Green sanctuary gives solace

SOYISO MALITI

The Wallacedene home where Liyabona Rhafuza lives has sandy soil in the yard, where there’s not much chance of anything growing, but the green-fingered 12-year-old can find solace in the food garden at Cavalleria Primary School in Scottsdene.

When Education MEC Debbie Schäfer visited the school on Monday April 25, it gave Liyabona an excuse to spend a little extra time in his green sanctuary.

“I would like to have a garden one day at home because then I would get fresh produce harvested by me,” Liyabona said.

Liyabona and several other pupils, including Mbasa Ngoma, Avante Louw and Leekesha Maaiman – who all did a little gardening with Ms Schäfer during her visit – use the garden regularly to plant fruits and veggies under the watchful eyes of the school’s foreman Hilton Titus, and gardener, John Booysen.

“They helped us understand the importance of a garden, plants and the water usage that comes with it,” Liyabona said, while Ms Schäffer toured the school after lending a brief hand with the garden.

Ms Schäfer said gardening at schools was vital to help communities counter soaring food prices. She said poverty and malnutrition were rife and many pupils went to school hungry, and this made it hard for them to pay attention in the classroom.

She said the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) had committed to giving pupils at schools in poorer communities two nutritious meals a day.

Cavalleria Primary is one such school, its feeding scheme catering for 330 pupils daily. But the food garden produces enough supplementary food for 600 pupils.

The garden, created in 2010, produces fresh fruits and vegetables daily, such as tomatoes, figs, prunes, plums, peaches, grapes, strawberries, eggplant, cabbage, carrots, tomato, cauliflower, spinach and spring onions, as well as a variety of herbs.

School principal, Hurschele Carolissen, said he was proud of what they had produced in the garden and he had noticed an improvement in school attendance as a result of the programme.

Ms Schäfer said the WCED was on track to achieve the National Development Plan goal of providing children in need with food that was high in nutritional content and rich in vitamins.

“Our successful school nutrition programme has expanded year-on-year to assist more and more learners,” she said. “In addition to supplying food, the scheme encourages food production, for example, in school food gardens, and education on nutrition.”

She believes the programme will turn around the fortunes of the 473 770 pupils from 1 015 schools who currently rely on the WCED’s school feeding scheme.

“The programme has expanded year-on-year, with allocations to the feeding scheme having more than doubled since 2009/2010. This year is no different. The amount allocated to the feeding programme for the 2016/2017 financial year is just over R315 million,” she said.

But she’s worried about the impact the recent spike in food prices could have on feeding schemes, and believes projects such as the Cavalleria Primary food garden are key to helping vulnerable communities ride out the turbulence of the tough times that lie ahead.

“We are encouraged to see that some schools are creating innovative projects to further supplement their school feeding needs. Cavalleria Primary School in Scottsdene is one such school. They have created an extraordinary food garden which is an excellent example of the kind of innovation that we wish to see in our schools.”