Justin Jesula, Urban Vertical Gardens

Date grant awarded: December 16, 2016

By Louino Robillard

Cite Soleil is the most densely-populated place in Haiti, and is considered the country’s largest and most dangerous ghetto. A decade ago, a few young leaders founded SAKALA, a youth center that provided vulnerable youth with a place to go to play sports, find tutors and mentors, gain peaceful conflict management skills, and learn about the environment. SAKALA has Haiti’s largest urban garden, but many of these young people couldn’t take this knowledge home with them because of how little space is available. One young volunteer, Jesula Justin, learned about the technique of vertical gardens in recycled oil drums, and knew that this could be the answer. Jesula plans on getting twenty other young women and teaching them about vertical gardening so they can grow their own food, learn about recycling, and develop leadership skills.

I have been following SAKALA’s work for the past decade, and been volunteering and advising them on peace-building and youth empowerment for the past four years. It is here that I met a young volunteer, Jesula, who had a keen interest in teaching other young women about the environment by engaging them with SAKALA’s urban garden.

I have always been impressed by how SAKALA creates a space in which young people can truly empower themselves. SAKALA mainly creates a safe space where young people can learn, experiment, and grow as leaders. While there are many inspiring young leaders within the SAKALA community, I specifically wanted to fund Jesula’s initiative because Cite Soleil is a very hyper-masculine space where young women are not easily given the space to lead. And yet here is Jesula, a young woman from Cite Soleil, who has a love of urban agriculture, community service, and the environment – and she wants to empower other young girls around her.

Jesula plans to identify 20 girls and young women in Cite Soleil and teach them about vertical gardening. She chose vertical gardening because Cite Soleil is the most densely-populated area in the country, and many people wanted to learn about urban gardening and composting but simply didn’t have the space for even a few tire gardens. With vertical gardening, they can recycle old oil drums and turn them into multi-tiered gardens that could help young women grow their own vegetables (for dietary diversity at home or to sell for pocket money) and learn about nature in the middle of their ‘concrete jungle’. With this project, she will also teach young girls leadership skills, recycling strategies, and principles of how to better manage their urban environment.