Editor’s Note: This is an exciting update on progress from the Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge project in Ethiopia. Congratulations to the whole team in Ethiopia!
It was a moment of fulfillment for us at Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge (SFEL). The head of the Konso Woreda Education Bureau, Mr. Geyeto Gedeno, stood in front of those gathered, his fumbling speech soon beginning to gather momentum:
We now want to see this program expanded to all the schools in Konso, making us an example to the whole society and the rest of Ethiopia! Permaculture shows us how to achieve food security and environmental preservation, how to improve our nutrition and benefit our ecology, all through direct community action!” We all clapped and cheered heartily.
Gathered around the training room were teachers, parents and children from the three schools where the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project (PKSP), pilot project, had been underway since May 2009, when it began with training of teachers at SFEL, in a PDC that was part funded by a former volunteer (and a good friend of ours, Sarah Davis from Austin Texas) and part funded by Save the Children Finland (STCF).
Tichafa Makovere, our lead trainer, who had lead the pilot project, now stood before that selection of people from around Konso, and repeated The Parable of the Sparrows, his own analogy for inspiring community empowerment and breaking the mentality of aid-dependence, which has become so deeply ingrained in southern Ethiopia that it seems as much of an obstacle to the development of food sovereignty as climate change or population growth.
God feeds the birds of the air! But he does not let them sit in their nests while he comes and puts food in their mouths. Unless they fly out of their nests to scratch the ground in search of their food, they will go hungry.
The analogy sums up Tichafa’s approach to the development of food security in Africa. As opposed to the (mostly) well-intentioned, but counter-productive, habit of most westerners, individuals and organisations alike, of splashing around hand-outs to “the poor starving Ethiopians”. Tichafa, a Zimbabwean of the Shona ethnic group, knows better about what will benefit Africans in the long-run.
Empowering communities is about getting them to provide for their own needs, not just giving them whatever they ask you for so they become dependent on you.
It was when he had visited his first Konso school, in early 2009, with an Italian NGO Director, that he had first confronted the Konso community with The Parable of the Sparrows. The school principal had been complaining to the Italian that he had not delivered them the furniture that he had been promising (not delivering on promises was a habit of this particular Italian), but Tichafa stepped in to his rescue:
Don’t embarrass me! I am an African like you. We are not beggars! Look at all these Eucalyptus trees you have here, they are destroying your soils. You should cut these down and sell them, then use the money to buy your own furniture. And plant better trees at the same time!
At this the Italian pricked up his ears.
Oh, I need Eucalyptus for beelding my new conference hall!
Such is the mentality of self reliance that SFEL’s Permaculture instills. While many NGOs are throwing around thousands and even millions of dollars into white-elephant projects (such as superfluous conference halls), there are often far simpler solutions to the chronic needs of communities on the ground that they could solve by themselves, if they were able to make more effective use of the resources. This is the key aim of the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project (PKSP) the pilot phase of which culminated with Mr Geyeto Gedeno’s speech last Saturday.
The format of the PKSP is similar to that of the ReSCOPE and SCOPE programs, which Tichafa lead in a number of countries around southern Africa over the past 15 years with great success; two key teachers from a school are given the full 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate course, during which they produce designs for “retro-fitting” their school grounds. The follow-up then brings in the kids and parents, to implement those designs (with input from Tichafa, where necessary) on the ground. The whole community gets involved – hauling in manure from their animals, mucking in together and singing in great spirits as they do – intensive gardens, tree nurseries, soil and water harvesting infrastructure are all laid out on the ground and channels are dug to run rain-water from roofs into keyholes where banana suckers soon explode into lush thickets. Moringa, papaya and mango (the first 70 seedlings provided by SFEL) will soon close a canopy over the flourishing vegetable beds in the intensive gardens. Permaculture is included on the school curriculum, with resource materials designed for the purpose, so kids gain theoretical insight as well as being involved practically. Within a year the school can supplement its children’s diet with fresh fruit and greens and gain income from sales of vegetables and tree seedlings to the community. The skills are also taken home by the kids, so penetrate into the community for the long-run. The bare school yard soon becomes a lush and fascinating jungle for the exploration of the young mind, and these people are taking control of their own destiny, no longer sitting by the roadside waiting for UN grain convoys to roll in with hybrid wheat over-produced on the other side of the planet – the solution lies right here, in their own back yard!
A program of monitoring and evaluation continues over the following 24 months, with exchange visits between the schools, bi-annual refresher courses for the teachers at SFEL, visits to our own model farm to promote new ideas and improve motivation. The culmination of phase 1 (the pilot) was the competition between the schools which came in February 2010 with SFEL’s most recent international PDC, the participants of which were asked to judge between the schools for the best implementation, as part of their own PDC training.
The PDC had a multinational complexion with American Peace Corps sending two Ethiopian-American officers, an Ethiopian estate owner from Norway, two freelance American volunteers, a Swedish SFEL volunteer for five months, an Italian couple, a British volunteer on a mission to develop a windmill for SFEL, a Welsh lady working the Karrayou Tribe from the rift valley in East Shoa, and a veterinary surgeon – a Karrayou also working with the Welsh tribe. Criteria for the participants appraisal of the schools, included:
- The presence of the design map on the wall
- The presence of a tree nursery
- Effective intercropping of species to reduce disease and promote companion relationships
- Evidence of innovation in water harvesting
- Evidence of eating the vegetables produced in the gardens
- Evidence of gaining an income for the school from sales of produce
Overall it was decided that Sawgume (the same school where Tichafa had first embarrassed the teachers with the parable of the sparrows a year ago) deserved to win the competition, but all three schools were given prizes as an encouragement. The prizes were donated by local businessmen, such as Mr Yonas Mahetemu, the owner of Bella Abyssinia Tours, a customer of SFEL, who agreed to contribute 3000 Birr for exercise-books, pens, watering cans, spades and hoes, which were awarded to the teachers and most industrious parents and kids of the three schools.
And the PKSP pilot phase has been proclaimed a resounding success! The Konso Education Bureau are keen to see its expansion to all the schools in Kosno. STC Finland have agreed to include two more schools in their program in 2010, however we at SFEL are keen to go beyond that. If more NGOs, GOs or individuals will involve themselves, by adopting or sponsoring schools in various ways, we can keep Permaculture actively growing in Ethiopia in the coming years. We are ready to work with you.
You can also support our activities by joining our next international PDC in at SFEL in Konso: Permaculture for the Rural African Environment – Oriented towards food security development for rural communities lead by Tichafa Makovere Shumba, at Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge: April 05 – 18, 2010.