Sunday, August 08, 2010

Yo Mujer: Building a Rooftop Garden in Bogotá

By Nancy Bauer

I met the women of Yo Mujer in February 2009 during my first trip to Bogotá.  In fact, meeting this amazing group of women was the reason for my trip.

I am the Executive Director for Mango Tree Foundation, Inc.  The foundation was created in 2008 to work with women in the developing world to help them become self-supporting through the creation of income generating projects that are culturally, environmentally and economically sensitive and sustainable.    

The women of Yo Mujer are part of over 3 million people in Colombia who are classified as internally displaced. They have been forced off their land, fleeing from terrorism, guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug lords and have made their way to Ciudad Bolivar in Bogotá.  This is a very large and extremely poor area of Bogotá with a population of about 3 million people.  Unfortunately, the women are unprepared for a life in such a hostile urban area. They have very few skills for living in the city and are extremely vulnerable.  They have no jobs, no money and frequently are single female head of household families.  

 Mango Tree Foundation Empowers Women in the Developing World

The women find their way to Yo Mujer by word of mouth.  The nongovernmental organization offers temporary shelter, assistance with access to the rights they are due from the government, basic psychological counseling, and a fairly safe place to stay while they determine what to do next.  Money to support the organization comes through donations from different places but is inconsistent and infrequent which forces operation in constant crisis mode. 

Building the Garden
We asked the women one question: If this were a perfect world and you could have anything to help you with your work, what would it be?  They answered that they wanted a rooftop vegetable garden and some gallinas (laying hens).  How simple is that?  We took that information home and began working on the logistics of building a rooftop vegetable garden and somehow incorporate gallinas.  Our idea was to create the garden and then build a chicken coop over the garden.  However, after numerous discussions and consultations with experts, we had to put the gallinas on the backburner.  The garden would have to do.

A garden is not in itself income generating but it provides several very important things for Yo Mujer.
  • First, it is a way for the women and children of the community to come together to achieve a common goal. 
  • Second, having access to a garden will supplement the steady diet of rice and beans with much needed vegetables.  
  • Third, success of the garden will allow the women to sell extra produce at the local market. 
The rooftop before the gardens were built

We traveled to Bogotá to build the rooftop vegetable garden August 1-4, 2010, with our partners at Uniminuto and INPlazados. Wood, large bags of dirt and vegetables had to be carefully carried up four floors to the rooftops for construction.  Everyone in the community was so excited to be involved in this project – we had more people come to help build the beds than there was room for on the rooftops. 

The completed garden

After three days, 14 beds had been built on two rooftops.  Some of the beds were planted with baby veggies, some were planted with seeds and some were left empty  - they will be planted with seeds as soon as the first crop of vegetables is harvested.  The idea is to always have a crop ready to be harvested!        

Donations can help 

Contact Mango Tree Foundation if you have thoughts on how else you can help

(The author, a strong supporter of The ONE Campaign, resides in Roswell, Ga.)

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