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Hope in Crops Project: Making Schools Green and Helping Fight Hunger
Students of St. Anne’s Mundulu primary school in Kenya welcoming UUSC visitors.
Students of Isecheno primary school performing a poem about tree planting.
The ability to bring environmental conservation, learning, and hunger reduction together was what stood out to me about the Hope in Crops project as we traveled around the Kakamega district of Kenya. We got a firsthand look at the project during our recent site visit to the area.
UUSC's partner the SoilFarm Multi-Culture Group (SFMG) is the initiator of the Hope in Crops (HIC) project, which is funded by UUSC's carbon-offset program. The mission of the SFMG is to protect and conserve the environment, in particular the Kakamega Rain Forest in Kenya. Their work began over two decades ago when the government was trying to turn the forest into a tea and coffee plantation.
Years later, SFMG still makes protection of the forest and its environment their main goal. As part of that, they are making primary schools located around the forest green and changing the lives of community women in the area. They aim to make schoolchildren lovers of their environment before they become teenagers. The strategy, which combines planting trees and farming food crops, is ingenious: children plant tree seedlings at their schools, homes, and family farms alongside seeds for food crops like maize, cassava, and potatoes, all supplied to them free by SFMG. And the strategy is working!
We started our tour of the schools with a visit to Isecheno primary school, where the project has been in place for five years. The head teacher, Peter, told us that the tree seedlings and seeds for food crops that HIC supplied have provided food for the students and helped beautify the environment. They have planted more than 1,200 trees at the school, and the crops provide good nutrition for the students, particularly the orphans.
The students of the school were very delighted to see us. They welcomed us with dances and poems on the importance of trees. Though many of the students wore no sandals because they could not afford them, their love for planting trees and their appreciation for the HIC project overshadowed that. They dug holes and asked us to plant trees. They also recited a poem about tree planting titled "Conservation Is Our Concern." It was very moving.
At St. Anne's Mundulu primary school, head teacher James Atsenga was all praises for the HIC project. "SFMG has opened our eyes through the program. We have seen a lot of benefits in the areas of the health, sanitation, and food for the children. We fully own the program, and the compound is environmentally friendly. Education officers came, and they were impressed by the environmental conditions of the school. In addition, the population of the school has increased since the project began; we now have about 800 students."
The fact that members of the local community support the project was evident. As I looked around the vast school premises, I saw community members watching from the other side of the fence as the students sang songs, recited poems, and danced about their experiences. Members of the parents association of the school also came to welcome us. I was particularly impressed by the play performed by the students to illustrate their conviction that trees should not be cut and that those who do cut them should be punished by the authorities.
The HIC project was also recently started at St. Charles Shihuli primary school, but the enthusiasm of the students there was not any less than at the other schools. These students plant their own trees and take care of them individually. And you could see the sense of individual ownership when each student posed in front of their trees like scouts as their teachers took us around to see the project. Atema [Eclai, UUSC's programs director,] rightly insisted we see all of the trees as we did not want any of the students to feel left out. Leonard Makamu, their head teacher, told us that the goal of the project is to make the school environmentally friendly. He said the head teacher before him cut down the trees that were at the school, and when he took over, he sought out SFMG to come help them make the school green again — that was very inspiring.
We visited other schools and saw other great projects. And we saw that, due to the HIC project, members of SFMG have become very popular with the students. According to Laban Shivachi, a member of the team, "the students call me Mr. mti (Mr. tree) whenever they see me, because of this project."