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Wednesday, 27 April 2011 04:45

My Arms Wide Open is Interviewed by Sean Leslie

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CKNW_logo_200x110On Saturday April 23rd, 2011 Sean Leslie of CKNW AM980 in Vancouver interviewed Warren Te Brugge, Founder of My Arms Wide Open about the owrk the foundation is doing in South Africa. Listen to the interview by clicking here to find out more.


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Thursday, 11 August 2011 00:53

My World in a Garden Sister Walls

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My World in a Garden Sister Walls

Food security is a challenge the world over in both developing and developed countries. The challenge is not that we cannot provide food. “We” can provide instant gratification, but this is a short term and band-aid solution. The challenge is being able to provide sustainable food sources. In many cases, a shortage of arable land and garden space contributes to the problem. The solution is three-fold: transfer skills, develop sustainable locally based food sources and consider the concept of building vertical food walls. There has been a definite shift in understanding the value of locally grown food, but in developing countries it is difficult to find land that can sustain crops and in developed countries, it is difficult for communities to give up valuable land space.The advantage of vertical farming is that it does not take up a lot of space.

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This is the intent and underlying objective of the My Arms Wide Open, My World My Garden Cause through the establishment and management of My World In A Garden® vertical food walls.

Our current goal is to construct at least two sister Vertical Food Wall Systems based on the design and technology of the living wall designed by acclaimed South African artist, Dylan Lewis.

The two food walls will use both vegetable and fruit plants in place of the regular plants used in the original design. One will be located in the Town of Cradock, Eastern Cape, South Africa. The other, a mirror of the Cradock live food wall will be located in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada at the Ray-Cam Community Centre.

The Vancouver living vertical garden, like its sister wall in South Africa, will bring focus to community, food security and family. These food walls are about “more than just crops”. Projects like this can help create a sense of real community as families learn about how to grow and maintain the walls, volunteer to help and share the harvests.

In each instance, we run our Iziko Labahlali Program to engage the younger members of the community directly. The first program related to the food wall project ran at the Ray-Cam Community Centre August 5-7, 2011 with the Junior Leaders of Ray-Cam.

During the spring and summer growing seasons, the garden will generate multiple harvests as well as a limited number of harvests in the autumn and winter seasons. The fresh vegetables harvested will support both Ray- Cam’s ongoing food program as well as their own community food bank. A portion of each harvest during the growing season will be canned or frozen to augment fall and winter food requirements.

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During the fall and winter, the garden’s bottles not being used for vegetables and fruits will be replaced with suitable plants to maintain the wall during the off-season and allow for preparation of new vegetable seedlings for the spring. In addition to the fruit plants grown in the bottles, we intend to plant several fruit trees around the wall to support the surrounding community’s need for fresh fruit.

The fundamental emphasis, however, is on the educational opportunities that the garden and its supporting activities offer for the children and youth of the Vancouver Downtown Eastside.

The project will create collaboration and a sense of ownership across the community – ownership by the children who will work in the garden; their families, as a result of their own children’s involvement; and other families in the community who will benefit from the garden’s harvests. The intention is for this project inspire other children and youth within the community to take similar steps and spawn additional Vertical Food Wall Systems across the community.


In Cradock, South Africa, My Arms Wide Open intends to build the garden at the site of the Masizame Community Centre. The garden will be built, maintained and operated by graduates of My Arms Wide Open’s Iziko Labahlali program. The food harvested from the garden will support the children of Nomzamo Day Care Centre and will be sold in the communities within Cradock through existing networks of mini-stores. The plants grown in the garden wall will be chosen based on local culture and community needs. The children, and their caregivers who attend the library and community center each day, will maintain the garden year round.

The ultimate goal of each vertical garden is to turn it into a community enterprise, providing fresh fruit and vegetables at low cost to community members. Although this aspect is relatively longer term, a part of the program for each of the sister walls will include teaching other youth from within the community how to establish their own ‘mini-walls’.IMG 3381

You can participate and support the communities in East Vancouver and Cradock by providing funding, your time, your expertise, materials or referrals.

Go to: and be part of the solution!

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Thursday, 12 May 2011 14:33

Water, Water, Everywhere Bergnek, Limpopo

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Bergnek, Limpopo

IMG_2794On my return to South Africa, my first trip was to Northern Limpopo, back to the community of Bergnek. I arrived in Johannesburg at 6:30 am and after getting a rental car, I headed to find Keith whom I have been working with. We met at the hotel Keith works at and started our journey north.

