Issue - August 2007

August 2007

In this issue, Amy Pollock reviews the successes of Arnold Brower’s school garden project, while Lucy Witter talks with the rector of an English school enrolling impoverished students; we hear form Save the Children about their reconciliation programme after the Cochabamba riots in more...

August 2007

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

From beetroots to radishes, from lettuce to beans, Arnold Brouwer’s School Garden Project is bursting into life. Amy Pollock finds out more.

By: Amy Pollock
Projects Abroad - Volunteer
Kent - United Kingdom

As we drove through the dusty and rather bleak outskirts of the south of Cochabamba, it was hard to believethat a school garden project could survive the harsh dry Bolivian winter. However, my doubts were proved wrong as the Cocha-banner visited the competing schools of Arnold’s Huertos Educativos (school garden) project over four cold days at the beginning of June. At the participating schools, we were not only greeted by flourishing vegetable gardens, but also evidence of a real commitment to the project. At each school, dozens of eager children welcomed us enthusiastically into their tidy and well-tended vegetable gardens. Regular readers of the Cocha-banner will remember Arnold’s own reports on these very pages over the last few months, detailing the progress of his project. In June, he invited the Cocha-banner along to view the students’ exhibitions, a significant part of the competition between the schools.

We were treated to an unusual combination of music, visual displays and the all-important taste test – traditional Bolivian dishes made with ingredients from the garden. There was also the option of trying some botanical remedies based on the produce from the garden, although this part of the exhibitions was definitely not as tasty as the delicious food!

First, however, a little bit about the man behind the project, and its history. Arnold Brouwer first came to Bolivia from the Netherlands in 2005 to complete an internship for his Masters degree in international land and water management, soil erosion and water conservation. While he was here, he became aware of similar school garden projects and became determined to return to start one of his own. Following months of research and proposal-writing back in the Netherlands, Arnold finally received major financial backing from international development charity, PLAN International, in the middle of August 2006.

This funding and support made the project possible, along with lesser assistance from another small Dutch foundation and three schools in the Netherlands. With the funding in place, the project officially started in September, with three schools enrolled in the year-long programme, and three Dutch schools following the progress of their Bolivian counterparts.

With the help of two Bolivian engineers and one university student completing her thesis with the project, Arnold got the Huertos Educativos project up and running. It was not all plain sailing, though. Of the initial three schools, the only ground available at the largest school was not suitable for cultivation, and the school subsequently left the project by the beginning of the summer vacation. However, this problem was overcome soon enough when two new schools were recruited in the New Year. Now, the project had surpassed its target of involving four hundred children – four hundred and fifty children have been involved in the project since.

The long summer vacation, which could have presented a problem for the maintenance of the school gardens, proved to be no hindrance at all, as the work continued with a group of fifteen students. They exhibited great enthusiasm in sustaining the gardens in their own free time and were rewarded with visits to San Simón University’s agricultural faculty, the botanical gardens and Cochabamba’s famous Cristo de la Concordia. To Arnold’s surprise, this was their first trip to the Cristo for some of the children. The school caretaker of the school in the district of Villa Israel took an interest and contributed by growing extra onions in an uncultivated part of the garden over the summer vacation.

Arnold’s aim in starting the Huertos Educativos project was to foster knowledge of growing vegetables in schoolchildren lacking the advantages of a healthy balanced diet in what are often difficult conditions. His background in water management was an enormous advantage to the project. The project integrates practical knowledge with classroom-based teaching that included mathematics and language teaching – a truly comprehensive educational project. The schools were offered incentives in the form of a competition; prizes were computers and printers.

The awarding of the prizes depended on a continuous evaluation by Arnold and his team. Not only were the garden themselves subject to surprise inspections, the originality of the gardens was assessed, and the harvest appraised, but this, combined with a test for the children, the checking of their written work and also the opinions of the Dutch schoolchildren taken into account, determined the final winner. Another important aspect of the project has been the connection with the Dutch schools; when he first came to Bolivia, Arnold felt as though he had entered another world, totally different to the Netherlands, and he wanted to share this with his fellow countrymen. Arnold and his team are keen to show other parts of the world what can be done with few resources and real commitment.

Arnold’s future plans for the project include, most importantly, securing funding for another year, or longer. As he points out, if just one of the schools manages to continue with the project for another four years, the number of children shaped by this project in Bolivia will have doubled. With funding for a longer period, he can better ensure the success of the project and recruit more schools to the programme. More pragmatically, he has in place plans to diversify by planting ornamental gardens after the winter vacation is over. To diffuse the knowledge the children have acquired further, he wants to give seeds to all the children in the schools to grow at home once the rainy season starts at the end of November. In this way, they can literally take their education home with them to the rest of their family – an admirable aim for the project.

Having visited all four of the school gardens, it is clear that some schools have done better than others. The quality of the presentations, the enthusiasm of both children and teachers and the state of the gardens themselves tell the tale without words. Arnold himself attributes the success of some schools over others to a better working relationship and commitment between the teachers, the school director, the school caretakers, the school’s board of governors and the parents of the students. He cites a comment made by the director of the Carlos Medinacelli School that the Huertos Educativos project had been an education for her teachers and had even inspired her to produce something similar in her own garden.

This is a project that has touched the lives of four hundred and fifty children in Bolivia alone and even produced edible vegetables under tight constraints: a remarkable achievement for its director Arnold Brouwer.

Children and Youth ...
Save the Children is a non-profit institution here in Bolivia. The children’s rights based organization has been working in the country since 1985, and since then, has expanded its activities to every department in Bolivia....
read more ...

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