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University's mushrooms give children source of food, income

12/19/2002 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: Photographs are available.





MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS) - Margaret Tagwira, an Africa University lab technician, is using mushrooms to help AIDS orphans become more self-supporting.

Through her training as a virologist, Tagwira is cloning mushrooms as a way to help children who are heads of households grow their own source of food. The devastation of HIV/AIDS is forcing orphans in Zimbabwe to step up and care for their younger siblings.

Africa University's Mushroom Project enables the children to eat and provides them a means of making money.

Tagwira says that when she arrived at the United Methodist school 10 years ago from the University of Zimbabwe, the science and studies being done in the faculty of agriculture and natural resources were limited. Seeking a challenge, she began studying mushrooms.

Along the way, she discovered that mushrooms could serve a dual purpose as a food source and a potential moneymaker for those in need.

Needing help and seeking to empower young women, Tagwira trained 15 female orphans from the community to work with mushrooms.

"I found my niche, and Africa University gave me a platform to do something new," she says. "To come to a Christian university was a calling I obeyed.

"By learning, the girls have transformed their lives," she says. "It is a blessing to me to see the transformation and their empowerment. These girls did not go to high school because they had no one to pay their fees."

In addition to students who use the project as part of class assignments, Tagwira has two young women - 17-year-old Lina Mazambuka and 16-year-old Shido Gowero - assisting her in growing mushrooms. Impressed by their willingness to learn, Tagwira has enrolled the girls in a correspondence course, and they are halfway through high school studies.

The girls as well as students are learning that mushrooms provide food and are a great source of protein and nutrients, she says.

"Growing mushrooms is all about cloning," she says. "It is natural and pure."

Tagwira has been in involved with mushrooms since 1994, and she has recently managed to domesticate the wild reishi mushroom. "I take it from the forest and grow it in the lab. As far as I know, this is the first time this has been done in Africa," she says.

In addition to mushrooms, she also has been doing research on the indigenous moringa tree.

"This tree, indigenous to West Africa and portions of Central Africa, is being researched by the World Health Organization because of its vitamin and mineral content," she says. "Its properties are said to enhance the immune system, and they are also looking at it as a way of fighting tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

"Church World Service also has been collaborating on research to explore the potential benefits of moringa as a nutritional therapy in relationship to HIV/AIDS," she says. All parts of the tree can be eaten, she explains.

Tagwira believes Africa University is the right place for her. Interaction with students allows her to study those who might have AIDS, and involvement with an HIV task force enables her to use her skills as a counselor and virologist. "I see my work as a calling, and I can do what I think is best," she says.

The Mushroom Project is just one way that Africa University's farm is making a difference in people's lives.

The farm "provides a live laboratory for students and also for the production of food items," says Patrick Mlilo, chairman of the farm operations committee. The "live laboratory" incorporates all types of programs - beef, pork, chickens, eggs, goats, field crops and mushrooms into the curriculum.

As a community outreach, milk is donated to the Fairfield Orphanage at Old Mutare Mission, across the valley from the university.

"The importance (of the milk) increases in poor economic conditions," Mlilo says. "Nobody around here has run short of milk."
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*Green is news director of United Methodist News Service's Nashville, Tenn., office.

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