We arrived in Polokwane on Friday and set about making sure we had everything prepared for our work for the next few days. The well was in place but we had to get the pump installed and secured.  We also had to make sure we had working lines to the storage tanks we had in place. I was excited and couldn’t wait to get to Bergnek. After getting everything arranged, we headed out to Bergnek at around 10 pm that evening.

Early Saturday morning we headed down to the new pump house. The pump had arrived and getting the pump installed seemed to happen so quickly. We were all very focused on seeing WATER! At around 11:00 am, we had all the connections set up and fired the motor for the very first time. Turning that crack was so exciting! We had the main line disconnected so we could see the water IMG_2936start to flow. As the pump started to run, we watched the pipes shake and shudder and then the water appeared just bursting out of the open end of the connectors. Lots of cheering and clapping! Wow! It was really there. The village headman was just beaming and clapping his hands together. It had taken so long he wasn’t totally sure it would really happen.

After connecting the main lines again, we headed to the village meeting space where a huge number of people had gathered for a meeting with a local councilor. When we announced the water had started to flow, people just looked at us and me as if I had lost my mind. A few ladies were talking about buying water from a local farmer who was coming around that day with his water truck. I asked them not to as they now had water. They shook their heads.

I asked them to follow me as I took them to the water tanks. As they watched, I climbed the towers and started banging the sides. As they heard a ‘thud’ instead of the ‘echo’ they had become used to from empty tanks, all I heard was a shout of “There’s Water!”

IMG_3028People went off to get buckets and containers and started lining up at all the water points in the village. In just over 40 minutes, the tanks were completely filled and we opened the main valves to the feeder lines. A group of children gathered and started dancing around and playing. We then walked the community and visited each water point to ensure we had no problems. People were laughing and smiling as they filled their containers and carried them home. I splashed a few children with the water.  At first they were shocked and then they started to laugh and dance around. This was a REALLY GOOD day.

We met the townspeople the following day and discussed how they would maintain and get diesel for the pump. We took up a collection and got enough money to run it for the next six weeks at least. The Councilor who was there on an election campaign asked me if I was there to get votes. I smiled and said no; I was just there to help completing a promise I had made six months earlier. She asked me how she could get the townspeople to vote for her. I responded by saying that the best way was to stop talking and to actually do something. She asked if I would help her if she did something for the town. I agreed that I would as long as what she did actually happened and was not just words. She left, undertaking to get the region to supply the diesel for the pump going forward. A week later, she called me to say that she had a firm commitment in writing that the region would provide the diesel and would I tell the headman she had done it. I agreed and went to talk to the headman. He smiled and laughed saying, “You have taught our Councilor something new.  This is the first time she has delivered something to us in 13 years!”

Our next steps in Bergnek take place in September and October.  This is when we will run the first Iziko Labahlali program to start work on opportunities in the community and to build a healthcare center.

Please support our Cause by opening your heart to the people of the little community of Bergnek with your donations.

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Friday, 22 April 2011 04:31

Iziko Labahlali 2 One Week later

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IMG_3888When we convened at our gathering point just one week later, there was lots of excitement and even nervousness. Ideas had already started percolating and taking shape around four opportunities. As we formed our Community Circle, we started sharing how we felt and what each person had experienced during the first week apart from each other.

There had been some challenges throughout the week for some of the group members. What helped see them through their challenges was the new support system in place from their new family members. As Lundi mentioned it was different now, it was okay to talk and to ask for help. They had not anticipated that the daily messages and texts they had been receiving would be so helpful.

As we talked about next steps, the group relaxed more and the ideas started to flow. Catherine wanted to create a sewing business; a number of other women thought about a handbag business. Another group had created a detailed plan around a silkscreen business.  They had even approached some of the local schools to see if they would support a local business rather than their current practice of buying products from outside the community. One of the group had put together a model for buying and selling fruits and vegetables and wanted help to produce their own vegetables and fruits locally.

IMG_3907Other members of the group listened in surprise as the ideas were shared. A buzz started in the room as they started adding ideas to what was being shared. We closed our meeting setting up a time each Wednesday for the group to come together.  Lionel will facilitate the gatherings as well us setting up our daily messages and a monthly video conference meeting with me.

Watch for our next posting Iziko Labahlali 2 One Month Later



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