root - November 10, 2023

McDonald’s sponsorship: sowing seeds of hope

Cultivating a brighter future for vulnerable learners

Peter Luhanga 

One harvest at a time, a school vegetable garden is sowing the seeds of success while at the same time providing nourishment for vulnerable learners at the Athlone Secondary School on the Cape Flats. 

As the green thumbs of grade 8, 9 and 10 learners cultivate their crops with dedication, they not only cultivate knowledge and skills across diverse subjects but also, after each bountiful harvest, contribute these vegetables to the school’s soup kitchens which provides a nourishing meal to numerous learners from underprivileged backgrounds in the community. The meal from the school is the sole meal of the day for some learners. This is thanks to fast-food chain, McDonald’s, who covered the costs of constructing and filling eight garden beds with soil and mulch, plus providing ten bags of compost, as well as seedlings. 

“We’ve on occasion provided the school kitchen with produce to prepare for our learners. Our SRC (Student Representative Council) will be forming a working group to maintain and plant the garden,” says school caretaker and supervisor of the garden project, Roger Isaacs. “Our aim is that the garden will be a catalyst for us to start our Eco (ecology) Group at school,” says Isaacs.

He conveyed his school’s deep appreciation for the McDonald’s initiative, saying he shares the food chain’s vision of raising awareness about food security. 

He says both the school and the broader community aspire to make a meaningful contribution to “our collective state of health and well-being.” 

“The assistance we have received thus far from McDonald’s is appreciated and we wish them all the best in this endeavour, and trust that they will reach the communities they intended. The sponsorship has had a positive impact on our school.”

He said there were some challenges, such as theft due to a lack of fencing around the garden. The Excessively chilly winter snap in mid-September also resulted in crop failure and pest problems. “Looking to the immediate future, it would appear that we will experience a very hot summer, but we can mitigate this with aa proper watering schedule and mulching of the beds,” says Isaacs.

Fifteen-year-old Chulumanco Smayile, a grade 9 learner and Khayelitsha resident, says the garden project beautifully complements his studies, including Life Orientation, Natural Science, and Geography.

“Gardening has made me understand the intricate workings of life and the beauty of nurturing plants in the earth,” says Smayile.

Smayile says when they harvested the initial batch of vegetables, they provided them to the school’s kitchen which in turn, used it to prepare soup. “As the learners who cultivated these vegetables, we took pride in serving this soup to our fellow learners,” he says, “It made me feel proud to serve my school. Some learners are disadvantaged and that could have been their only meal for the day.”

Another learner Jarred Klassen, 15, who lives in Athlone, says the garden project plays a crucial role in enhancing his understanding of crops and honing his skills in working with plants.

 “This isn’t just about food, it’s also a soothing hobby that helps us find inner calm…it also helps boost self-esteem, it makes one feel good to see plants you’ve nurtured from scratch being harvested and used for food,” he says.

The learners planted a variety of crops including cauliflower, celery, spinach, kale, onions, and beetroot.

School principal Vincent Hendricks says about thirty learners are actively involved in the school garden project.

“The sky is unlimited. You cannot teach a hungry child. The garden helps us greatly… academically our learners will excel … good nutrition makes cognitive learning process,” said Hendricks.

“Only 30% of our parents can pay school fees. Many of our learners came to us after facing rejection from other schools. A massive portion of our parents falls into the working-class poor category. They lack degrees or higher education, and most rely on state grants for support,” says Hendricks.

He says his school accommodates 830 learners and employs a staff of twenty-nine teachers, including himself.

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