By Dr. John Philip, Chair of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors and Member of the Rotary Club of Newbury, United Kingdom
The island of Ukerewe in Lake Victoria, Tanzania is only accessible by a three and half hour ferry journey from the mainland town of Mwanza. The island’s 350,000 residents are subsistence farmers and fishermen and live on the edge of poverty.
Most of the island’s school children walk long distances on empty stomachs to get to school each day. They are lucky to have something to eat when they get home after school.
Three years ago, with the help of local farmers and the Rotary Club of Nansio in Tanzania, I teamed up with my wife Chris to establish environmental clubs in three schools on the island. The project aimed to inspire and empower children to engage in preserving and protecting their environment and learning sustainable farming methods which would benefit them in the long-term when they eventually become farmers.
Following a period of training, the students were given farming tools, watering cans, fertilisers, pesticides and a variety of seeds. The students and teachers worked outside school time and transformed many unused sections of their school compounds to grow cereal crops such as maize and sorghum as well as a variety of vegetables such as egg plants, spinach and amaranths.
The first harvest was used to provide breakfast for the entire school. The second harvest was used for the same and some produce was sold to generate funds to buy pencils, rubber, paper and soap. It also helped them buy bags of sugar.
Each of the three schools also managed to establish a tree nursery – the total number of planted trees, which included fruit-bearing variations such as mango and papaya, exceeded 35,000. Training in agroforestry practices, use of green and farm yard manure, planting of cover crops, crop rotation, use of liquid manure and mulching were later extended to teachers and parents.
My wife Chris and I have visited the schools before, and were recently invited to have breakfast with students at one of the schools. Porridge was prepared on open wood fire under a tree planted by the students and at breakfast time, 1,400 students lined up to receive a mug of sweet porridge. This was the best breakfast ever for me. To share a mug of porridge with these children, who but for Rotary’s commitment, would have had nothing to eat, was a humbling experience.
The Headmaster, Lucas Mtani, said, “On behalf of my students, I thank Rotary. My students now receive breakfast three times a week, I get good attendance and have a bit of money to buy essential items for the school. When these children grow up they will remember you.”
My wife Chris said, “What a humbling experience it was to see 1,400 children line up in an orderly way to have a cup of hot, sweet porridge made from maize grown and cooked on the premises. The older children were so proud of their school garden and have obviously learned so much. That is why we have decided to scale up the project. to four more schools – seven in total. This will help each school feed its students three times a week during the school year – at the cost of GBP 1.20 per child per year and generate income for school items. This is Rotary magic – Rotary empowering local communities to help themselves.”
For me the project also had a very special outcome – I was privileged to induct the project manager Lydia Kamugisha as a new member into the Rotary Club of Nansio.
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