When Majoele Nkobloane, from Macha-feela village, in Lesotho, was diagnosed with HIV in 2007 the obstacles she faced seemed overwhelming, and getting enough food to eat was one of the biggest struggles.
“I used to have to travel long distances to find vegetables and sometimes the herd boys would beat me,” says the 66-year-old. “It was difficult because not having enough food while taking HIV medication made me vomit.”
However, over the last few years organisations in Lesotho, including the Lesotho Red Cross, have pioneered a new approach to help people grow enough food.
“In 2010, the Red Cross started teaching us about keyhole gardens. I’ve learned about manure, compost and other techniques, which help us grow lots of spinach and other vegetables,” says Majoele.
Keyhole gardens – so-called because of their shape from above – are a great way for people to grow their own food, especially for those who don’t have access to a large plot of land or the energy to maintain it.
The gardens are built to waist height and arm span, making it easy for people to tend to them and grow nutritious, healthy food almost all year round.
The Red Cross trains ‘lead gardeners’ in each community to share knowledge on how to make the gardens as productive as possible. It also teaches methods of food preservation to help sustain people between harvests. Excess food can be sold at market, helping families gain a small income.
Red Cross support
“When the Red Cross care facilitator began working in my village in 2007, she advised me to go for voluntary counselling and testing and she was by my side the whole time. She told me not to be afraid of going to the clinic or what people think and to get help so I can live for my grandchildren and today, you can see, I am healthy,” Majoele says.
“Until 2010 when the Red Cross began teaching us about keyhole gardens I was only eating pap [maize] and pumpkin seeds once a day and sometimes I would go to sleep without food. But now my weight is increasing. It’s made a huge difference to my health and my children are happy.
“I received a watering can, spade, and fork from the Red Cross and I’ve also had training from the lead gardener who taught me about manure for the garden and compost and cleaning around the plot and watering my trees.”
“The care facilitator visits me monthly and reminds me to go to the clinic for my check ups as I can be forgetful,” Majoele says. “I talk about my status everywhere I go, because I have accepted it and if I didn’t I could have died, so I want other people to be aware of the issue.
“I’m now a member of a support group which the care facilitator encouraged us to set up. We choose to make a contribution each month and we want to use this money to raise chickens because with the medication we really crave meat. We also loan the money out so we can get it back with interest and we’ve used some of the funds to buy groceries.
“It’s very important the Red Cross continues with this support, especially as there are children who’ve been orphaned who go without food for some days but now they are at least getting something.”