Royal Horticultural Society award-winning designers, John Warland and Sim Flemons, are in Bolivia to gain inspiration to create World Vision’s charity garden – due to be unveiled at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Here, John submits their final blog from Bolivia.
The question that our Western mindset keeps on asking as we drive into these extremely remote local communities is: “Why do they live here?” If they moved a few hundred metres lower, or closer to the cities, it would appear that a lot of their food security and health issues would be solved. But of course, this is their home, their life, it is all they know and have known for hundreds if not thousands of years. They love their community, and are proud of their culture and life in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments. Why should they move?
Personally, if you told me that I had to go and live on top of Ben Nevis year round (that is at only one quarter of the altitude experienced here), and try and keep livestock and maintain a balanced diet without access to any modern food chains, there would only be one simple answer.
So World Vision does not attempt to move these people, or even tell them what to do. After a two year consultation period to establish what the communities require, World Vision provides them with the knowledge and basic infrastructure with which they can help themselves. After an average project period of 15 years, the community’s needs should have been met or exceeded and they should be self sufficient. This is a model we have seen working on a daily basis during our time here. Before they had the knowledge and materials to build the greenhouses their diet consisted mainly of the staple potatoes and quinoa. The introduction of tomatoes, spinach, salad leaves and other veggies has meant they now enjoy a balanced diet. They vouch for getting ill less often, and the children are more alert at school. Jamie Oliver, eat your heart out!
Like nourishing a plant in its earliest years usually leads to longer term success, the same is true for children. With access to clean water and a balanced diet in place, a series of fundamental building blocks for the children of the communities of Mosoj P’unchay produce a legacy that will live on long after World Vision has completed its mission here.
Common bonds can bridge language and culture divides across the world. Whether it be a shared football team or familiar joke it can often break the ice.
So it was almost heartening to hear that gardeners in Bolivia experience the same gripes and failures that we share down at our allotments on a weekly basis.Whether it be the dreaded potato blight, a lack of crop rotation or beasts and bugs reaping devastation amongst the broad leaved varieties, the problems and possible solutions were shared today in a small village in the Andes of Bolivia. A small slice of an unusual Gardener’s Question time perhaps?
The thirst for more horticultural knowledge and the pride and desire to exhibit their handiwork is overwhelming here. Without access to the internet, books or experienced word of mouth the gardeners here often rely on Chinese Whispers and hearsay to guide their horticultural progress. Am I correct to rotate my crops, ventilate my greenhouse, encourage earthworms? Simple questions that would be answered at home over the garden fence or across an allotment in a matter of seconds, whilst here they may wait months for confirmation of their newly held beliefs. So it has been rewarding to share our own knowledge and experiences, and hope that it will lead to bountiful crops for generations to come. If all else fails we did leave a Bob Flowerdew book here, so if he can’t help I guess nobody can?
Our time in the remote region of Mosoj P’unchay is nearly up and there will be a few memories that will linger…
1. The lack of oxygen! Gasping for air on a daily basis was a challenging experience for us all.
2. The cold climate in direct contrast to the warmth of the hospitality…enough to thaw the coldest extremity!
3. The incredible indigenous people of Bolivia, strong, beautiful and proud.
4. The raw beauty of an almost forgotten land, with snow capped high altitude passes, plunging gorges, verdant plateaus and raging rivers…we have crossed them all on this journey.
4. Being exposed to llama, alpaca and guinea pig as food types is always eye opening.
5. The almost surreal vision of watching communities try and garden at over 4000m in altitude, producing superb crops of the basic food staples and the odd strawberry. Extreme horticulture and human endeavour at its very best!
6. Meeting our sponsored child Ronald was a day never to forget, and remind us of how we can offer support and love across a global divide. To give Ronald, his parents and the community the knowledge that people do care about them, that people want to help them and that their culture and heritage are more secure than ever before.
7. Did I mention the lack of oxygen? Still gasping here…