Pondering how best to grow healthy, well-nourished kids is something that occupies the mind of almost every mother. This Mother’s Day, ChildFund is giving Kiwi and Kenyan mums added inspiration with Gunny Sack Gardens.

It can be difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of others, especially when their experiences are so far removed from our everyday lives. Even more challenging can be explaining their struggles to our children in ways their young minds can grasp – always in a hope that they’ll grow to be responsible, helpful citizens of the world.

Sometimes, we have to find little ways of discussing the big issues or sharing an experience to really connect – and this Mother’s Day it’s all about finding common ground through gardening.

Parents and schools across New Zealand are harnessing the power of gardening as a wonderful learning tool, and a great way to get kids eating their greens. And now, 14,000 kilometres across the globe, parents and preschools in Emali, Kenya are doing the same.

Having spent time with the Maasai and Kamba peoples in their remote, rural communities, you immediately appreciate the extent of their challenges. While the Maasai raise cows and goats, and the Kamba work hard to grow crops, the stark reality is one of a hand-to-mouth existence. Couple this with a lack of nutritional knowledge and long-standing practices like filling children’s bellies with weak milky tea, and it’s a recipe for nutritional disaster for their most vulnerable.

Mother's Day
Shona in Emali school garden

Invited by ChildFund and part-funded by the New Zealand Government’s Aid Programme, nutrition scientists from our own Otago University and Nairobi’s Kenyatta University found many children there suffer from severe – near crippling – iron and zinc deficiencies. Frequent upset tummies, fevers and respiratory illness also cause a vicious cycle of poor appetite and eating and therefore reduce immunity. Mums, dads and other caregivers were once at a loss to help, with little to no nutritional knowledge or resources.

With the support of generous Kiwis, a series of Nutritional Training Workshops is turning things around in Emali, with parents and caregivers learning easy, everyday ways to improve their children’s eating. And while knowledge is power, tools and food are equally important in this equation. Also armed with cooking utensils, poultry rearing know-how and Gunny Sack Gardens, the community is making massive changes – children are now eating more frequent and substantial meals, more protein thanks to chicken and eggs, and a greater variety of nourishing vegetables.

This Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating the success by showing Kiwis how to make their own Kenyan-inspired Gunny Sack Garden so that they can reap some of the same benefits. It’s a great family learning activity that promises food for thought in more ways than one. These upcycled vertical-gardens-in-a-bag are easy to make and very space and water efficient – perfect for the patio or those renting who don’t want to dig up the back lawn. Here are easy-to-follow instruction thanks to Kiwi landscape designer Xanthe White: http://bit.ly/Gunny-Garden.

As well as creating your own Gunny Sack Garden, you can buy the gift of a nutritional training voucher for a mum in Kenya, or veggie seeds or chickens, or any number of gifts via ChildFund Gifts that Grow to help give children a better start in life. Because as every mum knows, the best gift for Mother’s Day is a happy healthy child.  You can find out more about Gifts that Grow for Mother’s Day and ChildFund’s work at www.childfund.org.nz

Shona Jennings is Programmes Director of ChildFund New Zealand. Shona has lived and worked in developing countries working on projects like the ones that ChildFund supports. Her role at ChildFund is to ensure its projects are achieving the most effective change possible for children. She loves seeing the change that communities with Kiwi support can help bring about.

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