Mercy Ships has long been committed to strengthening health systems and providing direct medical services through surgical intervention onboard our hospital ships. But did you know, Mercy Ships is also dedicated to whole person care? Since 1997, Mercy Ships has provided education to help participants rebuild, restore, and renew their land and communities through organic agriculture development. Today, we call this life-changing training program Food for Life.
How Food for Life Transforms Communities
The program provides in-depth agricultural training, with special focuses on nutrition and business entrepreneurship. As course participants discover which crops to plant and best tending practices, they also learn how to produce, process, market, and sell their crops.
The result? A sustainable approach to agriculture that has the potential to transform individuals as well as communities. Since 2007, Mercy Ships has led Food for Life courses in 9 African countries, training more than 800 participants.
The impact of the course doesn’t end with its participants. By the end of the program, participants have also learned how to train others with their fresh skills and business acumen. Food for Life graduates are given the resources and tools to go back into their communities and create a ripple effect of transformation as they share their knowledge with other aspiring farmers. This “train-the-trainer” approach is key to our sustainable health systems strengthening model.
In 2021, we will provide another Food for Life training program in Senegal as well as Benin, where we are also partnering with Phaz Compassion to renovate a regional Food for Life campus.
Meet Birima, a Food for Life Student in Senegal
For program participants like Birima, a Food for Life student in Senegal, the opportunity to learn about organic agriculture has been transformational on every level.
The program was Birima’s solution to years of searching. He had looked far and wide for a successful job, even traveling from his home country of Senegal to Morocco. When he heard of an opportunity to participate in the Food for Life training program in late 2019, he decided to join. Throughout the 22-week course, Birima — along with a group of more than 30 fellow students — developed a foundation in the world of agriculture, including agroecology, nutrition, and food processing.
“Having this knowledge allows me to be independent and take care of my own food supply,” says Birima. The course has empowered him to begin his own food production business. He started his venture with the equivalent of $40 — and it has already blossomed into a successful, sustainable business. Currently, Birima’s business produces moringa, a leaf-based powder that’s rich in heart-healthy antioxidants. He is also working on setting up a unit to process other local products, like fresh bissap and baobab juices.
Transforming Communities Through Agriculture
The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t stopped Birima from dreaming big. His plan is to eventually produce infant feeding flour, a product that will help with babies’ strength and early development. Malnutrition is a factor in many of the pediatric cases we treat onboard our ships, often contributing to weakened bones and orthopaedic conditions. By implementing effective agricultural training programs in the nations we serve, Mercy Ships aims to tackle this issue from its root. It is our hope that by collaborating with farmers, food producers, and agroecological workers, we can see better nutrition and healthier food systems in rural areas. Birima’s dream will become part of carrying out this vision for his community in Senegal.
Birima’s greatest lesson wasn’t anything that could be taught in the classroom. It was learning how to train other community members that transformed him with a new confidence. “Because of the training, everywhere I go, everyone listens to me. People ask about and are very interested in agroecology.”
“I was challenged by circumstances,” says Birima, “but through this opportunity to learn how to grow and process food, I have now built a vision for my life.”