“This project has brought me so much joy and peace of mind and has given us a chance to live a healthier life,” says 24-year-old Sanjeevani Wijekoon who is a member of the Health and Nutrition Committee established through the ACCEND project. She lives in the Kumbukanda Grama Niladari Division of the Wilgamuwa Divisional Secretariat along with her parents, husband and one-year-old son. Sanjeevani was discovered as a potential beneficiary for the Nutritional Home Gardens (NHG) activity because her son was identified to be undernourished.
Sanjeevani was distraught when both her parents were diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown origin (CKDu), high blood pressure and cholesterol. A disease that is endemic among rural farming communities around the North Central region of Sri Lanka, CKDu poses a threat to many unsuspecting individuals in Wilgamuwa where farming is a way of life. Upon discovering the implications of these lifestyle associated conditions, Sanjeevani realized the importance of healthy living. She initially started home gardening at the back of her house with no knowledge of organic gardening techniques, but through the Nutritional Home Gardening trainings conducted by the ACCEND project she gained valuable insight and skills which made a significant change in her life.
NHG trainings are conducted in order to improve the nutritional status of the family by increasing access to the quality and quantity of foods that are safe and nutritious. Thus far, the trainings have covered several essential topics such as: soil preparation and preservation methods, landscaping, water management (especially during drought), indigenous plant varieties, seed preservation, organic pest control, and fertilizer preparation.
These trainings enabled Sanjeevani to identify problems associated with organic home gardens and equipped her with practical and effective solutions to overcome them. Sanjeevani did her best to apply all that she had learnt from the trainings and therefore reaped the fruits of her diligence. She has not only been able to provide all the daily nutritional needs of her family through the produce of her home garden but has also been able to sell its excess. According to Sanjeevani, they do not purchase vegetables and greens anymore which ensued an abrupt decrease in the household expenditure. In addition, she has grown different varieties of traditional plants which are primarily being cultivated for seed preservation and its spread within the community.
The dry season poses a great challenge to home gardens in these areas due to the dire lack of water. However, amidst numerous difficulties she has been able to successfully maintain her NHG by using the drip irrigation method and diligent wastewater management methods.
The NHG program gave her entire family an opportunity to work together and contribute to the growth of her garden. “Every morning, the garden is the first place I go to and it brings me so much peace and joy all throughout the day. Even when I am angry with a family member, I just walk into our garden and feel so much better,” says Sanjeevani.
Sanjeevani’s influence has preceded herself and she has gained wide recognition in the community because of her home garden. She is not only a stay-at-home mother but has also blossomed into a frontrunner who can impact change in the community. She has influenced many non-beneficiaries to start NHGs in their homes as well. The Principal of the Kumbukanda Primary School, which is located opposite to her house and the local midwife have sought her advice for their gardens. People from all over the village visit her home garden and to purchase her produce. She also shares the knowledge gained through the trainings with her neighbours and has also convinced them to join the program. Furthermore, she took part in a competition organized by the Department of Agrarian Development and was placed third. Her husband and parents support her endeavours and express pride in her achievements.
Sanjeevani hopes to eventually develop her nutritional home garden, add beekeeping and a few more layers, advocate and create awareness on the importance of healthy eating, and provide organic vegetables and greens to the community on a larger scale. ‘I really appreciate the initiative taken by ADRA and Oxfam through the ACCEND project to promote NHG among the people of our community. The trainings conducted through the ACCEND project broadened my knowledge about nutritional home gardening, I learnt so many things that I never knew before. This has had a very positive effect on me and my family. I’m really thankful for it,’ says Sanjeevani.