Thursday, September 10, 2009

Village Saving Fund Mentoring Day

Because of the way the community is structured in Munsieville, Village Saving Fund (VSF) groups generally tend not to interact with each other because they are based on language group – i.e. we have a couple of Mozambican groups, a couple of South African groups, a Zimbabwean group etc.

Whilst this makes it easier for us to manage and to teach health education to, the groups lose out on benefiting from learning from one another. Over the past few months we have seen some groups do extremely well and other groups struggle. Some groups have started small businesses selling chickens and baking cakes, whilst other have not.

Even though I have built up the trust of these groups over the past few months it’s still difficult for me as a white person to encourage them to do something “foreign” like starting a small business when all they are used to doing is waiting for the government or a local NGO to give them something. So after thinking about this for a while we decided to hold a mentoring day, where all the groups would get together and share with one another about what their group is doing, about the successes and the struggles that they have faced. This way the groups would learn from their counterparts in the community rather than listening to someone from the outside.

To spice this up a bit a few weeks ago we told each group that there would be a prize for the most successful group (based on weekly attendance, savings & loans portfolio, initiative taken to start up a business).

The day was a great success. The groups shared about what they have been doing – one group started by purchasing 10 chickens a week to sell, and now they are up to 25 a week. Other groups shared frustrations about the lack of unity between group members making it difficult for them to work together.

The highlight of the event was announcing who the winners were – a Mozambican group called “Sizanani” which means “helping each other.” They received certificates and a prize of food and clothing. The video below shows you how excited the room got when the winners were announced!

We are hoping now that this day provided the needed motivation to the groups that are struggling to get on the right track, and our team will be following up with house visits to encourage further the important difference that VSF can make on the health and lives of people living in slums here in South Africa.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Food Gardening & Vermiculture

As you read the title of this you might be asking, “What is verimculture?” Vermiculture or “vermicomposting” as it is sometimes known is using a specific type of worm called a “Red Wriggler” to break down materials such as vegetable peels, leftover fruit, bread etc into a black, nutrient rich compost that can be used to grow vegetables in, and regenerate soil. A by product of this is a liquid known as “worm tea” that is a concentrated organic fertiliser that you water down and can feed your vegetables with.

Poor nutrition impacts people particularly in a slum environment where there is not much space to grow anything, and where the soil has been eroded away. This means that people have to buy most of their food that they live on. With high unemployment in these places and inflation causing food prices to increase, many people are forced to buy cheaper food with little or no nutrient value to it. For children under the age of 5 years old this can have lifelong impacts as it can effect physical and cognitive development.

Through Project HOPE's Village Saving Fund(VSF) program we have been encouraging caregivers of young children to set up food gardens so that they can grow vegetables and fruit that will benefit their children. As planting season is almost upon us, last week we spent a couple of days clearing a piece of land that has been donated for us to use for gardening. As you can see from the pictures the place was a complete mess, full of trash, but we cleared it all and are in the process of preparing the land for planting.

As an experiment, we are preparing a keyhole garden, which has been designed to be placed in areas with little available space and can continuously grow a variety of crops. Using manure and vegetable peels, fruit, husks etc this garden will be able to grow enough food to support a small family. The picture to the right is the outline of one, and the second picture is of one that I did earlier to show you how productive it can be.

We are also going to experiment breeding worms, to decompose organic matter so that we can use the by-products to enrich the soil thus making it more productive. There will be the potential then to market and sell the compost and liquid fertiliser that is produced further benefiting the women in the VSF groups.

I will follow this post up in a few weeks time when we have planted our crops so you can see how the garden is progressing.