing wiser, healthier, and closer to God.

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