In Nangabo, a small county in south central Uganda, many families are struggling to put food on the table. But families with children with physical or developmental disabilities have an additional financial burden.
The cost of medical care and assistance is often more than most can manage. “It is impossible for these struggling families to get ahead,” says Alex Zizingga, founder and coordinator of The Community Garden Project. “Our organization helps to show them how they can take advantage of local crops to improve their situation.”
The Community Garden Project partners with the Nangabo sub-county Parents’ Association of Children with Disabilities (NAPACD) to identify and build relationships with families who have one or more children with a physical disability. The project provides the family with training and materials to help them include indigenous vegetables in their gardens, diversify their crops in order to create year-round harvests, and grow a surplus in order to have more to sell at local markets.
“The connection between health and agriculture is somehow hard for many people to make,” says Zizingga. The improved diets that these community gardens provide help improve the health of the entire family, while also allowing families to pay the expensive medical bills required to care for the well being of their children.
“One family we worked with had three children who were all affected by disabilities,” says Zizingga. “All three of the children needed a wheelchair.” The father of the family, Ronald Kalungi, approached the project to ask for help and Zizingga learned that, while the father was already a farmer, he was only growing a single commercial crop for sale. “He wasn’t growing any vegetables,” says Zizingga. “He didn’t have any of his own food to eat and he was dependent on a single crop to bring in an entire year’s worth of income.”
Since that first meeting with Alex, Kalungi is now growing vegetables from seeds he buys locally. Every three weeks or so, he is able to harvest part of the garden to eat and to sell. His increased income has meant that he can now send the oldest of his children to school and all of the childrens’ medical bills are now paid in full. And Kalungi has become a mentor to other farmers in his community, educating them about ways to increase their incomes and improve their diets.
“When we started this program we wanted to help families struggling to care of their children with disabilities,” says Zizingga, “but really the whole community can benefit.” The project started with twenty farmers and now works with over 400. “And new families want to join all the time,” says Zizingga.
And even more importantly, families are stepping up to help each other out. More and more the project is taking a life of its own. “The philosophy behind the work is trickling down and farmers are sharing it with each other. Now it belongs to the community.”