Anastasie’s garden is full of lush, leafy greens. Some of them are clearly spinach or lettuce. Some of them hint at root vegetables just underground. Anastasie is in her garden, gathering fresh produce to cook for her family of nine.

Her garden didn’t always look like this. Not too long ago, it was nothing more than a plot of rocks.

That changed when the EMBRACE project came to her village in Rwanda. An ADRA Canada project funded in partnership with the Canadian government, EMBRACE is working to save the lives of mothers and babies in Rwanda, Myanmar, Cambodia, and the Philippines. These lives are at risk due to malnutrition, lack of access to quality health care, and poor sanitation and hygiene. EMBRACE is addressing all of these issues.

Anastasie learned a lot about nutrition from the project. She learned about the different food groups and the importance of a balanced diet.

Anastasie was pregnant with her seventh child when the project began. She practiced everything she learned about proper nutrition for a pregnant woman, a lactating mother, and a young child. She had also learned about child development and how to teach a child by playing with them. She made sure to take the time to play with her baby daughter to support her mental, emotional, and physical development.

“I can see the difference between this little girl and my previous children. If you see her with other children or other families, she’s somehow happier than the others.” Anastasie is convinced it is because of the changes she made in their diet and the way she interacts with her daughter.

She also learned how to grow her own fruits and vegetables using permaculture techniques suited to her climate and the availability of water. “You can see with your own eyes the fruit of the training,” she says, gesturing to take in her flourishing garden.

Anastasie was so excited about all she was learning, she willingly became a permaculture trainer. “It makes me happier that the knowledge won’t stay with only me. I share it with others. I share it with my family and neighbours. There are three to five other families near me who practice permaculture. They all say it’s been very helpful.”

To become a permaculture trainer, she attended several EMBRACE training sessions with agronomists and permaculture experts. Then she came home and began putting into practice what she had learned. Her instructors would visit frequently to give guidance and advice. This was when she learned how to create soil in the rocky plot near her house. She laid down grasses among the rocks and waited for the rains and sun to mulch it. She then mixed soil into this mulch. Now she has very rich soil where once she only had rocks.

Through EMBRACE, Anastasie and those she works with have tried their hands at growing spinach, with much success. “Spinach was new for us. But now, we consider it as Rwanda’s meat. We compare it to meat because we understand that spinach is very good for us, very tasty, and very healthy. We’ve also tried carrots, beets, lettuce, and tree tomatoes.” Tree tomatoes are a kind of fruit that has become very popular in Rwanda. They can be harvested every two weeks during the growing season.

“Before EMBRACE, I was a farmer. But all that EMBRACE has been teaching me is making me a better farmer. The new knowledge and new ideas have opened my mind and changed my way of thinking. Even if all you have is a little space, you can learn to cultivate it. It can even become a business for you. Now I have a farming business of my own, growing a field of tree tomatoes, all because of what I learned from EMBRACE. My income has increased many times over. I feed my own family and I have my own business.

“I don’t know how I can thank Canadians or the Canadian government. But I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have helped us to develop ourselves and change our status and well-being.”