Teaching poor women to grow and prepare healthy food

What seemed to be a very good idea, turned out to be more complicated to realize than originally planned. Thanks to the persistence and commitment of our volunteering colleagues from Pulp and Performance Chemicals (Eka) in Jundiaí, Brazil poor women are now trained how to grow and prepare healthy food.

It all began when PPC employee Andreia Faria told her colleagues about her volunteering work for Almamater, a non profit organization which supports deprived children at the Herculano Pires Center in Vila Maringa, a village near the site’s operations. She and the other volunteers came to the conclusion that the mothers of these children should also be involved in creating better living circumstances in a sustainable way. Since the afternoons on which the children were being occupied at the Center were now free for the mothers, a suitable project should be found. This is how the idea of organizing a sustainable workshop on the recycling and more effective use of food as well as giving guidance on healthy nutrition originated.

The idea evaluated gradually into the creation of a community garden, where the women would learn how to grow vegetables, maintain the garden and use recycled left-over food. By giving lectures the needy women in the whole region could get training on how to make nutritious food using all parts of the vegetables and fruits grown in their ‘own’ garden.

Andreia managed to encourage almost 20 colleagues to participate in the project and support from the Community Program was requested. This was granted and the required equipment and materials, like seeds, fertilizer, seedlings and tools to create the garden, could be purchased as well as various materials to make handicrafts from recycled left-over’s. Our volunteering employees then started to promote the project in the neighbourhood. Their efforts were focused on women between 28 and 45 years old who had already been pre-selected by Almater when their children started to participate in the programs conducted at the Herculano Pires Center. The result was 40 entries and the detailed organization of the training and preparations for the creation of the garden could begin.

In the meantime our volunteering employees looked for recipes, prepared the slides for presentation and tested the recipes in Eka’s kitchen. For the garden they bought seeds and seedlings of lettuce, beets, chicory, chives, parsley, cabbage, broccoli, pepper, eggplant and okra. Subsequently they cleaned and prepared the land and finally with the help of children from the community they planted seeds and seedlings. All was ready for the first planned day for the training! But to the disappointment of our diligent colleagues, most of the previously enlisted women did not turn up and - what was worse – insects had destroyed part of the garden. Moreover, the women in the community had not properly taken care of what was left behind.

Our volunteers decided to reverse the initial situation and went to the houses of the needy women to talk personally with them and explain how the training could help them to make their lives easier. This approach turned out to be effective and on the second day of the course, a larger number of participants could be welcomed. The original number of 40 has not yet been reached but to the big surprise of the organizers, also children wanted to attend the course. The importance of healthy eating was the main point of this workshop and the next step was to replant the garden.

Particularly the children were very enthusiastic to help with the planting and work in the garden. This time the volunteers applied treatments against insects to protect the fresh seedlings from being eaten. Also they are working on installing a simple irrigation system to water the plants regularly. The residents are becoming increasingly enthusiastic with the knowledge what the proceeds of the garden, as well as the right preparation of the vegetables, can do for their and their children’s health. Also with the knowledge of how to correctly separate household waste they will be instructed how to make handicrafts for sale to improve their family income. It was not an easy start, but with the continuous support of our enthusiastic colleagues in Jundiaí, the future for these deprived families definitely has a healthier and brighter outlook.