Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Sabina Permaculture Garden at the heart of school and community life.

Contributed by Prue Gill, a great friend of the teachers and children at Sabina Primary Boarding School. Prue's experience is as an elementary, secondary, and tertiary teacher in Australia, and as a Board Member of the Stephanie Alexander Foundation, which brings Kitchen Garden Programs into Australian primary schools. Prue's passion for teaching and teachers, for children, and for gardening and good food, have intersected at Sabina. We thank you Prue, and can't wait to see you again soon in Uganda!

"Recently I had the good fortune to return to Sabina Boarding School to spend some time with teachers talking about the implementation of the Permaculture Curriculum that a group of teachers at the school have devised. This curriculum is aimed particularly for children in Primary years 4, 5 and 6, but it will influence what happens in all classes at the school, and in the kitchen of the home.

The aim of the curriculum is to balance the good work that has been done at Sabina on developing the academic side of school learning, with an equal emphasis on developing valuable vocational and life skills for the children. The hope is that every child who comes to this school will be able to live a meaningful life, and produce food, even in the absence of ‘professional employment’.

We also aim to share the benefits of the garden with the whole school community, including the families and guardians of children who attend the school. We want to produce a varied array of fruits and vegetables for all to share, to spread skills and love for permaculture principles and ethics, and also to use the garden as a site for hands on learning across the academic disciplines. Much of the valuable work in producing food for the kitchen is now being done by children, led of course by the wonderful James Kalokola and Anna Kisakye Nakibinge, the students of the Permaculture Club and the class teachers.

It is inspiring to see how teachers at the school have embraced the garden, appreciating its beauty as well as its productivity. In the time that I was there, we explored the opportunities a garden creates to think imaginatively about teaching and learning, and we came up with a concept that places the garden at the heart of the education offered by Sabina school.

Using the beautiful garden as central to learning, we talked of it as the basis for:

· Educating children in life skills – useful knowledge

· Food and water security – leading to healthy communities

· Educating children to shape their future – democratic citizenship

· Global responsibility and sustainability – caring for our planet

· Disciplinary and academic development - including literacy and numeracy and the skills required to perform well in national testing, as well as science, agriculture, the arts, the humanities

· Thematic and interdisciplinary learning – including problem solving and integration of theory and practice

· Opportunities for children with a range of learning styles – hands on learning, co-operative learning, differentiated tasks

· Improved diet and well being of children - hence optimising potential to learn

· Building positive links with the community through opportunities for sharing produce, running short courses for parents and guardians, inviting others in – including local and district schools

Teachers are now working on the many ways they will integrate permaculture and national curriculums. Think for example of the ‘problem’ of the chickens. The home has 70 hens which are laying about 60 eggs a day. Children are given an egg a week, other eggs are used in the kitchen, and surplus eggs are being sold in the village of Ssanje. This earns a little money that is put back into the garden. But chicken food is expensive, and we need to know whether our chicken project is cost effective? Here is a research question that can be given to senior primary students to work on together.Such research would involve counting eggs, developing a system of record keeping, drawing graphs, costing the regular expenses of chickens, charting the income from eggs, even ‘accounting’ in some way for the improved well being of children. It could require a written report at the end, maybe with illustrations.

The audience for the report would be diverse - James as manager of the FWS project, Margaret Kasekende as CEO of Children of Uganda, perhaps even the Children of Uganda Board. Such a research project would offer opportunity for learners of all kinds to draw some conclusions about a question that is very important for the organisation. It would put literacy and numeracy skills to good use, and children might even be involved in presenting the data orally in a formal way.

Our next step is to develop a beautiful poster which encapsulates this idea of the place of the garden in the life of the school and community. This can be placed in each classroom, in the kitchen, and shared with other community members and schools. It will act as a visual representation of our philosophy, and something to be proud of."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Growing a Better Tomorrow: A Sustainable Plan for our Future

Over 10 million people in the Horn of Africa and East Africa are struggling to survive in the driest period on record in 60 years. Very poor rainfall has led to crop failures and livestock deaths in the region, which in turn has resulted in rising food prices in an already unstable economic environment.

Our hearts go out to the children and families across East Africa who are facing severe malnutrition and economic strife as a result of this current crisis.

At Sabina Primary School we are making continued strides in our Food and Water Security (FWS) program to help safeguard our kids from the devastating effects of drought and food shortage.A mere three years ago, we introduced the concept of permaculture (permanent agriculture) to our staff at Sabina with the intention of giving them the tools to grow more of our own food, store more water, teach the children sustainable agriculture skills, and move towards food and water security at our school.

