The idea that small, good practices can lead to broader change is an important theme of A Small Good Thing. The film looks at the sustainable farming practices of Jen and Pete Salinetti of Woven Roots Farm -- it examines their day-to-day life, their feelings of satisfaction with their work, and also the way that their personal life choices can make a lasting impact in the world.
In the film, Jen and Pete travel to Rwanda to partner with an organization called Gardens for Health International, which believes that growing and eating healthy food is an essential part of the long-term solution to malnutrition. Jen and Pete teach local communities about composting and they discover how Gardens for Health’s agricultural program not only provides long-term health solutions, but also empowers the individuals and communities on the ground.
I took some time to chat with Eve Deveau, US Managing Director of Gardens for Health International, who kindly shared more about the organization’s programs, its focus on relationship-building, and its impact in Rwanda.
A Small Good Thing: Can you tell me a little bit about Gardens for Health – how and why it started and what its mission is?
Eve Deveau: Gardens for Health works in Rwanda to provide lasting, long-term solutions to chronic childhood malnutrition. Traditionally, malnutrition is treated as a strictly medical problem, but our founders realized what a core role agriculture and nutrition play in health and health outcomes. Despite the fact that 85% of Rwandans rely primarily on agriculture for food and income, nutrition remains a critical barrier to achieving positive health outcomes. This issue inspired the founders to start Gardens for Health, which bridges the gap between the agriculture world and the healthcare world. We target households with chronically malnourished children and we work in partnership with mainly the mothers to provide agriculture lessons, health and nutrition education with the aim of increasing long-term food security and health in these households.
ASGT: How does Gardens for Health differ from traditional approaches to ending malnutrition?
ED: Traditionally, malnutrition is treated at the health center and children who are diagnosed with malnutrition usually receive a therapeutic food in form of a three-month food aid package. This type of emergency food aid alone cannot cure malnutrition for the long term, and often the children relapse and remain chronically malnourished. Gardens for Health is working to empower parents to cure their children from malnutrition for the long term. We partner with local health centers so that when the parents go to the health center they not only get the medication, but they also get enrolled in our program. In the program, the parents participate in agriculture training, nutrition training, and health training. They realize it’s within their control and they feel empowered to keep their children healthy by working with the land they have and the resources they have.
ASGT: What do the programs look like on the ground?
ED: Malnutrition is identified at the health center level, so the health center staff and community health workers will inform the families about our program. We hire field educators -- people who are already leaders in the communities -- and we train them in our topics and methods. Then, they go back out into their communities and train classes of 40 caregivers at each health center, three seasons a year. It’s neighbors training neighbors once a week, for 13 weeks.
The field educators also do home visits to show families how to implement the techniques they learn in their own gardens and households. Building trusting relationships is a huge part of our program because families are putting a lot of trust in us. Asking families that have been farming for years to change what they’re growing or how they’re doing it is a huge risk. So we focus on creating a supportive and strong partnership between the field educators and the families that are in the program.
ASGT: What kinds of changes do you see and what kinds of responses do you get from the communities you work in?
ED: Initially, many families are surprised to learn that their children are malnourished and they become really passionate about changing that. The first training is in what we call the Color Wheel, which is a circle where all of the nutrient groups are broken down into 4 colors. A healthy meal should have all colors on a plate. And in that first training when families are seeing really what they should be eating, often for the first time, it’s like a break-through! It’s really exciting and I think a lot of people start making changes that very day. And it’s just fun! You see all these women -- mostly it’s mothers who participate in the program -- coming together for the same reason, to improve the health of their families, and they’re getting this community of support for the first time. They see that other women are struggling with the same issues, that it’s not their fault that their child is malnourished. Even though our primary goal is to have improved health outcomes for children and improved dietary diversity, the impact that it has in terms of creating a community of support for the mothers is amazing too. You see many mothers going back to their home and doing the training for their neighbors. The trainings and Gardens for Health really take on a life of their own in the communities that we work with.