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The Family Gardens Program is an initiative started by the Clínica de Familia La Romana in 2014 in accordance with the Ministry of Agriculture to help improve the living conditions of vulnerable members of the community. After hearing about a similar project in the town of Consuelo, the clinic sought to respond to the high levels of food insecurity and poor nutrition among their HIV positive patients. Currently, thirty families are benefitting from the Family Gardens Program and below is a story of its success contributed by Henna Shaikh:
As we step off the guagua, María waves to us from the plastic chair where she sits alongside the road in front of her house. She invites us in to her patio and gestures toward her small but thriving gardens. Her patio is small, maybe 5 by 3 meters, and is surrounded by a patchwork fence of corrugated metal. After orienting us briefly, she slips through the entrance to her modest house and emerges with chairs for us, which she arranges in a small triangle on the uneven earth of her patio.
María was diagnosed with HIV in 2006. She felt ill and visited Clínica de Familia, where an HIV test was performed. She told her husband the news, and when he was tested shortly thereafter, he was also found to be HIV-positive. Since then, María has visited the Clínica de Familia regularly, gotten to know Cristina, the health promoter who visits her at her home, and taken her antiretroviral medications daily. Apart from this, she continues to live a life that is not too different from her neighbors.
María has gotten to know Cristina quite well, and she values the support she has gotten from this relationship. This relationship was actually pivotal for motivating María to join the Family Gardens Program. Cristina knew that María had always had a green thumb, and so, about one year ago, she invited her to participate. María also says that she had always wanted to have a garden but lacked the resources to start her own. So, this program, in which she would receive training and materials from Clínica de Familia and the Ministry of Agriculture, was an excellent opportunity for her. With gratitude in her voice, María tells us that, in addition to planting the idea, Cristina has offered support that has encouraged her confidence as she has engaged with this new project.
María describes that the Clínica de Familia arranged transport to La Romana for her to attend an introductory gardening course. María was impressed by how many people came to learn from this course. She tells us that she learned a lot from the course. She especially liked hearing about how to prepare the different vegetables that would soon grow in her garden and she enjoyed sharing with other participants about their favorite foods were. María tells us that she likes to eat rice with chicken as well as beets, cucumber, and cabbage. Nonetheless, before she had her garden, it was hard to maintain her diet: she would have to travel to La Romana to buy vegetables, which required paying for a thirty minute ride in a guagua. She nonchalantly tells us that there were many days when she didn’t eat anything at all.
However, now, with the help of the Clínica de Familia and the Ministry of Agriculture, her garden is thriving. A staff member from the Ministry of Agriculture helped her till and sow an initial garden patch, and as they learned together that the soil in her patio was very rocky, he also brought her two containers with rich soil. Staff from the Ministry of Agriculture continue to visit María, and she is grateful for all they have taught her. She now knows how to repel worms and other pests without using harsh chemical insecticides. María likes that she knows exactly how her food is grown. She works hard to keep her garden healthy, watering and weeding it daily, but her 12-year-old niece is there to help whenever she forgets.
María’a dedication to her garden has paid off with an impressive harvest of spinach, lettuce, and hot peppers. She loves how easy it now is to eat every day. She likes to mix spinach in with her noodles for an easy meal, and she says with a smile, “now I just have to go over there [to my garden] and pick it.” Her neighbors are also impressed by her garden. When a neighbor walks by during our interview, she enthusiastically tells her, “These are the people with the spinach and the lettuce!” When she has extra, she enjoys sharing her spinach and lettuce with her neighbors, but, for now, her crops mostly feed her, her husband, and her niece. María really appreciates the support she has received from the Clinic in starting and caring for her garden, and she is eagerly awaiting more seeds and containers from Clínica de Familia and the Ministry of Agriculture. She says that she feels healthier now, and she is hopeful about making her garden even bigger.
View more images of María’s garden below, provided by Clínica de la Familia La Romana:
CLÍNICA DE FAMILIA LA ROMANA
Find out more about the Clínica de Familia La Romana at:
You can also watch an informative 18 minute video in English about Clínica de Familia’s programs and services at: www.clinicadefamilia.org.do/video.
* Article by Henna Shaikh.