April and I just returned from visiting Jose’s, an extended family of 10 children and 6 adults who live several miles outside town in a collection of very modest concrete block and wood pole structures. When you pull up to their place, the kids come running out to greet you. They are ALWAYS excited to have visitors and as soon as we receive their hugs they say “Come see the garden!”
Everyone in the family is proud of their new raised garden bed, including the men who enhanced it after installation during the Friends of Cozumel mission project week last month. The men cut and stripped wood poles from young trees in the jungle then anchored the poles in concrete on top of the blocks to create a canopy of palm fronds providing partial shade for the young plants. The garden is beautiful, thriving with healthy plants and has a truly amazing “order” in stark contrast to the chaos of this family’s daily life and living conditions.
Cilantro, lettuce and carrots are growing in neat rows with space allocated for subsequent plantings. Antonia, the gardener and family matriarch shown in the photo with a grand daughter, provides a tour pointing out squash seeds drying in the sun to be planted in a couple of weeks. She clearly has a vision and “plan” for next steps. In the years I have known her, I’ve never seen her so positive and confident.
It is gratifying to see Antonia’s enthusiasm for making natural organic fertilizer (compost). She is practicing what she learned in an educational workshop taught by Adrian Medina as part of our garden mission project. Adrian is a local compost expert, biologist and dive instructor. Antonia has three compost areas: one enclosed in a bag given to each family at the compost workshop that she is monitoring the desired heat temperature and is nearly ready to spread on her garden; a second active compost container where the family puts all organic left over food matter; and a third container storing leaves and other natural plant materials to add to the food matter.
We had to laugh because when Antonia showed us the compost container for food matter, there were a couple of non-organic garbage items the kids probably put there. She immediately called everyone together to re-explain that only organic food items go in that container and the rest is “garbage” to be thrown away. She is teaching the children and holding them accountable for knowing what goes into the compost and what is not organic. One difference we noticed representing a significant change in the family’s outdoor living area is the ground around the raised garden bed is raked clean of clutter.Who benefits from garden efforts? The entire family, especially the children like Luisito, Ivonne and baby Maria Paula pictured here. Antonia continues to sell flower clippings and various types of chili peppers. Although the garden bed plants are not yet mature, she plans to use some to feed the family and sell others.
Antonia’s husband works as an “albanil” . . . a cement laborer, when he can find work. He is starting to help her sell cuttings of flowers and chili peppers by taking them to neighbors and into town. I asked Antonia what she does with the money she earns. She said “Compro mis fijolitos y tortillas para la familia” (Translation: I buy my beans and tortillas for the family.) For the first time in her life, she is earning $ and helping put food on the table. She feels good about herself, is involving the kids in pumping/carrying water from the well to water the garden and she has a common project to do with her husband that benefits the whole family.
Many of us who are involved as volunteers with Friends of Cozumel took a break after our February mission projects. Check back often. We are now resuming frequent posts about mission efforts. We’ve been so blessed with cruiseship visitors and spring break vacationers bringing donations to benefit the community. THANKS to everyone! ~ Karen