Update on Progress on the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project and Our Last PDC at Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge, Konso, Ethiopia
Aid Projects, Community Projects, Courses/Workshops, Demonstration Sites, Education Centres, Village Development — by Alex McCausland March 22, 2012
An international student simultaneously gains permaculture knowledge and
experience, whilst supporting much-needed permaculture aid work
and project establishment — aka: The Permaculture Master Plan.
The latest PDC at Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge was a good step forward for us, as we managed to combine and integrate several objectives and deliver satisfactory results on all of them through the course of the program:
- Training a group of folks from various parts of the world to be permaculture designers
- Giving new impetus to, and gaining quality feedback on, our school’s permaculture outreach program
- Developing a plan for the next stage of that program.
Our community outreach program, the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project (PKSP), has now been established in 10 schools in Konso, the little south-Ethiopian nation where we are based. The schools project is supported by the Ethiopia Permaculture Foundation (EPF), a charity registered in UK. The PKSP was established starting from March 2009, when we trained three primary school teachers, funded by CISS, an Italian NGO that works in Konso. The project is pretty straight-forward: when a school enters it, we train a teacher, or two teachers, who are responsible for the school’s environmental club. All the schools in Ethiopia have an environmental club, in theory, as it is a federal government initiative, and the institution fits well with our objective of implementing permaculture in the school. During the course the teachers do their main design exercise on their school compound so the outcome of the course is a design and plan for implementation in the school. The teachers are then responsible for mobilizing their school communities to implement that plan.
This is where some of the schools have gone wrong. Some of the teachers have been transferred away from the school, others turned out to be drunks, or just lazy. With the mentality of aid dependence well established in many rural communities in the area, some people take the attitude they should be paid to solve their own problems and consequently see such training programs more as an opportunity to get pocket money than to actually achieve something for their community.
Nevertheless, since its beginning in March 2009, various NGOs and individuals supported the expansion of the PKSP, including the EPF and by June 2010 there were eight schools participating in the PKSP. But the board of the EPF were not convinced of the model’s robustness in reliably delivering a successful permaculture project, with some schools not showing as effective outcomes on the ground as others. Therefore in June 2010 we proposed a new model for the project; PKSP Phase II, whereby, rather than just training one teacher from the school, we would train a range of community members including teachers, parents and pupils. The idea was that this would both inspire a better response from the community in implementation and put more pressure on the teachers to deliver, since the various sections of the community would know what was going on.
We put a proposal to the EPF, who put in a successful bid for support from the LUSH Foundation. The project was kicked off in June and July 2011 with a “Community Sustainability Course” training, lead by Steve Cran. However the initial follow-up and implementation was mostly led by Tichafa Makovere, the Zimbabwean trainer and consultant that had been based with us through 2009 and who had led development of the PKSP from the beginning.
Except for an expensive water tank, which turned out to be a leaky white elephant, at Gocha Primary, the initial results on the ground were positive. But as the months passed it became clear that the monitoring and evaluation of the project was somewhat disorganized and lacked quantifiable indicators to evaluate progress. Tichafa’s ground-work was and always has been superb, but a lack of consistent or standardised paperwork was making it difficult to convince the board members of the EPF, back in London, exactly what the funds had been used for and how well it had been done.
Hence, due to pressure from them, we had to step in to provide a clear evaluation of the progress up to date. We would need independent evaluators to do so. We also felt it would be very effective to include the school teachers in that evaluation process and force them to taste the fruits of their own labour, and also compare it with that of their peers. What better way to motivate than with a spirit of constructive competition? And so we made the evaluation into a competition, with prizes for the best school, the best teacher, the best parent and the best pupil.
So, where does the February PDC come into all this? Well, firstly, the idea was that as well as assessing the success of the Phase II PKSP we would give it new impetus, with a refresher of the teachers’ knowledge. Hence two teachers from each school were asked to attend the PDC. They would also update their school designs in the process. Secondly, the task of assessing the PKSP sites was also seen as a potential learning exercise for trainee permaculturalists, hence the international students would be able to act as independent evaluators for us during their field-trip day, as a part of their own training.
We developed a standardised monitoring format to assess the success of permaculture design and implementation at the school sites based on four main sets of criteria:
- The design itself
- Elements in the implementation
- Yields from the implementation
- The role of the community in the project
So the plan was to get all the PDC students, both local and international, to visit four school sites — two from the Phase I of the PKSP and two from Phase II — and compare the progress at the four sites based on standard indicators. (For more details on the assessment criteria, i.e. what we feel makes a good school permaculture project, see the full assessment form at the end of the article.)
So this is really the crux of the whole shebang; what we are doing here, with our PDCs and our schools project, is to bring them to interact positively to support each-other. The international students get trained alongside school community members. The course also involves a range of practical activities which obviously illustrate the theory and get us out of the classroom where we can get our hands dirty. That also gives us a chance to achieve something on the ground, in the schools or on our demonstration site. So, as well as learning, the trainees are actually doing something to benefit the community.
