January 10, 2010 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
In a village outside of Hyderabad, South India, Nagamani and Swathi, sisters attending Women’s Education Project’s Ushassu program, climb to their flat roof to collect vegetables for the families’ dinner.
Picking tomatoes and beans, they discuss how this small garden, planted on a recycled plastic mat, covered in rich soil and bordered by coconut husks, saves their family a one mile trip to the market and 20 rupees (10% of their food budget), while providing them with fresh organic vegetables. Moreover, the rich organic soil, absorbing the sun’s rays, prevents the roof from baking and keeps the apartment below relatively cool. In the New Year, they plan to double the size of the garden and grow spinach and gourds.
Twenty-seven students attend “Ushassu”, a program of the Women’s Education Project, (WEP) a not-for-profit organization helping young women pursue college and careers. At Ushassu and its sister program “Sudar” in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, students earn scholarships and attend English, computer, and study skill courses. At WEP centers, health, environment, and financial management trainings teach students to answer the daily challenges of poverty.
WEP student’s families live on less than $1-$2 a day. Their parents, who are illiterate, earn daily wages in agriculture and construction. Ushassu students, often ill and frequently malnourished, face daunting challenges. Staff reported that the students’ lunch boxes (if brought to college at all) were packed with only rice and spicy pickle.
To raise nutrition levels and spread health awareness, WEP initiated the kitchen garden program. In 2009, Ushassu students grew nineteen kitchen gardens at their homes, planted fifty-seven fruit trees in their villages, and attended trainings on health and nutrition.
The lessons they learn ripple through their villages. Now mothers will relate this information to their neighbors at weekly women’s meetings where they discuss plans for the new Ushassu nursery and a community training program. And their daughter’s lunch boxes are now packed with vegetable curries and sometimes an egg,
The rooftop garden program is an important part of the Women’s Education Project’s growing curriculum and community work. For more information about the Women’s Education Project and to learn about the kitchen garden programs, visit www.womenseducationproject.org
The Women’s Education Project will be hosting a Wines of India evening to support the organization and its programs helping young women of the poorest backgrounds succeed in college and careers.
January 28, 6-8pm
Babcock Galleries, 724 Fifth Avenue, 11th Floor, New York City
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://womenseducationprojectjan28.eventbrite.com