Monday, August 29, 2011

The Vegatable Project - an IWAM Superstar.

 Lately I have seen a lot of sunrises.  Part of that is because of jetlag, but most of it is just because life here in Mongolia is, again, full to overflowing.  This week was no exception.

Friday morning was an IWAM morning.  Robyn and I were lucky enough to be invited along to go and check up on and help support some women from The Vegetable Project, a cooperative effort between the Khan Bank, the Women's Council of UB and IWAM to help impoverished female-headed house holds keep their head above water.  What a wonderful experience it was!
We began our visits to these first-time gardeners in Nalach, a coal mining town whose population suffer from any number of health issues due to unsafe mining practices in the past.  A lot of men are unable to work now or have died and so the burden of supporting the family often falls to the women.  With no real employment available it is a hard scrabble life for them.  Inside this unprepossessing door we found a beautiful spark of hope though - in the form of vegetables.
 This girl lives with her mother.  They were chosen to participate in the project ( as all members are) due to their diminished financial situation, lack of men supporting them and eagerness to learn and participate.  The project provides them with seeds, fertilizer, education and support to allow them to grown enough food to feed their families.  And the women love it!!

Everywhere we went there was lots of discussion about what was working and going well and what needed improvement.  Lots of questions and answers....

 I, unfortunately, know very little about gardening so I was forced to listen....and take photos.  Not too tough of a job.  This is a typical street in most towns in Mongolia and a typical scene everywhere - even in UB.  Water is provided at central wells and everyone, even the littlest ones, are expected to help get it.  Imagine how heavy these buckets are going to be when they are full....

 Our second stop was truly inspirational.  I couldn't believe that this is this woman's first garden ever!!
 She's built two greenhouses and tilled her entire yard to plant veggies.  She tells me she will have enough to keep her family in wonderful fresh vegetables throughout the winter and will still be able to sell quite a bit to help plump up the family coffers.  Wow.
 One of the things that they teach the participants is to plant lots of flowers so you get bees to pollinate your veggies...and add a splash of beauty I might add.

 Here we are in front of one of the greenhouses she built....I feel  like I was in the land of the Jolly Green Giant...with me being the giant!!  Hard to imagine that this little bit of thing has managed all this work herself...

 ....half of the front garden...
 Nothing like a beautiful, fresh tomato for a healthy summer snack!  

Of course, we need to point out the Mongolia is mostly desert...which makes gardening interesting.  Especially when these guys don't have running water..I guess you could say they have walking water because that is how they get the water to water the plants...they walk to the central well, fill up their barrel and then carry it or put it on a water dolly and haul it home..then dump it into the ground to make the garden green and then do it all over again the next day.

 Some of the people we visited lived in actual gers, others had houses - so to speak.

 But they were all extraordinarily proud of the contribution they had been able to make to the health and well being ( and survival!) of their families!  The beautiful thing was to see these formerly seriously disadvantages women beaming with pride at the bounty of food they now enjoyed.  All for the price of some seeds, manure, shovels,  a couple of classes, and an experienced volunteer to help them get it right as they plant and weed and care for their gardens.
 This lovely grandmother couldn't wait to dig up some of her potatoes to show us how well they were growing. She also was experimenting with different planting and weeding and watering strategies to see what worked best....for next year.  The ultimate goal.  "If you give a man a fish" personified.  It was awesome.  Oh, and we scored big time as well.  The women all wanted us to have some of the fruits (well, vegetables...) of their labour.  I am eating these exact potatoes for dinner tonight.  Yum.
 I think we were both as happy and excited to see the tremendous difference this project has made to so many people as the women were .

 These kids are the lucky ones...healthy food and learning how to provide for their own families later in life.  
 We also visited a woman who participated in the project 3 years ago and is now teaching her neighbours how to do it.  She also proudly showed off her root cellar where she winters the vegetables that will survive.  It was wonderful to see. 

 ...little cherubs amongst the green.  An unusual ( for now!) sight here in Mongolia.
 The neighbours were very entranced by our visit - and the Nikon. One of the cool things about taking pictures here is that  these folks likely either don't have a camera or can't afford developing if they do have a camera so when I take nice pics of them I try to get them developed and taken back to them.  These prints ( and a few dozen more that I took) will be developed and given to the families when they come in to UB later in September for the big festival celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Vegetable Project.  IWAM will be there with bells on and you know I will be too! 

And so will they!  Happy and healthy kids - what a truly inspirational outcome from this project.  Lovely, lovely day visiting these ladies and their kids.

As we left the last home laden with sun warmed vegetables and these gorgeous gates closed behind us I was truly moved by what I had seen.  Such hard-working and dedicated mothers, grandmothers and sisters all working together to help the whole community.  It really doesn't get any better than that. .


  1. Julie what an amazing project - it puts me to shame when I think of the veges that I buy in the supermarket and then throw away.

    Our vege garden did quite well last year, but nothing like this and we have a tap in our back garden.

  2. I know what you mean... it was a magical day though and so so lovely to meet these women and see such positive action.