In the community of Mbekweni on the outskirts of Paarl, a small food garden is thriving in Selina Khonjwayi’s backyard. She is 68 years old and is the proud owner of a garden that she has been trained to manage and maintain herself with the help of grey water.

Poor health leading to unemployment

Her journey hasn’t always been easy though. Selina had to retire a few years ago due to poor health. Along with suffering from arthritis, she also underwent surgeries to get hip and knee replacements, and started to develop heart problems. Their household income decreased drastically and Selina realised that she would have to make a plan to take care of her family or they wouldn’t survive.

For years I was a domestic worker, and my passion for gardening started there. My employer allowed me to plant things in her garden and I loved putting my fingers into the soil. I was amazed when the first shoots of the seedlings broke through the ground. I grew everything from potatoes to carrots, spinach and beans. It always filled me with such joy,” says Selina.

Getting her hands dirty again

Selina heard about a community workshop called ‘The Grey Water Household Food Garden Initiative’ presented by ASNAPP, and decided to attend. She loved gardening and was eager to learn more about the kinds of plants she can grow, especially with the drought in the Western Cape.

I didn’t want to become depressed because of my financial problems. I wanted to keep my mind busy and do something purposeful with my life.”

After attending the workshop, Selina was identified as one of the recipients of a Greywater Food Garden starter kit by ASNAPP and received further technical training to ensure sustainability.

Along with the other community recipients, she was taught how to use recycled water, how to establish a vegetable seed bank and to develop her own composting with organic materials.

I am very proud of my mom and love helping her in her garden. They teached her everything from how to use grey water to irrigate, when to plant what seeds and how to work the soil. She also received booklets on gardening to refer back to,” says her daughter, Zuki.

More than just nutrition

Her new food garden continuously produces healthy fruit and vegetables for her household of five, and she loves to share the monthly harvest with her neighbours and friends.

Much deeper than the physical benefits and food security though, is the purpose and new hope that she has received by contributing to society again. And the bonus is – she is doing it by living out one of her passions.

Selina, Mbekweni
Selina with her daughter, Zuki, tending to their backyard food garden.

Having a flourishing garden doesn’t come without its challenges though. “There are nights where I would pretend to sleep as I hear how drug addicts try and steal my veggies or equipment. Luckily everything is safe, but these are the harsh realities of staying in a community like Mbekweni.”

Her dream is to inspire others to start food gardens of their own.

I have already convinced two of my neighbours. They are now also putting food on the table by growing it themselves, and I promise you, there will be many more.”

Selina moves slowly with the help of crutches, but every morning at the break of dawn, you will find her in her garden, to weed and water ‘her children’.

In 2018 Valcare partnered with ASNAPP (Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products) to distribute 27 Grey Water Gardens in Mbekweni, feeding approximately 135 people. The recipients also received training on food security and diet and nutrition to ensure sustainability. Selina is one of the beneficiaries.