June 2016

Alerta Verde teaches children how to create a wonderful garden

The Alerta Verde Foundation is an organization focusing on environmental education. After six years of working on the same topics under a different name, it was legally established in 2012. They teach children how to cultivate vegetables and fruit so they learn how to eat healthy. Alerta Verde does this at many elementary schools in Cochabamba, usually five in a year. Arnold Brouwer is the founder of this great project

By: Melanie Hazenberg
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Hilversum – The Netherlands

Photo by: Melanie Hazenberg

In 2006 and 2007, Arnold Brouwer started the first school garden project because he realized that there was not enough environmental education in Cochabamba. And now in 2016 there is a foundation dedicated to this work and it is still growing. Asides from his work at the foundation every Wednesday, Arnold Brouwer has a stall at the ecological market (ECO Feria) selling his home grown ecological produces. Twice a year there is also an information market in which Alerta Verde participates. Elementary schools visit this information market to learn about healthy food. For example, at the last market they would play a memory game where they had to find two of the same vegetables or pieces of fruit. They also answered questions and wrote the answers in their notebooks. At this market I had the chance to speak with Arnold Brouwer.

Photo by: Melanie Hazenberg

"More than 250 families have learned how to create a square foot garden."

School gardens

"In 2006, we started the first school garden project. That year we taught schoolchildren how to cultivate vegetables and create a garden at five different schools in the 'Zona Sur' in Cochabamba. We usually work with between four and seven new schools in this area every year. In the first year of the schools' participation, we teach three classes of children every week. The children will be divided in two groups. One group learns the theory of how to cultivate vegetables, while the other students learn the practical side on how to maintain a garden. Halfway through the class, the groups change. We teach those schools for one year. They get manuals made by Alerta Verde about the theory of vegetable growing; during the practical lessons, we grow those vegetables. When the vegetables are ready, we make a salad from the harvest and the children can bring additional ingredients. In the following year, we donate a variety of seeds at the beginning of the school year. The children are very enthusiastic about the classes. Sometimes parents tell us that their children finally eat vegetables at lunchtime due to our classes. That is great to hear!" In addition to children, Alerta Verde also teaches families how to maintain a garden. Through this project, the entire family learns how to create a great garden full of delicious vegetables.

Photo by: Melanie Hazenberg

After a year

"After we have given classes to the students for a year, they have to do it by themselves. That is in the end the goal of Alerta Verde. After the first year of classes, we hand out seed packages to the elementary schools at the start of the following school year. We also offer a reduced number of guest lecturers in order to be able to give some additional support."

Photo by: Melanie Hazenberg

The future of Alerta Verde

Despite that Alerta Verde has reached many schools and families, they are not sure about what the future will bring. Alerta Verde can mainly exist through all the Dutch sponsors. Unfortunately, every time it is harder to get new funding. The budget for the charity in The Netherlands has changed and its focus and Latin America is no longer priority. "We are urgently searching for new sponsors," Brouwer said. These financial problems are making the future of Alerta Verde uncertain. "At the moment, there are only two persons working within the Alerta Verde foundation. We also do not have any volunteers right now. I would love to have two additional employees, but that is just not possible right now."

Photo by: Melanie Hazenberg

Future plans

Because there are only two people working for Alerta Verde at this moment, there is little time to think about future plans and strategies. Most of the time Arnold Brouwer and his employee Erika are just too busy with the daily chores of the school garden project. "A lot of schools are full of enthusiasm about our project, but they do not realize what is the real cost of a project like this." In the future, Brouwer would like to have more certainty about the finances. "I would like to have more stability with a financed project plan for several years."

The results of the last years

The school garden project has achieved many good results. Since the start of the first project , they have been able to work on a regular basis with 40 schools. There are more than 250 families who have learned how to create a square foot garden (an urban gardening model). Hopefully, despite the uncertainties, Alerta Verde will be able to continue with their good work.

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