Nonhlanhla Joye is the founder and facilitator of Umgibe Farming, Organics and Training Institute. She hopes to see unemployment in rural areas as a thing of the past. When diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and unable to work and help others, Ma’Joye had to find a way to feed her family. That was when she came up with her award-winning growing system for vegetables and fruit. She claims to be the luckiest person in the world because, as a result of the cancer, she has found her purpose in life which is to stop hunger. And now she is taking it to another level.
Ma’Joye explained that as she underwent treatment, she needed help. She had no idea where the next plate of food for her family would come from. No-one seemed to realise her predicament so she took matters into her own hands. Having grown up in Mpumalanga where her parents had farmed, she had always presumed fruit and vegetables grew in one’s garden at home. Now that she could not work to provide for her children or feed herself a healthy diet, Ma’Joye turned to growing vegetables in her garden. It was going well until the neighbour’s chickens came over and ate the lot. Upset and desperate, she created her frugal, smart gardening method. She collected plastic bags which would otherwise have become land-fill, built a structure to raise them off the ground to navigate the chicken problem, then planted the vegetables into the hanging, plastic shopping bags. This method of organic gardening is water-wise, gives a higher yield and is easily erected anywhere. When the time came to harvest her crops she realised she had, for the first time, far more than she needed. She began selling the excess to neighbours.
A friend suggested that since the vegetables, particularly the spinach, were so healthy and clean it might be worthwhile attempting to sell some to restaurants. The idea worked and for the first time since becoming ill she was able to make some money. It was evident that this was her solution. She could keep on gardening even while ill. But in order to realise the quantities needed to supply to her customers, she needed help from her neighbours and friends. So the company Umgibe was born and the business continued to grow. Before long someone asked to buy her growing system. She had not realised the value of her system so she undercharged at first, but later became more realistic in price. To date she has sold 497 growing systems, is working with 51 co-operatives and 603 households.
As her success grew she was approached by local unemployed people who could not feed themselves or their families. It was impossible to provide for them all but she helped by disguising charity within dignity. Schools requested help to feed the children who came to class without having had breakfast. Many had not eaten for three days. Umgibe installed frugal vegetable gardens at certain schools and in the township, while training the people to care for them. The schools sold the excess produce to earn money for other necessities. Umgibe has plans to build 912 frugal, smart farms in the future.
On Friday, 31st August 2018, Ma’Joye will host 100 girls from 10 schools, all below the poverty-line. They will be treated to a wonderful, chef-cooked lunch, but it will not end there. Umgibe will install food gardens in these 10 schools and provide self-development programmes for the girls. The purpose is to show the girls “We see you; we acknowledge your existence; we love you and we’re going to support you and restore your dignity as a human being.” Because as Madiba said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The way we raise our children is the way to Ubuntu.
The mission to end hunger has grown into so much more. GIZ, a developmental agency, has committed to partnering with Umgibe in order to touch more schools in other provinces. She challenged everyone to look inwards and ask “What am I doing to help people sustain themselves?” They don’t want a hand-out; they need a hand up. Umgibe is planning to train at least 80 social entrepreneurs as peer educators for another group next year, thus developing people who can provide for themselves. They especially want to help girls to cope with more than just physical hunger. The ‘hidden hunger’ or emotional hunger that exists in many children today has prompted the Stop Hidden Hunger campaign. Many girls have never had anyone say to them, “I love you” and really mean it. They tend to accept any glimmer of love they can find, even if it is not real. These children have never been given a treat by a loving parent or relative; never been accepted for who they are.
Imagine what it is like to go to school hungry. How would you perform? How would you cope with the rigours of a school day? Most people when hungry become angry. We need to prevent children from dropping out of school;… hunger is often the main cause. Hungry children cannot concentrate, cannot participate; all they can hear is their empty stomach. Similarly, children who are unloved will turn to anyone, even an abuser, looking for love. Even the wrong sort of love is better than none, they think. This is why so many school girls become pregnant and so many children do not realise they have been abused, or if they do, accept it as part of life.
Ma’Joye made her choice when faced with cancer. She could have done nothing but she chose to dream of a better country; a country where children have the right to a full stomach and to love. She asks everyone to make their choice too. Doing nothing is also a choice!
For more on Umgibe Farming, Organics and Training Institute, visit their website: https://umgibe.org/