The elementary school property rings with the sounds of children playing. Three hundred and forty children can make quite a happy din. Gina sits with a smile while the daily commotion swirls through the hallways and around the grounds. Gina’s job is to help make sure the children are as active and engaged as possible. As the school’s nutritionist, she ensures this through the school feeding program.
In 2018, leaders of the EMBRACE project approached Gina’s school with an idea to support its feeding program. EMBRACE, which stands for Enhance Mother, Newborn, and Child Health in Remote Areas through Health Care and Community Engagement, is a CA$26 million (US$20.7 million) program administered through a co-funding agreement between the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Canada and the Canadian government, through the office of Global Affairs Canada.
Since 2017, the EMBRACE project has worked to save the lives of mothers and children from preventable deaths in Rwanda, Cambodia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. One of the threats to young children in these countries is malnutrition. To lower malnutrition rates, Gina’s school in the Philippines partnered with EMBRACE to establish a school garden.
This school garden is not a minor experiment temporarily conducted by a class or two. It is large and lush, flourishing with home-grown crops. It is bountiful enough to feed the school’s 340 students and some of the community residents. It is also sustainable, as seeds from half of the plants are preserved for future plantings.
The caretakers are students from grades 4 to 6, and the garden acts as a science and life skills lab.
“The garden allows them to do practical work, to identify the tools and plants, to immerse themselves in the garden,” Gina explained. “They aren’t only learning from books; they’re also learning by experience.”
Students learn to plant and to harvest, to start seedlings, and to preserve seeds. They will carry this knowledge and experience with them throughout their lives and even teach it to their children.
The school’s staff had long ago abandoned indigenous vegetables in favor of packed, processed foods.“None of the teachers or students knew the vegetables that were introduced in the garden,” Gina said. After watching and learning about the growth cycle of each plant, however, the students and their teachers were able to quickly identify them and their nutritional value. With a beaming smile, Gina added that the garden has made everyone very happy. “They’ve come to know indigenous fruits and vegetables. There is a song that everyone can sing about vegetables. No one knew what those vegetables were. But now, with this garden, they can see what those vegetables are.”
The garden is not only for the school. Community members are allowed to come and observe all facets of gardening, from planting to harvesting. They can also receive seeds so they can start a home garden of their own.
Although the EMBRACE partnership has ended, the school garden and seed saving continue at Gina’s school. The knowledge and skills shared through the project continue to make a positive difference in the lives of the teachers, students, and community members.
“It’s been a big help for the community and the school,” Gina said. Several of the community members echo her gratitude, and the smiles of the children speak volumes. “We appreciate the support we received for this truly life-changing work!”