Published in "Off The Wall" - The Fiji Times, Thursday 7th October, 2010
ON Saturday afternoon (Sat 2/10/10) members of the Dudley Methodist Youth Fellowship and I visited the Nanuku Squatter Settlement in Vatuwaqa, Suva to distribute baigan (eggplant) and chilli potted plants in phase one of their Project Green. Project Green aims to encourage those in the Nanuku settlement to plant their own vegetables as most residents live impoverished lives. The Dudley Methodist Circuit has a small church there and runs a scholarship programme and food bank to support the community.
Project Green started as an initiative to get the Dudley Methodist Youth Fellowship involved in more community-based work as part of putting their faith into action. I am all for singing gospel praise and worship choruses, bible studies and quizzes and fun-nights but there is more to being a Christian than that. Being a Christian involves us going out beyond the four walls of our churches and out of our comfort zones, where we confront not only the reality of the suffering of those less fortun
ate then ourselves but our attitudes towards them.
The concept of "pot-planting" vegetables is the brainchild of Rev. William Lucas, Divisional Superintendent of the Indian Division and Culture of the Dudley Methodist Circuit. Rev. Lucas, who grew up in Navua comes from a farming background found himself involved in rice farming, which meant being knee deep in wet grassland, planting, milking cows as a child. During his stationing at Sigatoka, he used to encourage those in the rural farming community to plant their own crops in order to make use of the land available to them, giving encouragement and advise whenever he was on a visitation.
Now stationed in Suva, Rev. Lucas has turned his backyard into a small vegetable plantation, with round cabbage, lettuce, eggplant, long-bean, Chinese cabbage, tomato, pumpkin plants. While this is an excellent idea and something that the Methodist Church has tried to inculcate in its student ministers at Davuilevu Theological College, Rev .Lucas had more than supplying his family and grateful neighbours with fresh veggies in mind. His aim is to encourage as many people as possible, especially those living the poverty line to plant their own fruits and vegetables in whatever land they have available to them.
For some this may mean flowers sharing space with vegetables in residential gardens, for others small urban neighbourhoods setting aside pieces of land for communal plantations. However for the community in Nanuku, neither option is possible as what little land is available is not suitable for planting due to the high salt content in the water from the swamp.
Rev. Lucas suggested to our youth group to collected recycled paint tins, bottles, cans, cracked buckets and once the group had enough, they spent an afternoon at the Minister's residence, fill them with soil and planting the 30 eggplant, chilli and tomato seedlings. "Project Green" is an experiment of sorts. It is not a hand out, it is a form of "green-spiration". The residents at Nanuku who have received the potted-vegetables must nurture them. They have been challenged to follow the example and plant their own. They will also be called to share the results with their neighbours and encourage others to do the same. I understand that in this current age of political (or non-political) correctness, it may seem insensitive to use the term squatter instead of the now-accepted "informal settlement", but a visit to Nanuku where our brothers and sisters live on land that is reclaimed mangrove swamp or tiri and where one has to carefully navigate old tyres laid down to created safe paths to the sparse homes that are built, sometimes overnight, over the tiri reminds us of the precarious situation that residents of Nanuku live in. Many of us may not be comfortable with the word "squatter", with the lack of dignity that "squatters" may suffer. But perhaps it is important to feel uncomfortable, to be reminded that many people in our world, in our country continue to suffer structural oppression.
I sensed the "eye-opening discomfort" of our young people as they struggled to maintain their balance while walking on the tires, as their wrinkled their noses at the smell of the swamp, as they saw for themselves the conditions their fellow church members lived in. I saw understanding dawn on them as they witnessed the joy with which residents received the potted seedlings; the humility they experienced when they received gratitude from those they were helping through a project they may have grudgingly gotten involved in.
There is a lesson in this project that goes beyond merely feeding the hungry. It is in allowing yourself to be used as an instrument of the greater good, that you receive the most benefit - the joy of fulfilling your responsibility in the web of life.
"Be Still, Stand in Love, Pay Attention."
* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.
* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org