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Nigeria faces a double burden of malnutrition. Widespread food insecurity and lack of access to healthy foods means that while some children are undernourished, others are overweight. Since 2018, Helen Keller Intl’s Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyle work has helped to reduce undernutrition and obesity for underserved primary school students in nine public primary schools throughout the Lagos region.

Janet Odunaiya and her son Tosin are two of the thousands of participants who are learning about nutrition, gardening, and physical activities. Both young students and adults participate, so that everyone learns how to adopt sustainable and lifelong healthy habits. This systemic approach is designed for children, parents, teachers and community leaders to receive the right information both at school and at home.

Kids and parents learn together about healthy habits and nutrition

Tosin, who attends St. Peter’s primary school in Ikeja, first told his mother about the project. Janet is a trader whose shop is located in a local market in Lagos, but she has also become an agriculture enthusiast. She attended one of the training programs organized by Helen Keller, where she learned the concepts and processes of “smart farming” at home. During this training, Janet learned the importance of growing nutritious crops and preparing healthy meals. Afterwards, she created a small home garden in her backyard where she began to grow green leafy vegetables, including fluted pumpkin (ugu) and sweet potatoes for the first time.

“With the knowledge acquired from the training and the seeds I was given by the Helen Keller team, I was able to set up my own private garden where I grow vegetables and fruit crops now. I have harvested some ugu, and potatoes, and I will allow the others to grow back.”

Janet Odunaiya

In the early stage of her farming, Janet and Tosin encountered some challenges with flooding in their garden due to the poor drainage system in her area, but the family eventually overcame these setbacks by stacking up sandbags to block the water pathways to her garden and channel the water on the right path.

A holistic approach to community health and wellness

Within a three-year period, Helen Keller trained 2962 teachers, school managers, government workers, parents, and food vendors on smarter techniques to cultivate micronutrient-rich foods. The trainings covered farming in school gardens, home gardens, and in small spaces using recycled containers, like discarded tires repurposed as planters.

Physical activity, called “active play,” is also a key element of the program. Helen Keller organized a series of trainings for the teachers on physical activities. The community schools participated in sports competitions, including sports festivals and football champion leagues, and also received donated sports equipment.

Harvest Fair celebrates the accomplishments of participating families

Every year, to mark a successful end-of-farming-year, Helen Keller collaborates with the Lagos state government to organize an annual Harvest Fair event with participating schools and beneficiaries. With displays of farm products, equipment, and nutrition-themed entertainment presented by students and community members, the Harvest Fair celebrates the achievements of everyone involved. A total of 40,764 beneficiaries were reached with garden establishment during the project lifetime.