Before 2008, Victoria Mamani Sirpa had only ever cooked with four vegetables: carrots, chard, celery and onions.
That soon changed after she and her family built a huerta (greenhouse) on their property with the help of Fundación Communidad y Axión (Community and Action Foundation), a Mennonite Central Committee partner that is working to improve access to nutritious food in El Alto, Bolivia. The Foundation provides many of the materials for the greenhouses, which project participants build, as well as seeds and training.
Now her family consumes daily the amount of vegetables they used to eat in a week.
“At first, I was interested in the program because my husband was ill and had heart pain,” Sirpa says. “The doctor told him he needed to have more fresh food and vegetables.”
Shortly after they began harvesting vegetables, Sirpa noticed a big difference. “We realized everything was getting better,” she says. “I noticed my children weren’t getting sick at all. Before, they weren’t getting the nutrients they needed, and we didn’t have enough money for vegetables.”
Sirpa now saves what little money she used to spend on vegetables. She also discovered that her whole family wanted to be involved in the project.
“My children grew up in the huerta, and it’s like part of the family,” she says. “Every person puts in their part. I don’t have to ask them to open the door or the windows [to let in the heat]. I wake up in the morning, it’s already done.”
Sirpa appreciates the greenhouse so much, she started working full-time for Foundation as an agricultural technician and teacher in 2012, showing others the skills she’s learned in her own greenhouse.
“My favourite thing is seeing the families start to produce their own vegetables and how it changes their happiness,” she says. “Every time I go visit them, they tell me what they’ve eaten and how happy they are. When they have questions, we work together to find the answers.”
“It gives me a lot of strength that I can pass on the knowledge, because I didn’t study in university and they understand me,” she says. “I speak Aymara like they do and I use the words we both know.”
Victoria Mamani Sirpa noticed that her family was healthier after they started growing and eating vegetables grown in their greenhouse in El Alto, Bolivia. (MCC photo by Matthew Sawatzky)