In 2008, MCC service worker Julie Alexander, of Apex, N.C., worked with a class of 50 juniors at Escola José Leite de Souza in Monteiro, Brazil, to begin an organic school garden. Alexander’s MCC term has ended. The students she worked with have graduated. But the lessons she was striving to teach and the garden that students planted live on. And today, based on the success of this garden, MCC’s Global Family education sponsorship program is supporting a project to expand the work to students and teachers throughout the school, and to develop their leadership skills.
“A seed only germinates in fertile ground,” reads a message in Portuguese, painted onto the wall of the school. Julie Alexander, who started the garden while she and her husband served as MCC workers and lived with their two children in Monteiro, notes that the school is a mix of urban and rural students. While urban students are far more familiar with Internet cafes and video games than planting and harvesting, even students raised in rural areas often focus on their desire to leave farming and move to a city. Alexander hoped to show that sustainable agriculture is one way that people can live dignified lives in rural areas. “There is a need for the produce, and it allows families to stay together,” Alexander says. “Even if they don't choose agriculture as a vocation, they will hopefully learn to value and support it. Maybe they'll have family gardens themselves, or maybe they'll use their leadership skills to improve their communities and create other economic opportunities at home rather than moving away.”
Cicera Rayane Oliveira de Souza (front) and Maria Renila Soares Leandro, weed around kale plants in Monteiro, Brazil, in the school garden. The school garden focused on several objectives: Teaching organic gardening techniques, teaching students about microenterprise by having them take produce to a nearby organic farmers’ market and spreading ideals about environmental care to students’ families and communities.
Gardens also provide plenty of life lessons. “A garden is a great way to talk about how things depend on one another,” says Julie Alexander, who started this garden during her MCC term in Brazil. She often told students that each person has a part to play in the project – and overall in life. “If you don’t play your part here at school or in society, if you don’t contribute your voice, something’s missing,” she told them.
Students and teachers, including from left, Risomar Braga de Carvalho, Ivanete Bezerra da Silva and Maysa Pereira Tomé, work together in the garden. “It was a great place to model values like persistence and hard work, problem-solving and planning and evaluation skills,” says Julie Alexander. MCC Brazil representative Helen Davis notes that Alexander also worked to demonstrate how teachers could serve as mentors, a new idea in an educational system that, at the high school level, is often quite authoritarian. “The project modeled for the teachers how they could encourage the students to take the lead and grow as leaders,” Davis says.
The garden began as a pilot project of one class. It was successful, providing produce for the class to sell and also produce for the school snack program. The next year, in 2009, the effort expanded to become a garden club, the first club at the school. “If it just is one class and they graduate, there’s no one left behind to carry it on,” says former MCC worker Julie Alexander. Lettuce seedlings are ready to be transplanted into garden plots.
Selton Gustavo Maurício Quaresma and Marcos Vinícios dos Santos Caldeiro are part of the younger group of students who have become involved in the garden club. The club is a mix of ages and encourages students to develop leadership skills while working together as a team. Students worked on generating objectives for the garden and a mission statement. “It worked in an extraordinary way,” says biology teacher Ana D’Arc. “It helped students with discipline, leadership, and they became really involved.”
Moving garden hoses without harming plants is a job for a team. From left, Maysa Pereira Tomé, Marcos Vinícios dos Santos Caldeiro, Selton Gustavo Maurício Quaresma and Stallon Russel Patriota de Freitas work together while watering the garden. This began as a pilot project of one class and is now a school garden club. MCC’s Global Family education sponsorship program is providing funding to help build leadership among new students and new teachers. Sponsorships are available for this and other Global Family projects in Brazil. Learn more.
As a nurse and gardener, Julie Alexander has long had an interest in caring for creation. But, she found, her concern began to grow into more direct action once she and husband John started their family. “After having kids, I felt a growing concern about what kind of world they’re going to grow up in,” she says.
Maysa Pereira Tomé, left, a student leader, and Julie Alexander, who served as an MCC worker in Monteiro, work beside a 52,000-liter cistern. In northeastern Brazil, where dry seasons can last eight months of the year, MCC is helping communities, schools and farmers harvest rainwater. Students dug an 8-meter hole where the cistern was built. Materials were paid for by MCC, and the construction allowed MCC an opportunity to train local stonemasons in the building of this new style of cistern. “It worked so well that the water project went on to construct more cisterns in area schools so that schoolchildren could have clean drinking water,” Alexander says. In addition to funding large cisterns for schools, MCC manages a rotating fund that enables families to build individual cisterns that harvest rainwater from their roofs. Families contribute some materials and labor and can pay for the rest of the cistern materials over a 24-month period. Learn more about how you can support efforts to harvest rain in Brazil.
Selton Gustavo Maurício Quaresma and Dayane Ferreira da Silva work together to water seedlings near the garden. While the garden used some drip irrigation, vegetable and tree seedlings were watered by hand. In addition to providing vegetables for the school’s daily snack, produce was also sold to teachers, students and to a nearby organic market in the town of Monteiro.
Maysa Pereira Tomé and Cicera Rayane Oliveira de Souza thin carrots. Crops in the school garden include kale, cilantro, lettuce, cabbage, beets, carrots and spring onions. How do you talk teenagers into consuming kale? Kale lemonade, of course, says former MCC worker Julie Alexander. Here’s the recipe that Alexander made for the school garden team in Brazil: Place three large washed kale leaves in a blender with some water. Blend and strain into a 2-quart pitcher; add the juice of two lemons and enough water and ice to fill the pitcher. Sweeten to taste and enjoy!