Our staff took up the challenge, in spades! We now have fruit trees producing mangoes, jackfruit, avocadoes, and pawpaw for our children. Thanks to new water tanks that store wet season rain, our gardens also produce potatoes, carrots, beets, pumpkins, eggplants and other vegetables that add valuable nutrition to the school's staple diet of posho (corn-basedporridge) and beans. Our chickens, too, are contributing: eggs are now a weekly addition to the children's diet, with surplus eggs sold on the local market (where their bright yellow yolks set them apart).

But, perhaps the most vital crop reaped is the garden's new role as a learning tool, which sprang from the participation of seven of our teachers in a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course held at our school in 2010. Those seven teachers have since drafted a new curriculum in partnership with the Department of Education that will integrate our permaculture-based garden into every classroom subject - sciences, math, arts, reading and writing, as well as agriculture. Indeed, the Department of Education has proposed using our school as a model for experiential learning - taking the children out of the classroom and into the garden for hands-on activities. (How many ways can you cut up a jackfruit to get one-half: two quarters; four eighths; one quarter and two eighths - so much easier to see a fraction when you have your hands on it - and get to eat it at the end of class!)

We are so proud of our teachers and our students. Their energy levels are up in so many ways: proof in the pudding that good nutrition grows the body and the mind!

Please stay tuned for news from Prue Gill, the Australian teacher and Board Member of the Stephanie Alexander Foundation. Prue is working alongside Sabina's teachers to bring our Food and Water Security program alive in our classrooms.

Posted by Jan Smart, Vice Chair (Programs), Board of Directors, Children of Uganda

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Permaculture progresses at Sabina

“Start with the little that you know and learn more from doing” (a guiding principle for new Permaculture managers at Sabina)

Sabina pupils harvest maize 
With this principle at the back of our mind I, (James Kalokola, FWS Assistant Program Manager) and Anna (FWS worker), assisted by teachers and staff at Sabina have been hard at work in the gardens. We have followed permaculture principles, including: stacking, multiple uses, and companion planting.

In the background of the photo above, you can see the school buildings. Water falling on the rooves is collected in the gutters and stored in the rainwater tanks. The collected water is used to water the vegetables, as drinking water for the chickens and in dry spells is used by the kitchen.

Sabina pupils harvest maize

Sabina pupils help prepare harvested maize for cooking
As well as the vegetables that are grown to improve the nutrition level of the lunch meal, a main crop is pineapples, enjoyed greatly by both pupils and staff. Maize uses the vertical space and ground nuts fix nitrogen, which is one of the nutrients required by the pineapple. Climbing beans on stands increase vertical yield without shading the pineapples, and they also fix nitrogen.

Sabina pupils enjoying maize from the permaculture gardens
 Anna and pupils harvest maize

Older COU students volunteer
Nyero Christopher and Yiga Tom have been volunteering at FWS during their form four vacation. These young men give us hope that there the new generation in Uganda will lead meaningful lives. They have volunteered of their own accord. This is the spirit of giving and hard work that we would like to inculcate in children. We would like them to think ahead to their survival after school. These two young men are now studying at Butende Technical Institute, continuing to improve their skills in construction. With so many skills under their belts they will undoubtedly do well after school.

Anna and Yiga Tom harvest eggplants

Yiga and Tom harvest according to a schedule of vegetable supply to the kitchen

Yiga and Nyero make their way to the kitchen after ‘shopping’, not from a distant market but from the Sabina permaculture vegetable market, a market that supplies toxin free vegetables

Yiga, Nyero and James demarcating an access path in the new banana plantation. Banana is a favourite food of children from central Uganda.
Sabina pupils eat popcorn made from maize grown at Sabina

Vegetable  garden  with maize  sukuma wiki,  spinach  amaranthus  and climber beans. There is increased yield as a result of using  the vertical space and appropriate selection of companions.  The garden is fertilised with compost made on site.

A wheel barrow contains cabbages sent as part of a vegetable package sent to Kiwanga

During Christmas season it is the time to receive gifts from loved ones, a time when even the poor who cannot afford a good meal most days give gifts, using money from dear ones, or accumulated over time in preparation for the festive season. And so it was with FWS, which sent  a Christmas package of vegetables  and fresh beans to children with no known relatives celebrating the holiday together at Kiwanga, which is also home to Philip’s House.
Yiga, together with Kenedy, a Sabina staff member, pack fresh beans from FWS to be sent to Kiwanga.
The woodlot
This woodlot, a FWS project, consists of approximately 24,000 eucalypts. Children of Uganda will save money spent on firewood, an expense that strains its coffers. The woodlot will also generate income for Children of Uganda by through the sale of excess fire wood or poles. The money saved and generated can be used to improve the welfare of children.

