A chance encounter 18 years ago has changed the lives of hundreds of people living in Mzamomhle, a township on the outskirts of Gonubie in the Eastern Cape.
The plight of poverty in this community shocked Sue Davies (74) the day she gave two boys a lift home from church. She couldn’t shake the sight of muddled shacks, untarred roads and the lack of development in the area.
In an attempt to help the community, Davies established an NGO called CATCH Projects in 2002. Today the organisation runs six projects to uplift this community. The initiative runs a successful vegetable garden project that gives 110 women the opportunity to grow food for their families.
The garden is situated just 2km outside of Mzamomhle township, on a beautiful 4-hectare property bought by Mercedes-Benz SA in support of Davies and her project. She used to work for the motor company in the human resources department. “I believe that it was God’s plan for my life. I think He has a special love for the Mzamomhle community, especially the children,” she exclaims.
Growing food in a circle
The garden was started in 2004 using an Australian Mandala method of growing organic vegetables. Mandala gardens are spaces with plants planted to form a circle.
Davies and the gardeners used chicken manure to fertilise the ground for about three years until this method of farming no longer yielded results. The garden didn’t produce enough vegetables because the Mandala method took up unnecessary space. The garden project was then moved out into the community where they farmed on small patches of land.
“This also did not work because the gardens were not fenced and the pigs that roamed the areas would trample the produce. Also, people would steal from the gardens,” Davies explains.
The entire garden project was then moved back to the catch property where each beneficiary was allocated four square metres of ground, about the size of two doors put together.
Today the garden is thriving, and 110 women between the ages of 24 and 90 plant and harvest vegetables for their families.
The garden supervisor, Sibongile Tunywa, who oversees the entire project, says the women plant and tend their gardens. He says a strict record is kept of everyone’s participation. “We supply food parcels to the beneficiaries who are actively involved in the garden and our family preservation and empowerment project. We do this until they are equipped with child grants and economically a bit better off,” Tunywa explains.
Despite the challenges they encountered when the project started, Davies believes that the garden is now thriving thanks to the assistance they are receiving from Food and Trees for Africa who are sponsored by Shoprite Checkers. The organisation provided CATCH with mentors who train and improve the gardeners’ permaculture skills on a regular basis.
Enhancing permaculture skills
CATCH was first introduced to Food and Trees for Africa through one of their main donors, Kinderfonds Mama, an organisation from the Netherlands that supports women in Mzansi who provide daily care and safety to children in severe poverty.
South African-based consultant for the organisation, Ruth Butcher, believes that the CATCH project has had a profound impact on the Mzamomhle township. “What I like about the garden project is that all the families involved in the project have a responsibility to look after their own vegetable gardens. The project teaches an entire community how to fish, instead of just handing it to them,” she adds.
Tunywa explains that before Food and Trees for Africa stepped in, they struggled with their borehole which required constant maintenance. The solar power panel they used to generate electricity and pump water was also stolen.
The organisation provided CATCH with a tank, wheelbarrows, garden tools, fencing, infrastructure, compost, mulch, seedlings, herbs, fruit trees, educational material and training workshops.
The Catch Community Centre runs a variety of outreach and holiday programmes as well as foster homes for youth, orphans and vulnerable children. It is their mission to champion change in the community for people who are challenged by poverty, HIV and AIDS, and violence.
One of their biggest programmes is the Family Preservation and Empowerment Project, which aims to relieve the distress of children in the poorest families.
“We also have after school clubs, support groups for vulnerable orphans and caregivers, and a project that focusses on helping beneficiaries mobilise and manage financial and other resources,” the director explains.
Davies says their initiative has come a long way since its inception in 2002 and that she’s grateful to have the support of donors and partners like Investec, University of Konstanz, KFC, Pepfar and Kinderfonds Mamas amongst others.
“At this stage I am not sure where I would like the gardens to go in future, but I am happy that 110 families have healthy produce to boost their food security needs. That makes me happy,” she says.