Gardens for Health International is a non-profit organization that believes that growing and eating healthy food is an essential part of the long-term solution to malnutrition. Through agriculture lessons and health and nutrition education, GHI works to increase long-term food security and improve health in Rwanda. You can learn more about how these programs serve communities on the ground in the first part of this story.
While the primary goal of GHI is to end malnutrition and provide long-term health solutions, as a result, its programs also foster a strong sense of community and empowerment for individuals in Rwanda.
In the the second part of her interview with A Small Good Thing, Eve Deveau, US Managing Director of Gardens for Health, discusses GHI’s focus on community, what sets the organization apart, and what inspires her to do this powerful work every day.
A Small Good Thing: Does Gardens for Health believe that its model can be applied to communities outside of Rwanda? Do you work in any other countries?
Eve Deveau: On a larger level, GHI believes that eating healthy food and growing healthy food has to be part of any long term solution to malnutrition. We think that the Gardens for Health model of effectively integrating agriculture into healthcare could be applied more broadly, but we’re also really committed to the community-led approach and so we wouldn’t want to suddenly shift, move to a different country, and enforce our model for Rwanda somewhere else. To expand our impact, we’ve been working with the Rwandan government to incorporate certain components of our program into the national health system. Every community health worker in Rwanda has a copy of one of our trainings. Outside of Rwanda, we have worked with partner organizations who are interested in incorporating more agriculture or nutrition components into their work. We’ve trained them in our methodology and techniques and they take it back and adapt it to their own communities and initiatives.
ASGT: How did you first come to the organization and what brought you to this line of work?
ED: I have always been interested in community development and social justice work. I studied abroad in Kenya and worked with an amazing organization called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). My program was focused on community development and health and I learned a lot about what it takes for an organization to make an impact. After I graduated from school, I was on a search to find an organization that was changing people’s lives, that was dedicated to the community it was a part of, and that was empowering people. When I met Jessie (Cronan), the Executive Director of Gardens for Health, she told me about Gardens for Health. I not only thought it was brilliant, but I also thought it was so intuitive. I really wanted to be a part of it. At that point, I think the organization had about 20 employees and so I came on as an unpaid intern. Over the last three years, Gardens for Health has grown an incredible amount. Now, we have over 125 employees. When we started, we partnered with 3 health centers and now we’re partnering with 18 health centers. It’s been really inspirational to see something that you believe in make a tangible difference in people’s lives.
ASGT: What inspires your to do this work?
ED: Going to Rwanda and seeing communities becoming strengthened, community leaders becoming activated, and people becoming agents of change within their own households … to me that is really inspiring and drives me to do my job in Boston every day. Gardens for Health is different from any other organization that I’ve seen because it is its own very strong community. The people that were developing trainings and that were enrolling women in the program in the beginning have become the leaders of the organization and really go above and beyond anything I’ve heard of in NGO work.
Gardens for Health is focused on enabling families to overcome malnutrition, but, as you can imagine, in Rwanda there are really pressing needs that aren’t a part of our mission. Families enrolled in our program might lose a family member and have to pay for funeral costs, which could completely derail a family’s progress temporarily. Or a roof caves in and a family is left without a home. So the Gardens for Health team -- our Rwandan staff -- had the idea to start something called the Turi Kumwe Fund. Turi Kumwe means “we are together” in Kinyarwanda and it’s our unofficial motto at Gardens for Health. Almost every single team member contributes each month to the fund and then the organization matches it. When our team members see an exceptional need that doesn’t fall under our mission, they can bring it to the attention of the Turi Kumwe fund committee, who vote to provide funding. That is just one of the unique pieces that really sets Gardens for Health apart.