St. Francis Health Care Services, located in Njeru Town Council near the Source of the Nile in Uganda, is an HIV/AIDS non-government organization established in 1998. St. Francis Health Care Services recognized that many HIV positive children in the Buikwe District of Kampala were suffering from nutrition-related illnesses. So, they set out to establish a child rehabilitation centre for extremely ill children with HIV. Following the treatment and nutritional support, many of them were able to recover in a month or two, but still faced the challenge of proper feeding back home. The mushroom project was initiated to help the children and their caretakers (grandmothers) develop skills for producing food at low cost with minimal labor.
Taking Action in the Community
One of the weekly program functions of St. Francis is providing home based care to various people, including HIV positive clients and elderly clients. St. Francis facilitated the formation of peer support groups for these clients and encouraged them to carry out various self-help projects. Based on knowledge of the community, and the fact that many people who were HIV positive were suffering from a lack of nutrition, one of the main self-help projects St. Francis wanted to facilitate was to find a way to produce healthy food as easily as possible.
During a session of the grandmothers support group, the idea of mushroom growing was introduced. The group members determined that anyone who was interested would meet the next week, and they chose a group leader who would assess the potential sites for growing the mushrooms in their respective homes.
The second visit included St Francis staff and support group members, and entailed an assessment of the home, and its suitability for the project. The group leader listed any remaining needs for each member’s home, and then sent grandchildren with St. Francis staff to the town centre to buy the necessary materials.
Additionally, St. Francis staff members also evaluated the resources they had available to dedicate to the project.
Volunteers from Northwestern University, Chicago hosted a practical orientation for seed preparation for everyone participating in the project. The volunteers also purchased the raw materials and constructed mushroom houses. To ensure that participants would be able to carry on the project in the future, the volunteers wrote a guide detailing the procedures for the project, and then St. Francis staff translated the manual. The community members provided the locations to build the mushroom houses, and provided support such as assisting in the construction, watering the mushrooms, and selling the final product.
At the initiation of the project, estimates of the projected sales were made based on the number of mushroom gardens planted. These estimates were a baseline measure for what success should look like, and we met those measures.
Another indicator of the project’s success is that other local groups heard about it and requested a tutorial. They also opted to carry out the same project, and the manuals that the volunteers made were distributed to several groups both in English and the local language, Luganda.
The project was exhibited in the Uganda National Agricultural Trade Show in July 2010 by one of the groups that used the manual.
Additionally, several people who participated in the first cycle of the project decided to continue growing mushrooms, which is an indicator of community participation and ownership of the project. The participants next used the various technical experiences to create a fully-functioning demonstration farm.
The number of people seeking to carry on the mushroom growing project is a clear indicator that the project was of value both to the health and socio-economic livelihoods of the elderly as well as the general community.
One of the most important steps towards sustainability of the project was the creation of the manual in both English and the local language, Luganda, to ensure that anyone who was interested would be able to implement the process we used. And given the interest demonstrated by many in the community, we next set up a permanent structure to serve as a demonstration farm/garden. Additionally, ten of the grandmothers who participated in the initial project were trained and equipped with skills to work as expert trainers. A culture and sensitivity laboratory was also set up at the organization to produce the mushroom spores for seeds.
The impact of the mushroom project is that many community members are experiencing greater health because they now have access to nutritious food. Additionally, several groups have replicated the project; there are currently three grandmothers’ groups carrying out the project with more than two successful cycles.
Six of the grandmothers who took part in the training in the second group have now begun independent mushroom cultivation in their backyards, providing an excellent opportunity for improved health and income.
St. Francis Health Care Services Website: www.stfrancishealthservices.org