Jean Baptiste getting a job at the end of this story was just the best. He worked so so hard just to make his community better, and now he is paid for it. I asked him and his wife to dance for us, and it truly brought tears to my eyes watching him and his wife transform from parents, from gardeners, into just beautiful smiles. Interview conducted through an amazing Kinyarwanda translator, Pastor Sam, at Jean Baptiste’s home. It is so much easier to do my job when I have a translator to help me convey what I want to say. This was for Vita Gardens/Africa New Life partnership. Photo by Esther Havens.
One of the main foundations of the Kageyo Garden Project is to train people to train other people, and Jean Baptiste is proof that the model is working. Just a few years ago, he didn’t have any experience in gardening or farming, but Jean Baptiste went through the Kageyo Garden Project classes and built his own keyhole garden at his home. Since then, he trained others like Frida and built gardens with them. “If you awake me at night, I can tell you how to mix fertilizer and soils,” he joked. “I now have a lot of experience.” He prefers the keyhole gardens because “they are better and easy to water,” but he also has a large double-dug bed (a garden bed in the ground) in which he grows spinach, cabbage, beets and kale.
Jean Baptiste met his wife Adriene at cultural dancing classes, and they fell in love and got married. They dance beautifully, and their faces immediately light up with smiles as they sway and lift their arms. You can tell it makes them happy. Now, they have four children and make a life together in Kageyo. Jean Baptiste has had various jobs, but it’s obvious that nothing gets him as excited as gardening. He is an enthusiastic disciple for the program. “As for me, I wish every home would have a garden for vegetables,” he said. “If I was the leader, I would command everyone to have one. If I had money, I would sponsor more people to have gardens.” Even without the funds, he is doing his part to see that his neighbors are digging garden plots and growing in their yards, too. He believes the vegetables themselves have the power to transform his community. “Vegetables are medicine,” he said insistently. “They can treat a variety of illnesses. Ever since we started eating them, the kids haven’t fallen sick.”
Still, Jean Baptiste is realistic about the challenges facing his family and his community. “Life here is very hard,” he said seriously. “Here in Kageyo, you need to work hard in order to eat. We don’t have time to rest, we don’t save. We have to work every day to earn a living.” He hopes for a better future through agriculture. “I am dreaming of having more of these gardens so I can sell vegetables like beets. I think it would change my family and my life.” Even though he has learned so much, there is still a lot he wants to experiment with and try. He sees vegetables in Theo’s garden he doesn’t recognize and asks him for seeds.
Jean Baptiste’s wife Adriene is his partner in the garden as well. “It helped my family, especially my children,” she explained. “I love it because it brought a change in my family. I no longer have to shop for vegetables and it’s easier for me.” The family buys less beans now because the vegetables stretch their supply; one kilogram of beans now takes four days to eat instead of three with the added vegetables. Like his wife, Jean Baptiste is most grateful for the way the program has affected his children. “My children are energetic and strong now,” he said proudly. Jean Baptiste’s dedication has paid off; he was recently brought on as a full-time employee of the Kageyo Garden Project. His dream of spreading gardens to every household in Kageyo is fast becoming a reality.