Teaching healthy living one plot at a time
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug. 18 -- NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Every evening after finishing his homework, Matolo Musyimi works to prove an old proverb that leadership does not depend on age.
Inspired by a school program called "Healthy Learning," the 14-year-old has taken classroom lessons to a roadside patch of land near his home adjacent to a shopping center.
Matolo tends his own vegetable garden, growing maize, beans and kale. Undeterred by a lack of family land and a shortage of free time, he started his little income-generating enterprise using skills and concepts taught at the Kathiani Primary School.
Healthy learning is an experiment at 25 model schools in five arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya. Its goal is to encourage small projects that promote practical learning and improve students’ health. Projects include a kitchen garden for growing vegetables to supplement school meals, beekeeping, water harvesting, fruit orchards and agroforestry. And Matolo's garden.
“Matolo is very hard working both at school and at home," said Xavier John, the school's head teacher. "With this kind of garden, his family cannot lack vegetables. In the future when he owns his own farm, he will be able to manage it well.”
Matolo started his garden in March. The head teacher distributed leftover seeds from the school garden to teachers and pupils to try out at home and Matolo immediately saw the potential benefits.
“I started my garden so that I can help my family," he said, "We not only get enough to eat but we also sell what is in excess. In a day, I get between 50 and 100 shillings ($0.65-$1.30), which we use to satisfy other needs.I also buy myself books and pens, which I use in school. God has really helped me."
Not only Matolo has benefited from healthy learning; his teachers too have found the program useful.
The school's income goal from the sale of produce from its garden is the equivalent of almost $2,000. One-third would be set aside to fund an educational trip for the students.
Teachers said the monetary profit was not the only way the program is helping the school.
“Healthy learning has made teaching more practical since I use local examples from the school garden. My pupils understand what I am talking about since they can see it”, said Rehema Mutiso, who teaches science and is also in charge of healthy learning at the school.
Transfer of knowledge to surrounding communities, she said, is another essential aspect of healthy learning.
“I lead a group in our church. I showed the group how to plant vegetables on sacks and they have planted kale and spinach in their homes,” she said. "Most of our pupils come from Kathiani shopping center, where they have no gardens. Showing them how to plant vegetables on cut tires and sacks will ensure they too practice healthy learning at home. This way they can eat well and stay healthy.”
With progress, however, came some setbacks. An attempt to vandalize storage tanks required relocation to an old classroom, now called the water house. A watermelon project succumbed to bad weather. In contrast, kale and tomatoes were doing well.
The program is also helping the school's unit for children with special needs. That unit plans to grow bananas for those children to supplement school meals and to ensure their continued good health.