How a Garden Changed My Life

By Christine Saas, Slow Food volunteer in Tanzania

Maji Ya Chai is a small village in the north of Tanzania, at about 10 km from Arusha, along the river. Its name comes from the dark color of its water (Maji for water and Chai for tea).

Maji Ya Chai is home to one of the many Slow Food gardens that are springing up across the continent as part of the 10,000 Gardens in Africa project. It is a community garden, created by Helen Nguya. As she approached retirement, Helen decided she wanted to help disabled people, widows and orphans. She created the TRMEGA (Training Research Monitoring and Evaluation on Gender and AIDS) and implemented the Maji Ya Chai community garden for people living with AIDS. Today she is the coordinator of the Slow Food gardens project for the entire region of Kilimanjaro and Arusha. In the Maji Ya Chai community garden, people cultivate organic products, traditional food and herbs. There are now 18 people living with AIDS who come, learn and work there; Jane Satieli Mwalyego is one of them.

«I was very lucky when I met Helen in 2009. She was very friendly and encouraged me to join the Morning Star group, a group of people living with AIDS. After discovering that I was affected by the HIV virus 15 years ago, I felt alone and isolated. My husband died in 2002; I became very sick, living with much stigma.»

According to Jane, coming to the garden means learning a lot! Amongst other things, you learn about organic farming, how to improve your nutrition and health, how to make the best with food available, how to cook and how to increase your income. You can use all the things you learn at home. «Furthermore we have been trained on AIDS prevention matters, and how to live with HIV and AIDS. It has changed my attitude: I have gained courage and self worth, and I feel stronger.», she outlines.

The garden became one of the Slow Food 10,000 gardens in 2010 and has often been used as a model for others: schools, neighbors and nutritionists come to learn about sustainable agricultural techniques and healthy cooking. All the members become very involved in the consumption and promotion of traditional food and herbs. Jane is also very engaged in these awareness activities: «It has given me much strength to go around and outside the region to convince people to try organic farming, traditional food and the Slow Food philosophy… Finally I cannot resist telling you my favorite breakfast: a porridge with sweet potatoes or an Ugari (which is the traditional Tanzanian food with maize flour) to which I always add a teaspoon of moringo leaves powder».

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