Community garden plants hope for refugees

Water from a World Vision-drilled borehole is providing refugees in northern Kenya with a place to produce their own food and forget about past hardships.

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A garden to feed generations

Nesadin proudly watches his father tend to a bountiful vegetable garden bursting with leafy cabbages, spinach, cucumbers, watermelons, sweet potato and more.

“He is the key holder. He opens the farm very early in the morning and closes it every day,” says 12-year-old Nesadin.

The communal garden project in a refugee settlement in Turkana, Kenya, is run by a total of 200 people – 170 refugees and 30 Kenyans. Nesadin and his 15-year-old older brother Nejmadin quickly announce that their father is producing more crops than any other garden member.

This spot is the refugee family’s pride. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Fleeing conflict in Sudan

Nesadin’s father, 54-year-old Muhammad fled attacks in Sudan with his 10 children. He took just one thing – a packet of seeds.

The family fled to the seemingly peaceful city of Juba. Two years later, Juba was a battleground. Muhammad was forced to flee once again. He packed up his family and the same packet of seeds.

In 2014, Muhammad and his family were registered as refugees in a Kenyan camp, with a population of 160,000. They moved into one of the brown mud-brick structures and his children enrolled in schools.

The hard bit for Muhammad? Not being able to work and provide his children with nutritious food, rather than the basic relief food they were handed out. After a month of sitting idly, Muhammad noticed the land surrounding the camp. It was overgrown, and didn’t seem to belong to anyone.

“I decided to cut the trees. I dug out all the roots that remained. My oldest sons helped. Then I hand-dug a well. I took those seeds, the ones I brought from Darfur, and they grew,” Muhammad says.

After a few months of diligent weeding and watering, the seeds turned into vibrant fields of okra and ombra – a green leafy vegetable like spinach.

Growing resilience

The family was quickly able to supplement their food rations of beans and corn-based flour with fresh vegetables. Seeds were traded with farmers in nearby towns, and he started to have fields that burst with sweet potatoes, corn, watermelon and much more.

Soon after, the drought hit hard. The Turkana area was one of the worst affected – hitting more than 3.5 million people.

Muhammad’s crops withered away. He was forced to abandon the land.

World Vision set to work earlier this year to install a 72-metre borehole with a solar generator which supplies water to three tanks holding 10,000 litres each.

To create a community garden, for which Muhammad is now the key holder, World Vision partnered with Action Africa Help-International (AAHI) who organized 200 refugee and host community members to share a 7-acre piece of land.

Agricultural Extension Officer for AAHI Esther Kebo says that the goal is to help refugees become more resilient with the hope that they will end their dependency on relief food and diversify their diet.

Set for success

The gardening group planted their first crops in early January 2017 with such success that the profits enabled group members to invest in a second-hand motorbike to bring their products to the marketplace.

Often, when his sons do not have school, they follow Muhammad to the garden and spend the day working there.

“We planted cucumber, tomatoes, and pumpkins. We stay the whole day as we assist to pour water on crops,”

“I like the food from our farm. I eat cowpeas, merenda (Jute Mallow), okra and watermelon, but I do not like pumpkin.” Nesadin says.

Once more, the family is eating meals with vegetables.

Health benefits and more

“They put a lot of nice stuff in the meals; I feel so nice when I eat such type of a meal. I have never been sick from the day I started eating this type of meal. I know the food has benefits like vitamins.” Nesadin says.

Muhammad’s sons hope that one day they’ll grow to be as skilled as their father is in the garden – a seed he planted long ago. 

You could help to make it all happen

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