Monday, June 21, 2010

Food for Life

(Serge here receiving his diploma)

Twenty four-year-old Serge Medeho is proud to stand among his classmates at the Food for Life graduation. He displays maturity and determination not seen in men his age. When asked about the ceremony he simply says, “The ceremony was good. Now, I am looking ahead and I am ready to return home and use what I have learned. I hope to get a large plot of land to practice my biological agriculture.”

Mercy Ships has teamed with Bethesda of Benin, a fellow NGO, to create the Food for Life Agriculture Program. The second graduating class boasts nineteen men and one woman. These participants have completed a gruelling 16 week course where they have learned about biological agriculture and how to manage and market a farm. Now they are armed with the knowledge, tools and skills required to become thriving agriculturists, and better yet: teach others the skills as well.

(The Food for Life choir sang beautifully!)

The director for Food for Life Bethesda, Urbain Lontchedji, speaks to the graduates and attendees at the ceremony. “I know our training was very hard and the students got up every morning and worked long days. Thank you to the families for letting your brothers, sons, and husbands leave home and come here to learn. They will be better off because of it.”

The partnership between Bethesda and Mercy Ships was key for program success.

“This program would not exist without Mercy Ships,” says Bethesda director Victor Gbedo. “We had the idea for this program, but not the means to see it through. Mercy Ships stepped in and provided funding. We are so thankful for this partnership, and I know the graduates appreciate it just as much. We are transforming lives.”

Half of the twenty participants were selected by Mercy Ships and half by Bethesda. Each was identified because of their background in agriculture, and attends the program free of charge. They gain in-depth knowledge on organic farming such as composting, using home-made insecticide, and layering crops that thrive when planted together.

The participants live on-site at the Bethesda Food for Life Training Center for the duration of the course. Each student is given a plot of land that is theirs to maintain. The trainees grow fruits and vegetables such as pineapple, tangerines, corn, beans, peanuts, eggplant, tomatoes, and green beans.

(All the graduates with the staff. Brand new Equipment in the foreground.)

The students and teachers live off of the crops they grow at the center, but they cannot possibly eat all the food they grow! The center is a wonderful food source for people living in the surrounding villages.

“We don’t even have to bring the food into town,” says Mercy Ships Agriculture Program Facilitator Jean-Claude Mouditou, “They know it is here and the people come and purchase the food right as it is harvested.”

Providing food for villagers is an added bonus to this amazing program. The students are benefiting the most by receiving skills and knowledge to be successful farmers. But the hope is that they will teach other people their skills, and the knowledge will multiply. It is important to celebrate such an accomplishment.

The ceremony was filled with singing, dancing and laughter. The student choir harmonized to “Oh happy day, when Jesus washed our sins away,” as family members looked on with pride.

Mercy Ships Managing Director, Donovan Palmer, told the graduates how happy Mercy Ships is to be a partner in this program, and he gave them a challenge: “I want you use your faith and ask God to take what you have learned, and grow it into something greater than you can ever imagine.” Donovan paused. “Are you excited?”

The graduates reply with a resounding, “Oui!” (Yes!!)

(Jean Claude presenting the graduates with their wheelbarrow.)

At the end of the ceremony, each participant was presented with a brand new wheelbarrow filled with their own set of supplies: Two watering cans, a shovel, a pitchfork, rubber boots, a bucket, and seeds were among the items. The graduates lit up with excitement as they rolled their new materials out of the building. “This equipment is so wonderful. It will help us truly succeed!” Serge Medeho says.

(Serge here with his family)

After the ceremony, Serge pauses to reflect on his experience. “I don’t even have the words to say thank you. God passed through this organization and helped each one of us. How did I get so lucky? Being here has added so much to who I am. To what I can do. Truly amazing.”

Serge’s sister, Therese, has seen a change in him. “He loves it here. He behaves so differently now. By God’s grace this is possible, and I know he will be very successful now.”

At the close of the ceremony, Mercy Ships Switzerland Director, Bryce Wagner, stood to say a few words. He spoke about how proud Mercy Ships is of these graduates and how their skills will serve them well. He concluded, “Vous ĂȘtes l'avenir d'Afrique,”

You are the future of Africa.

The crowd got on their feet and erupted into claps and cheers. Indeed they are!


Photo of Serge and family--they insisted I jump in, too.

A local musical group came and provided great entertainment!!

The Graduates from Benin.

This is my FAVORITE! So African! Got a new wheelbarrow? sweet, let's strap it to the Zimi to get it home!

Meza and I :)

A few ceremony attendees heading back home on foot.

Jean Claude teaching us about the compost pile!

ALL PHOTOS taken by  none other than Tom Bradley, Photographer extraordinaire!!!

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