VILLA EL SALVADOR
(LIMA), Peru, 8 October -- The streets of Villa El
Salvador are only half paved. Sidewalks are almost nonexistent,
and trash lies at every corner of the sandy streets. An arid and
poor community of an estimated 330 000 people, it developed
chaotically on Lima's outskirts as immigrants from rural
areas came pouring into the capital in search of work. Villa El
Salvador now extends more than 20 kilometres outside the city.
On one of its sandy streets lies the Divina
Misericordia school for disabled students. From outside, it
looks like any other school, its high gate blocking the unwanted
visitor. Inside the walls, though, children are running between
rows of lettuce, beets, carrots and broccoli, laughing and
hugging their teachers. Their excitement is palpable as they
harvest the little school garden they started less than a year
Patience is key
"We started by creating the
beds," explains Ramiro Ramos, a 21-year-old student
from the carpenter's workshop, who is deaf. His hands move
quickly while the teacher translates from sign language.
"Then we dug holes for the seeds and planted them,
along with some fertilizer. Little by little, the plants started
growing. Now they're ready to be eaten!"
The youngest keep an eye on what the
teachers do and imitate them with care. The oldest, more
confident, work fast and with great dedication. In less than an
hour, all the vegetables lie displayed on a table.
Josť Valente, a 17-year-old disabled student,
extracts a beautiful fully grown lettuce from the soil and
explains: "We were coming every day to water the
plants. It was really exciting to see them emerge from the
The school garden project
is sponsored by TeleFood, FAO's campaign to raise awareness
about world hunger and money for small hunger-fighting projects.
TeleFood provides funds, seeds, tools and training. The Ministry
of Agriculture's National Institute for Agrarian Research
(INIA) provides technical support in executing the project as
well as its irrigation technology.
Altogether, four schools and two farming associations
in Villa El Salvador are benefiting from the project. In this
arid landscape, it is difficult to imagine how anything could
grow at all.
"There was only
sand and dirt here when we first came," says Auristela
Reynoso, the INIA representative. "We had to clean it
all up first, then we brought in soil. We installed our
irrigation system and now even we are amazed
with the results!"
useful activity for all
Pacherres, director of the school, watches the school's
first harvest with pleasure. "They love it,"
she says. "Some learn quicker than others, but all are
passionate about their garden. Gardening is now part of the
curricula, and it works as a therapy for these children. It
shows them how easily they can have access to food if need be,
and it gives them responsibilities. Often, these kids are put
aside in the family. Their parents consider them a burden. Here
they learn how to contribute to the household. Some grow their
own little gardens at home, too!"
Everyone at the school was involved from the
beginning. The director, the teachers, the students and even
some parents helped build the garden from scratch. INIA
monitored the project and provided help when needed, calling
every day to see how things were going.
first harvest is being distributed among the students, but part
of the next harvest will be sold in order to buy more seeds. The
school is looking for funds to cultivate another plot that now
lies unused. In cooperation with INIA and FAO, the school is
also preparing a manual on how to improve nutrition through
vegetable gardens, hoping to convince more schools to start
gardens -- and with luck, change arid Villa El Salvador into a