Furthermore, the design exercises done during the courses can be done on the school compounds themselves, which again may be a real benefit to the school project. For example, during our February PDC the international students produced a design for the compound of Jarso Primary. Jarso is a school that has not yet entered the PKSP, but the director of the school recently approached us asking to be included into the project. At the time the EPF were not willing to introduce any new schools, due to the gap in the monitoring of the Phase II project. However, Jarso will almost certainly be brought into the project in the next round. For the moment however we were able to bring the international participants on the PDC to the school in order to assess the site and produce a preliminary site design, which was actually their own major design exercise. So now we have a base map which they can work with in case they want to do any activities relating to permaculture in the school over the next couple of months, which is quite likely. For example, we have a school group from an international school in Addis Ababa lined up, who want to come and do community service work relating to permaculture in Konso in April. They will be able to do some tasks on the school site, such as digging swales, making compost etc., along with the local kids of course, but working to an overall coherent plan, rather than just making decisions on a piecemeal basis.
Overall the multiple positive interactions bring an effective model upon which we can continue to develop the PKSP while training various other national and international participants in permaculture with a minimum of external funding. Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge is, as a business, able to make ends meet, getting fees from international trainees and support from the EPF, neither of which would be enough on their own, but combined make the project financially sustainable. The budget for the training expense can be directed into activities which benefit the schools project, so reducing the need for external support for materials to implement with. The community is also expected to provide for their own needs with things like animal manure, mulch etc. so, if you look at the figures, the expense for a given result is tiny when compared with what the big international NGOs spend on projects.
The outcome of the assessment we ran shows some interesting results. We had four teams of assessors, including the international course participants, the two groups of teachers from Karat and Gocha and a team from the local education office. Looking at the table below, you’ll see the average scores for the 4 schools that were evaluated out of a possible maximum of 78. Gocha and Karat are Phase II schools and Brokara and Fuchucha are Phase I. (Again, the assessment form can be seen at the end of the article.)
Phase II of the PKSP did not come out as the sure-fire solution we had hoped for. Firstly, the phase II school, Karat, was streaks ahead of the rest, but the second school, Gocha was somewhat lacking and even came out below Brokara, one of the phase I schools. When you consider that there has been three times the investment into the phase II schools, both financially and in terms of the number of people trained, this is quite disappointing. In fact it has forced something of a re-assessment of strategy. With closer examination of the situation, we observe some useful patterns beginning to emerge here. As Permaculturalists we don’t rely on blind data sets like bureaucrats. What’s more, whenever we see something turn out not quite as we had hoped for, we have to turn back to that epithet of eternal optimism which Bill posits as one of the earliest principals: “the problem is the solution”.
So, based on our real human experience, when we look at those schools that have done best, we invariably find a champion — a key character who has got the ‘permaculture bug’; the idea, the passion and the influence to push the whole thing forward. At Karat that champion is Mr Halake, the school director. He has supported the project from the beginning and really helped to facilitate its progress. Another champion of the PSKP until now has been Asmelash Dagne, who was the science teacher at Debena Primary back in March 2009 when we trained the initial three teachers in the pilot phase of the PKSP, funded by CISS. Asmelash went on to facilitate the Debena community to establish by far the most impressive school project in the first two years of the PKSP. Asmelash has since transferred to Karat Secondary school where he is already pushing the administration and the community to start growing food on the school site, and with some success.
Another champion in the making is Mr Beyene, who was formerly a colleague of Asmelash at Debena Primary. He was transferred to Jarso Primary where he is now the director. He has also begun some bits and pieces on the school site, planting shade trees, having a go at producing vegetables and has even got in a small flock of egg layers in. So our feeling now is that with these two guys already pushing things forward in the schools we just have to help them get organised. We need to train a couple of other staff members to support them, understand what this “PARMAKALCHA!” thing actually is, and facilitate them to get an effective site design together ASAP.
This gives us a game plan for where to go from here, we don’t need to train hoards of folks from across the spectrum of the society– we need work with the heroes (and I don’t mean comic book heroes): real, down to earth people who are rooted in the community and will stay for the long haul to see it through, who will connect to the community’s enthusiasm in their own idiom and get them moving. Local permaculture heroes. It may sound corny, but it works. They’ll be there long after we’re gone, and once they have the permaculture bug, they’ll keep pushing it forwards wherever they are.
So, our key priority for the next step in the PKPS is to bring Jarso Primary and Karat Secondary. And we’re going to do that in May during our next PDC.
So here we are in Ethiopia working hard on the PRI’s Master Plan and looking for support. If you want to lend a helping hand, please, come and do a PDC with us. Or maybe you’d just like to help us by contributing financially to help train a local teacher. Our next PDC will be in May (7th to 19th). Any questions, please feel free to drop us a line: info (at) permalodge (dot) org
- Evaluation Form (PDF)
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