What we Believe
We believe that growing and eating healthy food can – and must – be a part of the long-term solution to malnutrition.
The world is facing an acute food and nutrition crisis. We must meet the world’s food needs with an approach that is environmentally sustainable, recognizes the primacy of nutrition for agriculture and health and strengthens local communities.
Through our work, we are changing the way that malnutrition is treated by moving away from short-term handouts and towards equipping families with the knowledge and resources to grow their own nutritious food and improve their health. We envision a future in which the key to lasting food and nutrient security for vulnerable families lies in their own backyards.
How we Started
GHI was founded in 2007 by then college students Julie Carney, Emma Clippinger, and Emily Morell Balkin, who believed that agriculture can – and must – play a critical role in addressing large-scale public health challenges. In 2010, in response to Rwanda’s high rate of chronic childhood malnutrition, and the significant political will that exists to tackle this pervasive public health challenge, we launched what is now our core effort: our Health Center Program. Four years later, what began as a pilot project with a dozen families at 2 health centers, has grown into a program that will reach 3,080 families at 20 health centers this year alone.
Our team has approached the design and implementation of our Health Center Program and the policy and capacity-building work that stems from it, through the lens of true community-led development. Our curriculum and training methodology were designed in partnership with mothers that we serve, while our agriculture innovation team works cross-culturally to design interventions that are effective and culturally adaptable. The result is an organization that meets and responds to the needs of individuals and communities, while simultaneously demonstrating the immense potential that agriculture has to improve health and nutrition throughout the region.
What we Do
At Gardens for Health we are working to transform the way that malnutrition is treated by using agriculture as a key driver of better health. Our innovative approach operates at the nexus of health and agriculture to fight malnutrition by:
- Partnering with health centers in Rwanda to integrate agricultural support and comprehensive health education into the clinical treatment of malnutrition
- Advocating for policies and programs that include agriculture in the prevention and treatment of malnutrition
- Training partners throughout the region who are interested in adapting our model and methodology for their communities
To date, we have worked with more than 5,000 families through our Health Center Program, helping to ensure that an estimated 20,000 people have access to the healthy food they need to grow and thrive. In 2016 alone, a total of 2,100 children enrolled in our program.
In addition to our Health Center Program, we work to build the capacity of the Rwandan health care system and to provide technical assistance to regional partners who are using agriculture to address malnutrition in their own communities. In 2014 we are working as a partner to the District of Musanze, in northern Rwanda, to improve the community level identification, treatment and prevention of malnutrition. We are training government Nutritionists, Agronomists, Community Health Workers and Village Agriculture Promoters. We are also providing training and technical support to 10 NGO partners throughout the region, who are interested in adapting our model to fit their communities.
Why we Do it
A 2013 Save the Children report estimates that 165 million children around the world are malnourished. Malnutrition contributes to nearly one third of all early childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. While the loss of life is overwhelming, the loss of human capital is equally sobering. Children who lack adequate nutrition in their formative years are less likely to attend school and, when they do, they are less likely to succeed. On average, these children earn less and die at a younger age than their healthy peers.
In Rwanda, where our core program operates, malnutrition is a pervasive challenge that threatens to undermine both the health and economic growth of the nation. A recent study investigating the cost of hunger estimates that malnutrition costs Rwanda 11.5% of its GDP and is a contributing factor in 21.9% of child mortalities. Despite the fact that 85% of Rwanda’s population is engaged in agriculture, 44% of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished. We work to bridge that gap.
Globally, malnutrition is one of the critical challenges of our day. However, in too many cases the system is equipped only to provide short-term interventions. By broadening the treatment of malnutrition beyond the clinic walls, and using agriculture as a key driver of better nutrition and health, we hope to transform the way that malnutrition is treated in Rwanda, and throughout the region.
Where we’re Going
Our ultimate objective is to integrate agriculture into the clinical care of malnutrition in Rwanda, and throughout the region, so that nutrition focused home gardens become a key strategy for addressing, and ultimately eradicating, chronic malnutrition among vulnerable families. This will require a fundamental shift in the current treatment of malnutrition – and a primary objective of our Health Center Program, and the policy and partnerships work that stems from it, is to demonstrate that such a shift is not only possible, but necessary.
We believe in investing in the agency of families and communities, and equipping them with the knowledge and resources to grow better health over the long-term. We look forward to partnering with more families, more communities, more clinics and more countries in the years to come. But first and foremost, we look forward to watching the children who have graduated from our program grow and thrive.
In the coming year, we look forward to working closely with the District of Musanze, in northern Rwanda, to both extend the reach of our health center program and to deepen that capacity building work that we are doing to strengthen the health system, so that Musanze can serve as a model for more wide-scale adoption of our approach. At the same time, we plan to expand our partnerships initiative in order to share our approach with more local and regional NGOs. It is through this blend of direct service, government capacity building and technical assistance that we hope to extend our reach within Rwanda and beyond.
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Our staffing model reflects our commitment to building the capacity of local leaders, systems and communities. Over 90% of our team is composed of talented and experienced Rwandan professionals. We recruit our field staff directly from the communities they serve, based on their leadership potential and level of trust within those communities. Our field staff is supported by a leadership team that brings talented Rwandan and American professionals together to develop and implement our growing program.