Photo: Mr Lee and the Spinach Plant
The silver lining amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic is the realization of people’s potential.
The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Suva took the brunt of the effects of the pandemic as they were forced to close the association's gym, which in turn affected the livelihoods of some of its members and staff due to social distancing restrictions.
Despite this, the association remained optimistic and turned a negative situation into a positive one by engaging and encouraging their staff to take advantage of the Ministry of Agriculture’s home gardening initiative.
YMCA General Secretary John Lee said the seedlings handed over by the Ministry of Agriculture fed the families during this difficult juncture in their lives.
“The Young Men’s Christian Association exists to train young men, not only physically, but to become good able leaders.
“We also have health and fitness programmes that people from all walks of life and age groups come to and make use of to be fit,” said John.
“When the pandemic struck, the organization was the first to be affected resulting in its closure on the 19th of March,” he lamented.
“It was also during this period that staff took their annual leave with full pay and when it finished, they took leave without pay.”
“We would like to thank the Ministry of Agriculture for the timely distribution of the vegetable packages to the public, we acquired nine packages for our staff,” said Mr. Lee.
“We did a little bit of community work around the compound and transformed what used to be the kids playing park into our backyard garden. When we got the seeds from the Ministry of Agriculture, we started around the time we had no pay and it has greatly helped our staff and our friends,” said Mr. Lee.
Though they considered themselves farming amateurs, the workers of YMCA managed to plant cabbage, tomatoes, French bean, coriander, methi, sarso, and radish.
“Most of the workers were new to farming in general, even to me, this is the first time I’ve come across some vegetables such as sarso, methi and radish,” he said.
“This is our trial plots and I must say it is a pass for first-timers like us, it has served its purpose and fed our families and friends during a time when we worried about what to put on our tables
“We’ve divided the ones that we will consume while the other half we will keep and maintain for our planting material, which we will cultivate in the next round, and I would like to commend the Ministry for such a wonderful initiative.”
Their workers have begun implementing best farming practices by making use of the little resources available around them.
“We are using bamboo for our tomatoes to hold the plants when it grows, as compared to the usual practice of strings that usually breaks causing damage to the tomatoes,” he said.
“Bamboo will hold the plants together when it grows and will creep onto the branches of the bamboo for support, and why buy materials when you can use what is around you to save money.”
The belief that taking care of nature and that this same care will be reciprocated is a driving force behind their actions to conserve it; “Nature is alive, you look after it well and it will also look after you, it will produce what you expect it to whether you are an amateur or expert, it will give you results if you respect it,” John said.
“Nothing is free, you need to work for that something and the results will amaze you. Never give up, if you fail the first time, keep trying,” he said.
“When you work like our center and keep fit; when you work and realize the fruits of your labour you will have that inner joy that you have gotten something out of nothing, just from a bit of work.”
“Engaging work in your backyard will not only make you eat healthy food and live a healthy lifestyle but it will also be combating Non-Communicable Diseases.”
“When the gym re-opened on the 23rd of June, we were able to fathom the art of home gardening and farming in general, and it was through the Ministry of Agriculture’s assistance that we were able to learn new things,” he said.
The non-profit organization has also extended its little garden, planting other fruits and crops with spinach crawling along the fence and shrubs of the organization’s compound.