When John and Toni Jordan moved into their south Oak Bay home 11 years ago, the garden amounted to a large expanse of lawn dotted with a few trees.
Toni soon started changing that.
Fortunately, beneath the grass was good soil, and the plants she added grew quickly. The space now thrives as a mature garden that belies its relatively young age.
So well do her plants grow, in fact, that the Jordans expect to sell hundreds this weekend as a fundraiser for their initiative to help build sustainable capacity for widows and children in Rwanda.
The Jordans’ eighth plant sale runs from Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 29 and 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 178 Beach Dr. While the May sale raises more money – more than $4,000 this past spring – Toni has hundreds of plants potted up and ready to find a new home, just in time for fall planting season.
“A lot of these were just taken out of the garden so they’re in very good shape,” she says during a stroll around the garden, still overflowing with shrubs, perennials, fruit and vegetables.
The sale is one of a variety of initiatives the Jordans undertake through the year for projects in the small African nation. “Everything we make goes to Rwanda; John’s expenses, everything we pay for,” Toni notes.
Administered through the Innovative Communities Foundation, the project’s roots reach back to 2008 when John met a Rwandan grad student who was studying here; he spoke about his village, a seven-hour bumpy bus ride from the capital of Kigali, and particularly those widowed and orphaned during the 1994 genocide.
“In 2009 I went for the first time and I have been now for the last seven years, for two months,” John says.
Initial steps included helping the widows – some in their 70s at the time – fix their grass-roofed homes. Then came simple technology that was easy to adapt to the setting and needs of the villagers, like efficient, smoke-free stoves, water catchment systems and raised bed gardening, in addition to educational support for teens, John says.
While Rwanda has free education for younger students, secondary education is only offered through a boarding school format, that costs about $300 per year – an amount out of reach of many.
While the Jordans began by helping around a dozen children, today, through fundraisers like the plant sale and support from Oak Bay Rotarians and others, the two are today helping about 70 children and many more widows.
“People like to know I didn’t just go once, that I go back and I know these people,” John says. “When someone gives $250 or $300 for a child’s education, I can tell them the child’s name.”
When John is back home in Oak Bay, a team of young Rwandans in the village of Kibogora, near Lake Kivu on the Congo border, continues to oversee the work on the ground, connecting several times a week by phone.
One of the challenges for many Rwandans is that they were essentially left to raise themselves following the genocide, Toni says. The result is that much knowledge and experience has been lost, compounded by the daily struggles of subsistence living. That’s where the Jordans hope to make a difference, boosted by the long-term continuity of years on the ground and follow-up.
“This is really home-grown, adapting technology and refining it the following year and refining it again. Our legacy is not roofs and stoves, our legacy will be (helping) people create grassroots development and know how to account for what they spend,” John says. “I want people to see they can make a difference in a place like Rwanda.”
The Rwandan people have also given the Jordans much in return. “You take a picture of a kid at 3 p.m. and at best he’s had a half a bowl of porridge in the morning and he’s waiting for his one meal of the day, but he’s smiling,” John says. “A child or adult [here] will look at the picture and say, ‘What is he smiling about?’”
The Jordans appreciate the opportunity to view life through a different set of eyes. “There are just so many stories,” Toni says. “It gives you a very different perspective of our lives here.”