Sowing gardens — and hope for a brighter future

A school garden may seem like a small thing 
but it can make a powerful difference

This is the story of Jimboy. He is my friend from the Philippines — one of the 100 million people who live on the nation’s 300,000 square kilometres of islands. And he is making a difference.

Jimboy lives in the Tagoloan region which is 19 kilometres from the capital. It is largely an agricultural area producing rice, corn, coconuts, mango, peanuts, banana and papaya. The average working wage is between $1 and $4 per day.

Teachers earn $297 per month and are considered well paid, but public schools are poorly funded and education is only mandatory to Grade 6. School days that start at 7:30 a.m. and last until 5 p.m. make for tired and hungry students. Not everyone has enough to eat.

Jimboy has a master’s degree in environmental science and technology but jobs are tough to get. He landed a job teaching junior high school, but Jimboy had a dream to define himself and in a population of 100,000,000 that is not an easy task. What he did was take his love of agriculture and his education and combine them by creating food gardens at the schools.

This is not your average food garden, but one that is specific for the needs of the students. Travelling with a nurse, the nutritional needs of the children are evaluated and the garden is created accordingly. One area may have access to protein while another may not and that influences planting.

His program has been a great success and the engaged students are responsible for the care of the gardens. Their health is monitored, and their lives improve and the demand grows. Jimboy now works in several schools and with an Agricultural Department to encourage dialogue between villages and schools.

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He obtained permission to travel and visited Toronto and quickly bought a hat and gloves — at the airport — to survive the cold. We met in Cuba, where we shared a three-week learning experience in permaculture. He is a quiet and polite man who is full of surprises. As there is so little in Cuba and this is a situation that is familiar to him, I recall him being very creative. As we developed permaculture sites with the Cuban urban dwellers and farmers, Jimboy knew how to both handle the heat and the shortage of supplies. Starting plants was no problem as he took compost and wrapped it neatly in banana leaves filling each cup with a coffee plant seed. No tools or plastic required.

Jimboy addressed me as ‘Ma’am Brenda,’ and we chatted regularly about his work and beliefs. He said he feels he can never do enough: “I think I need to exert more effort as an advocate for what I believe would be right in the community, in school and to my country.” It is this level of passion that keeps him moving beyond his regional boarders to bring gardens to many schools.

A small amount goes a long way and Canadian money bought him a little motorbike. Something so simple changes the life of a man in a country such as the Philippines. The motorized wheels allow for him to go to more schools, teach more classes and have a greater involvement with the Department of Agriculture. It makes him a rich man because he can earn income through accessing teaching positions or getting supplies from one area to the other.

In my mind, it is the Jimboys of the world who are driving change.

I know he did not just buy a John Deere tractor and six sections of land but he did likely keep enough kids fed so that they could learn that day — and more importantly educated them on how to feed themselves.

The world is a series of small farms from tiny plot to flower pot. Creative and innovative ways are springing up to use small spaces, pots, roofs, boxes, old boots and grandma’s hat into food-bearing vessels. It is this creativity that we must cultivate and support in children. It does not take more than a handful of goodness from the ground to change the day in the life of a child from hungry to happy and that in turn keeps kids in school and builds community.

Jimboy might not know he is an important guy and that his work will change the life of a child, but I do. I like that he approaches his work with joy and that he is always on the lookout for a new idea or technology that will contribute to his community. As he weaves his bike through heavy traffic, another school waits for their garden of hope that will be sown with the seeds of possibility.

About the author

AF Columnist

Brenda Schoepp

Brenda Schoepp works as an international mentor and motivational speaker. She can be contacted through her website at www.brendaschoepp.com. All rights reserved.

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