Green thumbs aid Rwandan girls

Fall plant sale funds Rwandan widows and families

John and Toni Jordan host a fall fundraiser to aid families in Rwanda.

A summer of grandchildren in the garden – harvesting fruit and watching flowers and coaxing butterflies from cocoons – invigorates Toni and John Jordan just in time for the annual fall sale.

Twice each year the couple sells off growth from their impressive Beach Drive garden in ongoing support of their project to aid widows raising families in Rwanda.

Each January, John, a volunteer with InnovativeCommunities.Org, heads to the country, forging growth there initiating new technology such as smokeless stoves or sharing education as has been the most recent emphasis.

“The thing that continues to happen every month now is that the local women, teachers and nurses that we certified in a new reproductive health curriculum, have introduced that in all the high schools,” he said.

Students are in the third trimester of the school year that wraps in October for a two-month break.

“There’s still a lot of taboo and ignorance about menstruation,” Jordan said. “The (girls) weren’t performing like boys at the same level consistently and we found out they don’t have much information and the information they have is wrong.”

Anxiety and poverty lead female students to miss school or perform poorly. Most don’t have the funds, as little as $1.50 per cycle, needed for feminine protection.

“A family feeds itself, lives on $1.25 a day,” Jordan said. “We started by introducing washable cloth hygiene pads.”

Then they moved into the straight biology of how the female body works, garnering approval for a reproductive health curriculum, funding a master trainer to certify local teachers who now get a stipend to share the four-hour class with students. They started testing a similar program this month for boys, “but boys’ reproductive health really has to do with their brains,” Jordan said.

The six teachers have instructed about 2,200 girls, maybe half the district, Jordan said, adding “of course every year there’s a new class.”

The other big project, alongside the standard grassroots rebuilding houses and providing post secondary education, is his annual training mission in January, funded through an $8,000 Oak Bay Rotary grant.

He’ll head to remote locations roughly 10 or 12 kilometres off the paved road and teach a group of local people to build the efficient smoke-free stove, do high-production intensive gardening and in some cases build composting toilets.

The idea is to set up small cottage factories, something they’ve done in the past, but hasn’t stuck. This year the plan is to offer training, no labour.

“Now we’re going in to just do the training, after a while people accept the technology, it takes a while to buy into it. The stoves they’ve really bought into it now, the civic authority,” Jordan said. “This time they’re asking us to come back because they really see the value of those hundreds of stoves that we did deliver to that community, they’re seeing the value,” Jordan said. “It takes that kind of time.”

Jordan hopes to have two local Rotarians in tow when he heads for Rwanda to start 2017.

“They’ll come over and see what’s happening and I have to provide them a week or two in the field, which is a little challenging,” he said. “We’re not going over there to swing hammers and put on roofs, the Rwandans do that. We don’t want to take their work away from them.”

Trips now are information sharing, that hopefully grows like the beekeeper experiment last year.

“He returned again six months later and did an advanced course, and he’s going back again this winter,” Jordan said. The beekeeper taught Rwandsan seamstresses to make beekeeper’s jackets and even brought back 10 to sell through the Victoria Beekeepers Association.

“It really evolves nicely so that even small enterprises begin,” Jordan said.

The plant sale is at 178 Beach Rd. on Aug 27. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  features hundreds of mature perennials and shrubs and proceeds provide roofs and gardens for subsistence mothers in Rwanda.

 

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