Juvenile eucalypts in the Sabina woodlot
This is what we have for you on our blog now. Keep visiting it for many more updates. And we hope to see you at Sabina one day to witness permaculture activities.
James Kalokola, Assistant FWS Program Manager

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moving forward with food and water security at Sabina

James Kalokola, Assistant Program Manager, Sabina Food and Water Security

My name is James Kalokola and I am the Assistant Program Manager at the permaculture project at Sabina, which has been renamed: Sabina Food and Water Security, or FWS for short.

About me and my journey to permaculture
My journey to FWS and permaculture started when I spotted an advertisement for the position of program assistant with FWS. I applied, hopeful that my qualifications and experience in agriculture would get me to the interview stage. To my pleasure I was shortlisted and, after an interview with representatives from Children of Uganda as well officials from the Rakai District Agriculture Department, I was chosen for the job.

But I don’t want to call this just a ‘job’ – it is much more than this for me. I’m passionate about the aims of this project and the values it represents, and I’m committed to improving it and achieving the best outcomes possible.

As a holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in conservation biology, I met the qualification requirements for the position. But I think that what is perhaps just as important is that I was born into and raised in a family that not only practices agriculture but values it, something which is unfortunately not always the case in modern Uganda where the lure of the city is strong. My training and my additional part-time work as a teacher at a local agricultural high school has also given me considerable experience interacting with students and the community.

Permaculture enters my world
To be frank, before I was appointed to this position in January 2010,  the word ‘permaculture’ was not part of my vocabulary. The first time I heard it was when I met Jan Smart, Vice Chair (Programs) of Children of Uganda Board of Directors, to discuss the position. Jan introduced me to Dan Palmer, an Australian volunteer who was one of the designers of the original permaculture site plan. Dan is a softly-spoken man. After greeting me, he asked a question of me: “Have you ever heard of Permaculture?”. I knew immediately I was in the hands of a good teacher. I replied immediately: “No”.
Then Dan said simply and quietly, “It is permanent agriculture“, and stopped there, leaving me wondering . He knew instinctively that I would be intrigued.

I left the meeting full of curiosity, determined to investigate further and leave no stone unturned in my quest to understand the concept. When I got back to my home town of Kyotera in Rakai district, I jumped on the internet and did some research. Oh my, what a lot of information on permaculture there was. But I still did not dream that this new word would be such a crucial part of my role at Sabina. And the idea that someday I might even start to teach it was not even on my horizon of thought.

Learning about permaculture
Attending the January 2010 Permaculture Design Course at Sabina School was really the turning point in my journey from conservation biologist to permaculturist. This was the first Permaculture Design Course ever held in Uganda and I attended along with 50 other participants from different corners of the world, including Kenya, Tanzania, Canada, Australia, and the UK. You can read more about this course here and in earlier posts in this blog, including this one.

The main instructor was Rosemary Morrow, a world famous permaculture practitioner and teacher based in Australia. Her teaching colleagues were Dan Palmer, Amanda Cuyler, Lindsay Dozoretz, Claudia and Rachael Otuyar. Rachel is an African lady who works on a farmer-extension project in Kenya run along conservation farming lines. Her knowledge of permaculture came from her time working at St Judes, an organic farming training site in the Masaka district close to Sabina. St Judes is designed along permaculture principles,

On the first day of the course, Rosemary Morrow introduced the concept of permaculture  and explained its origins and context. As the course progressed, my understanding of permaculture kept expanding and changing, as we moved from topic to topic. At one point, I saw it as ecology, at another I understood it as organic farming, and then further as physical planning , disaster management, and much more. This segmented understanding continued until the final days of the course, when it all started to come together holistically.

In a way, my initial disjointed understanding of permaculture is instructive. Permaculture does indeed have many disciplines embedded in it. All the topics and approaches above are part and parcel of permaculture. The confusion I faced is one that I suspect anybody new to the field of permaculture would be likely to succumb to .

I now realise that the ‘ingredients’  of  permaculture can be found in other areas of knowledge, but the way they are presented creates a unique style of designing and living, which I would urge anybody to venture into. But  I have one word of caution, based on my own short but intense experience of permaculture: once you decide to investigate, you will end up digging into it deeper and deeper.

A word of thanks
Though my professional background helped me adopt permaculture practices, I would also like to thank all the permaculturalists who have been involved in FWS, including: Rosemary Morrow, Dan Palmer, Amanda Cuyler, Mike Cloutier, Ralph Skerra, Kim Glasgow, Clive Mullett, Michele Sabto and Andy Trevillian, Cameron Cross and Symmone Gordon, and of course Jan Smart.

Stay tuned to find out all about recent progress at FWS. New posts will be up very shortly!

James Kalokola, FWS Assistant Program Manager