When we start thinking of the wellbeing of future generations, food comes sharply into focus. Recent studies suggest that a woman’s diet, even before pregnant, can have lifelong effects on babies’ health. However, for many women around the world, eating a nutritious diet is not easy. Nutritious food is either unaffordable or inaccessible.
Elena Tusen is a Hatian woman who came to live in Loma del Guano, a small rural community near Dajabón in the Dominican Republic, over 20 years ago. Elena is married to Osiri Vicente Jimenéz, and they have four children – with another on the way.
Elena is four months pregnant. To get medical check-ups she must go to Los Cerezos, a community an hour away, where there is a primary care unit. They are isolated in the community and lack access to basic services, making life difficult.
“Life here is quiet, but there is not much to work with,” says Elena. “It costs a lot to take what little we have to sell at the market in Restauración or Loma de Cabrera.”
For the past year, Elena has been trained as a ‘champion farmer’ through Progressio’s food security project. She’s been supported by Progressio development worker Karina Cuba and her colleagues at partner organisation Solidaridad Fronteriza to create a home garden growing a variety of crops, to raise chickens, and to understand food nutrition and the importance of a balanced diet.
“Elena’s role as a ‘promoter’ is a really important part of our project,” says Karina. “It enables her to support other people in the community, and strengthen solidarity networks in a community so isolated.”
Working alongside food security specialist Karina, Elena has learnt new skills that she can pass on to her children and ‘champion’ in her local community.
“My family is really thankful for the variety of food,” says Elena. “The garden and the chickens have made life easier. We don’t have to go to market to buy vegetables and eggs for the family, saving time and money. “We are growing lots of new crops and so we have a better diet. And we can make a little money by selling what we produce, mostly among our neighbours here in Loma del Guano.”
Elena has managed to reproduce seeds for the next planting season so feels reassured that she will be able to take good care of her family and ensure she gets the nutritional intake she needs for her new baby’s growth and future wellbeing. As much as she’d like to share her successes, her garden is small so she cannot provide enough seeds for others as well as herself. But Elena is a champion and knows she can win this on this count too.
“As a farming promoter, I want to continue to support other families in the community, and promote food security and nutrition to improve the welfare of the whole community.”
Karina, who trained Elena to be a ‘champion farmer’, spent five years living in the Dominican Republic and getting to fully understand the challenges that rural women face. Her third born child was born in the Dominican Republic and so she fully understands the needs of local mothers. She’s spent the last three years educating women about how to grow nutritional foods and sharing techniques for effective farming. Now Karina has moved back to her home country Peru, but she leaves behind her a long lasting legacy. Elena and other ‘champion farmers’ will reap the benefits of the ‘know how’ shared by Karina for many generations to come.
“For the future, I want to maintain and expand the garden and the chicken coop to ensure the health of my children, and provide some income for schooling,” she says.
For people like Elena, it has taken a whole chain of champions to help her grow her way out of poverty. Now she’s a champion.
And you can be a champion too. Including a gift to Progressio in your will could help to train ‘champion farmers’ like Elena and help many people provide for their families grow their way out of poverty. In the Bible, Romans 12:6 teaches us that, as Catholics, “we all have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us.” So if your gift is teaching, as in Karina’s case, then teach. Or if your gift is encouraging, like in the way that Elena is encouraging the next generation of champion farmers, then encourage. And if it is to give, give generously! Promising a gift in your will not only makes you a champion, but will ensure food security for families living in rural communities for many years to come.