Garden to produce bright minds

Liesel James, right, and Vuyani Qamata, talks to pupils and teachers at Lehlohonolo Primary School in Gugulethu, at the new nursery.

Nine years ago, Pamela Magadeni, of Vlei informal settlement, Philippi, was informed by the doctors at a popular hospital that she didn’t have long to live, causing her a lot of anxiety and stress.

She had just been diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure. Her kidneys were apparently slowly peeling off. “My skin complexion was pale. I was severely bothered by the news,” she said.

However, her fortunes drastically changed when she arrived at her employer’s house for work, in Westlake. “I was crying because I did not want to die,” she said. And it was her tears that grabbed the attention of her employer, Kevin James, who promised to assist her. Mr James linked Ms Magadeni with his wife Liesel James, Conscious Lifestyle Consultant, who advised her to change her diet.

Ms Magadeni said the diet was in sharp contrast to what the doctors had instructed her to eat. She was advised to cut down on starch, bread and maize meal, and instead eat more fruit and vegetables with some fatty foods including liver.

“Since the doctors had said I was going to die I thought they wanted to finish me off. I could not understand why they wanted me to eat what the doctors told me not to eat,” she said.

Nonetheless she tried the diet. When she returned home later that evening she said she bought herself cow’s liver and a lot of fat to eat with it. “I immediately felt the difference. Everything felt differently,” she said. “I was not interested in anything, but now everything has changed including my sex life. I was just not interested in sex. That has now changed.”

When she returned to the clinic three weeks later she said her life had completely changed. She has also lost weight from a whopping 120kg and is now weighing 84kg. “I am perfectly fine now. When I started losing weight people in my community thought I was sick,” she said praising Ms James.

Ms James teaches conscious cooking to pupils and women in underprivileged communities, encouraging healthy eating and alternative cooking methods such as the Wonder Bag, solar cooking and the rocket stove. She also searches and identifies sustainable gardening projects in communities for funding.

And in a bid to help people who find themselves in positions like Ms Magadeni, Ms James joined forces with another community activist, Vuyani Qamata, the founder of Sinako Urban Farms. Mr Qamata works with different schools, assisting them to start and maintain vegetable gardens. Through their partnership they hope to inspire and encourage of lot of young people to venture into gardening, while improving their well being.

On Thursday June 16, as part of Youth Day celebrations, they launched a green house nursery at Lehlohonolo Primary School, in Gugulethu. Through the nursery they hope to inspire pupils and the community to grow and eat nutritious food.

Ms James said people relied on fast food outlets and that compromised their well-being. Through the gardens she said they wanted to grow their own food. She said schools have a lot of available land to sow vegetables and urged communities to join them to improve their lives. “We can’t wait for government to give us food,” she said. “We have to go back to self-reliance skills. Food is expensive. By starting food gardens we are not only propagating urban farmers, we are also propagating food.”

Ms James called for the reintroduction of agriculture at schools as a subject. “The rest of Africa has agriculture in their curriculum,” she said.

Mr Qamata said the plan is to fully equip pupils with skills to be able to garden and eat healthy.

Following the death of his mother in 2009, due to cancer, he said he decided to embark on initiatives to change people’s life styles. He first approached his friends, but noticed they were not interested. It was then that he decided to target young children. With the support of Acacia Global, an international organisation, he started the garden at Lehlohonolo Primary School. He said they would soon be starting outdoor classes to give pupils the space to harvest and cook vegetables.

“We want them to understand the entire process. With this nursery we want them to understand how vegetables grow,” he said. Mr Qamata said John Pama Primary School, in Nyanga, was their next stop. “We believe that if we target young people by the time they get to high school they would have grasped the whole concept of healthy eating,” he said.