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Student Project Seeds Future of Desolate Peru Community

Newfound hope, sense of investment spring from 29 household gardens funded by UW
By Bobbi Nodell | HSNewsBeat | Link to original article

For a group of UW students looking to improve lives in a desert slum in Peru, creating green space has been a daunting challenge.

But the rewards have been great: Flowers and vegetables are now growing behind trellises, fences and rock walls – a powerful example of hope for the community’s residents.


Comunidad Ecologica Saludable  (Healthy Ecological Community) Gardens Green Space and Health is a project of 29 household gardens in the Eliseo Collazos neighborhood of Lomas de  Zapallal, a slum in Lima. Each garden is distinct, inspired by four participatory workshops in August and September 2013.

“I believe projects like this one start changes that improve our lifestyles forever,” Marcia Rodriguez Quiros, a community leader, told the researchers.

The project is headed by Benjamin Spencer, UW assistant professor of landscape architecture, adjunct in global health; Susan Bolton, professor of environmental and forest sciences, adjunct in global health; and Joachim Voss, associate professor of nursing, adjunct in global health. It involves graduate students in global health, public health, landscape architecture, civil engineering and nursing.

Eliseo Callazos

Already this team has racked up eight design awards (see below) for green space interventions: a community park inside a school, which uses reclaimed water for irrigation, a fog collector to gather water and now the gardens.

In the neighborhood, access to fresh food is poor and green space is scant. The idea of household gardens took root because community members expressed little interest in a single shared garden. Residents created drawings of how they wanted their gardens to look, which UW students used to create a kit of parts – steppingstones, fence, trellis, plants – that each participant could draw from. Each part was assigned a value so all gardens cost roughly the same, about $200. Residents then created models with the parts; they also learned how to construct and cultivate.

The community’s excitement for the project surprised the researchers. “Community members took enormous initiative in building their gardens, spending more time and money than I had anticipated,” Spencer said.

Two homes even engaged in a friendly rivalry on building the prettiest fence.

Villagers who didn’t participate initially are now creating their own gardens, Bolton said. Others are buying more paving stones and plants.

New plants are a mix of flowers – roses and margaritas are popular – and vegetables whose seeds sprout easily: carrots, lettuce, radishes, potatoes, yucca, peppers, passion fruit, avocados and onions. Some people got fruit trees and climbing vines. The residents use their weekly allocation of water to hydrate the plants.

Funding for the project came from a UW Royalty Research proposal as well as from the Department of Global Health, and landscape architecture scholarships for six students. Royalty Research funds totaled $37,000, which paid for materials, travel and trainings.

Most of the participants (91 percent) are female, and the average age is 33, with an average of two children per household. Average household income is between $135 and $270 a month; almost a third of participant households make less than $135 a month.


Measuring well-being
The community members decided which measurements were meaningful: mental well-being, nutrition and environmental improvement to habitat.

Participants underwent a baseline health assessment and recently had follow-ups to quantify improvements to their quality of life.

“I learned that most women suffered from loneliness, wanted economic development and were concerned about the level of violence potential with their adolescents,” said Voss, who is overseeing the health assessments.

Given the level of engagement and reactions, researchers expect good results.

“When you stand in the middle of this barren land, every touch of color on the house or the fence gives you hope and everything green provides some prospect of change,” Voss said.

Six months after the gardens were planted, they are thriving and people are planting more food – watermelon, papaya, corn and beans.

Next steps
After another health assessment in September, the next step would be to find funding to expand this approach to other communities and to the city of Lima, Voss said.

Project awards

  • 2014 Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture Excellence in Service Learning Award (for the group of projects)
  • 2014 Design Corps Public Interest Design global winner (household garden, fog collection)
  • 2014 Social Environmental Design (SEED) Award for excellence in public interest design (household garden, fog collection)
  • 2013 EPA P3 Student Choice Award; voted the best project at the P3 Exhibition on the National Mall (fog collection)
  • 2013 Second Place American Society of Civil Engineers Sustainable Development Award (fog collection)
  • 2012 SEED Award for excellence in public interest design (community park)
  • 2012 Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) Great Places Design Award (community park)
  • 2012 American Society of Landscape Architects (ALSA) Community Service Honor Award (community park)

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