The People's Friend

Lisa Ashton explains the importance of the charity’s veg gardens.


THE Winnie Mabaso Foundation has an orphanage on the outskirts of Johannesbu­rg and also runs several projects on the informal settlement of Meriting.

“Over fifteen hundred people live on this camp, and the community is desperatel­y poor,” Lisa told us. “Families live in corrugated iron shack dwellings. There is no electricit­y, and water is collected from standpipes that are dotted around the settlement. Sanitation is minimal and up to twenty people can share an outside chemical toilet.

“Life is tough and unemployme­nt is rife, but the people in the community are incredibly resilient with smiles that light up the darkest of days.”

The Foundation has been running a feeding scheme for the community for several years, and whilst one cannot underestim­ate the importance of this, Lisa wanted to find a more sustainabl­e solution to providing food.

“The community is enormously poor, but one thing they do have is the most wonderful, fertile soil. It suddenly struck me one day that if we could enable the community to grow their own produce, they wouldn’t have to rely on us feeding them.

“A bit like that wellknown Chinese proverb – give a man a fish and you feed him for day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Lisa met with the community and asked them if they would like to learn how to grow their own vegetables and they unanimousl­y agreed.

“What we have found is that the vegetable gardening project is not only relieving hunger, it’s also restoring dignity as the community are able to provide food for themselves and their families.”

Readers of “The People’s Friend” generously sent in donations last year following Lisa’s appearance in the magazine, which

enabled the Foundation to buy a worm farm to assist with its gardening scheme.

“The worm farm which the ‘Friend’ readers provided has enabled us to make our own nutrient-rich liquid fertiliser which makes the plants grow beautifull­y! We have planted almost seventy individual veggie gardens to date.

“It has been truly amazing to see how these little gardens have made such a huge difference to the community. The camp even looks different, with lush veggies growing all over the place. It’s a fabulous sight to see members of the community helping each other to water their plants or swopping tips and ideas. I’m sure even Monty Don would be proud of them!”

Some of the community have even taken to selling their veg or exchanging it for much-needed items. One lady named Peace regularly swaps some of her carrots and beetroot for candles and paraffin.

“We have no electricit­y so we need candles at night to provide light and I use paraffin in a small stove to cook for my family,” she told Lisa.

Children who live on the settlement also have their own veggie garden.

“It’s so important that children learn about gardening from a young age and then they will have these skills for the rest of their lives,” Lisa said.

“The children help to plant the seeds, they water them and when the vegetables are ready they take them home to share with their families. The children get so excited when they see what they have grown themselves.”

Lisa has had to learn some tough lessons along the way.

“We were so proud of our very first newly planted veggie garden, but when we returned everything had been eaten by the chickens who wander around the settlement! We discovered early on that in order to plant a garden we had to ensure we had a small fence around it first.”

The Foundation’s gardening scheme is going from strength to strength. The community has recently been given a large polytunnel so they will be able to grow their seeds throughout the whole year.

“Many assume the climate is always hot in Africa,” Lisa told us, “but whilst daytime temperatur­es are generally always mild, at night it can drop as low as minus three degrees, so the polytunnel will enable us to ensure our little seedlings are given the very best of chances to grow and will mean more community members will benefit from their own little veggie gardens.” n

Next week, we learn about the work done by the Foundation’s orphanage.

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