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School gardening linked to improved health for special needs pupils in Kirinyaga

School gardening has been lauded for keeping children in school and improving their health.

School gardening has been lauded for keeping children in school and improving their health.

Rosaline Kathenja, the head of Raimu primary school in Kirinyaga, says the gardens are even more rewarding for the special needs children in her school.

"The multiply disabled children have added vegetables in their diet every lunch and supper for the boarding section," she said.

Instead of selling the sukuma wiki, spinach, cabbage, and kienyeji vegetables, the school adds them to the children's diet.

Previously, the head teacher noted that the special needs children would regularly fall sick, but are today healthier. Raimu has 72 special needs children from a total school population of 436.

"Even those in wheelchairs are now stronger."

Further, the pupils are taught about nutrition.

Kathenja says the school also grows pawpaws, passion fruit, bananas, and pumpkin.

Gacatha Primary School's Stanley Mwangi said teachers ought to teach nutrition to the children and have them, in turn, talk to their families about it.

"Grade 1 children understand what to eat at home and advise families on healthy eating," he said.

Mwangi and Kathenja spoke during an interview in Kirinyaga town. They were among hundreds of other teachers who were being trained on best agriculture practices. The teachers have partnered with Nestle for the healthier kids programme which has ensured the school has fertiliser and vegetable seedlings.

According to Mwangi, the school gardening project has awakened the children's interest in agriculture.

But the project has not been without challenges. Mwangi and Kathenja cited water scarcity as a major hurdle as the crops end up drying.

To counter this, Kathenja says her school has started focusing on drought-resistant vegetables.

Nestle's Judy Mwangi said although the idea of growing one’s own vegetable produce may seem daunting at first, the organisation provides agricultural and technical support to the schools.

Surplus food from the school gardens is shared with pupils from poor families.

Kathenja said the child-friendly project also reflects on the academic performance.

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