HAVING harvested more than 3000 plants so far, Woolhope High School’s vegetable tunnels have proved to be a highly successful effort in creating a self-sustainable school.
The Malabar school was the first school built in the old Cape Province by the previous government exclusively for Indians after the forced removal from South End and initially catered for all grades from one to matric, before Malabar Primary was opened 10 years later. The demographics of the school have changed radically in recent years and now the majority of pupils are from the townships.
The school’s vegetable garden was started in August by the Al Fidaa Foundation and has three protective tunnels, each containing more than 700 seedlings.
The gardens have been harvested twice since the first seedlings were planted. The third is currently underway. It takes about six weeks from seeding to harvesting.
The garden is one of three projects run by the Al Fidaa Foundation. They have also started vegetable gardens at Sakisizwe School in Zwide and the Malabar Old Age Home.
“We have one in the pipeline for next year at the Helenvale Clinic. We just have to wait for the land to be cleared,” said Ridwaan Abrahams of the foundation.
The Woolhope garden is maintained daily by Maxem Peter and Mano Pillay, maintenance staff at the school, under the supervision of teachers Latif September and Shireen Kader.
The two teachers, with the assistance of Al Fidaa, are responsible for the management of the vegetable tunnels.
The main objective of the project is to generate extra income.
“We sell the produce to the community, some of the nearby shops including Spar, and local caterers,” said Kader.
Various vegetables are grown including spinach, peppers, coriander and chillies. Coriander is the most popular as it is in great demand in the Malabar community.
The vegetables are planted in dead river sand, which is used mainly to stabilise the plants as a special nutrient is added to the water.
Pupils help in the garden by watering the plants and cleaning up. They also assist the school in selling the produce by taking orders from their parents.
According to September, the plan is to assign one of the tunnels to a school society for a period of six months as a project, and the funds generated will be used for improvements at the school. The current project is raising money to buy new books for the library.
“It is all used to benefit the school,” said September.
He said the next step is to be able to support the school’s feeding scheme.
The feeding scheme was started in 2004 by Kader and feeds about 100 pupils daily.
“We give them sandwiches, but we would like to provide soup and other food,” said September.
Kader said there is a need for a feeding scheme at the school as many pupils come to school hungry.
“To us it is two slices of bread. To them it may be the only meal they will get the whole day.”
The school hopes to start getting the community involved in the garden by recruiting volunteers to help.
They will benefit by learning valuable skills which will in turn lead to job creation, said September.
“Our motivation is to have workshops which will empower the community so they can do it themselves.”
Abrahams said Al Fidaa had started the garden for the school and they are expected to carry on from there.
“We will continue supporting and assisting them,” he said.