Driven by community demand, Aaron Ebner has initiated the construction of greenhouses in schools, a unique tool for sustainable development education! The goal is to raise awareness about nutrition, responsibility and agriculture in schools of the Cusco region thanks to the participation of teachers in this programme.
The AASD provides the materials and expertise for greenhouse construction. In coordination with the school, they develop a curriculum that gets students directly involved in the maintenance and management of their shared school greenhouse. The curriculum is highly participatory and practical with the intention of giving students improved understanding of nutrition, greenhouse cultivation, and a sense of empowerment that comes with responsibility.
Anemia and malnutrition are especially high in the indigenous, high-altitude communities of the Cusco region. While there have been a few projects focusing on nutrition and fruit and vegetable production at the family level, extremely little has been done to share that knowledge with children who comprise the future of these communities. They saw that there was an opportunity to change the audience of nutrition workshops to directly include the most vulnerable population in terms of malnutrition. They realized that integrating the construction, maintenance and cultivation of greenhouses could provide valuable nutrition directly to students and serve as a tool for teachers on a very practical subject.
Since 2010, they have built 12 school greenhouses in the Cusco region. Teachers and students alike have consistently delighted in the opportunity to learn and grow using the greenhouse. Each greenhouse has a direct impact on the diets of the students who pass through the respective schools. Additionally, students are gaining improved understanding of a healthy diet that they can share at home, especially with relation to cultivation inside of the greenhouse. The schools they have worked with range in student-body size from 20 students to more than 100. They estimate that they have impacted more than 1000 students since they began the project in 2010. Finally, the School Greenhouse Initiative functioned as a jump start for their Family Greenhouse Initiative. It was through their early work with schools that they generated interest in family greenhouse production. The students brought home their excitement and new knowledge to their parents who often directly reached out to us, and the municipalities took note of the success in the schools and negotiated future projects with the AASD.
They currently work directly with 10 indigenous communities in the province of Calca, Cusco in the Andes of Southern Peru. In these communities, systemic and historical marginalization combined with geographic isolation have resulted in levels of poverty far above the national average and low self-perceptions of ability to successfully grow a business (self-efficacy). Though income data in the Andean region is scarce, estimates from the Peruvian Ministry of Economy and Finance in 2009 showed that 97.8% of households in the Lares District (where 8 of the 10 communities that they work with are located) are considered impoverished, while 89.2% of those households experience extreme poverty. Farming in the area is largely for sustenance but what little income is generated is made through farm activities. The region itself is characterized by tourism and mining but the communities with which they work, rarely participate in these industries.
The primary challenge they faced was consistent adherence to the proposed agreement with each individual school. Especially in the early stages, they found that some greenhouses were out of use within a few years. This was primarily due to high rates of turnover in the school staff, leaving the responsibility of greenhouse cultivation and curriculum unaccounted for. They were able to solve this by agreeing to build greenhouses with education institutions that showed high levels of commitment and persistence with relation to the greenhouse. To the best of their ability, they were able to create agreements with more permanent members of the school administration, thereby guaranteeing a long-term commitment.
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