Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Tackling Malnutrition Thru Primary School Peer Groups

John Briefs Kikunda PS Parents Meeting

John Ssenoga, the field coordinator of the Primary School Gardening Project, arranged to make his second visit to train Peer Group Educators (PGE) this week.  The project is funded through the American Academy of Pediatrics, I-Catch program for international community pediatrics. Officially the project is not with Harvest Plus, which is disseminating bio-fortified crops of high iron beans and orange sweet potato in Uganda, but because we would like OSP and high iron beans reach school age children, we are doing our bit to promote them in our school gardens. 
Parents Meeting Packed
However when John arrives at Kikuda PS, the Parents and Teachers are holding a last minute, urgent meeting.  They are very pleased to see John and ask him to tell them about the Gardening project. The parents are overwhelmingly in support  of the program.  In fact they want to be more involved!  They provide John with information about traditional farming practices, traditional weaning and pest control.  Parents living close by and the local Volunteer Health Worker (VHT), even offer to take care of the student's garden over the holiday. 
Parents Provide Farming Wisdom
“Wow”, says John when he tells me all this, “We should have involved them earlier.” 
The School teacher in charge of the Peer Group at Kikunda PS, has been very enthusiastic but  has had a number of problems with garden pests. He shows John around describing the problems in detail.  The local parents who are farmers say the problem is simple, the high iron beans and orange Sweet Potato vines provided were planted too late.  The Peer Group Trainer who has come with John, is Avictas, a 3rd year Agriculture student at Bishop Stuart University nearby.  He concurs with the local farmers.  It seems project communications were not clear and the teacher thought he was supposed to wait for project staff to come before planting. 
The parents request that they be allowed to "take the project to their homes".  They want to grow high iron beans and orange sweet potatoes and start kitchen gardens. This is one of our hoped for outcomes.  They tell us they can help us to lobby the churches in the area for additional land for the school garden.  We have been very lucky at all the schools to have large areas set aside for the student gardens as well as generous offers of land from the nearby churches.
Peer Educators Use Puppets and Hats for HEd
At the beginning of the project, we had asked the designated teachers at each school to do things with us in a step-wise manner, but gardens of course have to be planted in season.   Another lesson for us non-farmers in the project, is that farmers till the land twice here.  Once, about a month prior to planting, land is tilled in order to turn under all the grass to let it decompose,  Then a second digging is done to turn the soil over at the time of planting.  Lots of things for us to learn in a gardening project!  
The aphids found on the beans are usually handled by sprinkling them with ash (kashenda) which causes them to die and fall off.
There isn’t time at Kikunda because of a lengthy Parent’s Meeting to teach the Peer Group Educators but John feels the contact and information has been invaluable for the project.  Planting was done on time at Bushwere PS and all their crops are doing well. 
Avitas Teaches Head & Fingers Hygiene Song
We have a huge flock of Peer Group Educators, 176 in the four primary schools.  All the schools have drawn their Peer Group Educators from the four classes from Primary 3-6 and their classes are very large.  One of the classes has 90 students.  As the schools and the project hopes to reach all the school children, the teachers have selected many PGEs.   In in the two schools in Mwizi area,  Kikunda PS has 65 PGE and Bushwere PS has 36.  
The other two primary schools are in Kibaare, quite a ways from the Mwizi Schools so are seen on another day later in the week..  At Kanyantura PS there are 40 with 36 at Kibaare PS.  It will be a real challenge to train all the PGE effectively, but the four Peer Group Trainers and our field coordinator are going to give it their best.
Snakes & Ladders on Rice Bag
Kanyantura PS had received an extra bag of OSP vines because it was thought that the vines were planted in small heaps and would not thrive.  However the 1st crop looked surprisingly good even though the heaps were small.  The local VHT advises the teacher to have the children collect and add manure to the heaps as the potatoes continue to grow, so they are covered as they will begin to push upwards. The 2nd crop of OSP vines have been planted on clay-like soil and were not doing so well, dry around the base with leeching .  Avitas suggests manure also be added to this soil as well and instructs the students set up composting bins nearby.  There is also time during the visits to Kibaare schools to train the PGE in Micronutrients such as is found in Vit A-enriched Orange Sweet Potato and High Iron Beans.  The sessions go well.    John, Avitas and the teacher demonstrate to the PGEs how to play Nutritional Snakes and Ladders.  The whole class gathers around on the large rice bag of the Snakes and Ladders game.  Two sets of die are given to each school but the teachers are happy we are also encouraging them to continue to use their traditional method of throwing 6 split seeds determine the count from the number in which the cotyledons land facing up.
Kids Collect Water After School
At Kibaare PS the children are doing tests so it is not possible to do a training session with them but John was able to tour the gardens and report that most are doing well.  One batch of OSP were planted in clay-like soil and are not doing well but both schools in Kibaare will have bumper crops of beans and be able to share with the parents. 
We are learning lessons as we go.  We need to meet with Parents Groups early and often and set up a Garden Advisory Committees with the teachers and parents. We need to schedule several non-training visits to each school . And we are going to have to be very creative to train so many Peer Group Educators effectively and well.  
Photos:  John Ssengo, Avitas



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