Friday, June 6, 2008

Decentralising sustainability is becoming more attractive as most organisations ignore warnings of increased food shortages.

For much of the 20 century many people lived a comfortable life. Many did not live as comfortably but there were not as many living in desperation and despair as there are now.

Food shortages will only increase and it is becoming obvious that centralising assistance does not solve the core issue. Governments and other organisations looking at the problem have very little capability other than handouts. It is up to the smaller projects on the ground to teach people to go back the old way of life, living directly off the land.

This idea of decentralising and focusing food solutions on individuals and then their immediate communities succeeds because it is started on a manageable level.

The massive deliveries of food aid, whilst essential to prevent major loss of life, can never turn the situation around and teach those people how to sustain themselves.

This sort of turnaround is made by the individuals, community members and volunteers who don’t work as a number in a large organisation, they are left to pursue ideas and develop as individuals even while they help the community to develop.

What is an unquantifiable consequence of this strategy is the people who move on and in turn teach their new community or home community the idea that sustainable living is actually sustainable.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reverting back to subsistence farming is not only a poor persons responsibility.

The recent price hikes in staple and basic foods across the world are a warning and indeed a wakeup call to all who value life on this earth and feel a need to nurture and look after nature as we know her.

We have plundered and pillaged nature and her resources and we are starting to feel the bite as the realisation creeps in that the honeymoon period might just be over and nature could be starting to fight back.

Insufficient crops and people starving. Countries that were exporting rice before have cut back as they need to feed their own people.

The first targets of these kind of breakdowns in food production are the poor and we in South Africa are in the midst of some desperation driven by hunger.

Trevor Manuel, our Finance Minister, urged poor people to go back to subsistence farming and yet the warning was something not heard by many it seems.

We have far too much land available for cultivation that lies unused or underused and in these times of global crop uncertainty this is tantamount to a criminal act.

If disused land were made available for cultivation, it would make feeding our people an easier task and many people unthreatened so far by shortages would be suprised at the results of their own backgarden once it is pressed into subsistence use.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Water is life and is essential to building sustainability.

The publicity surrounding Water Week in South Africa and the focus on issues like access to water and the hazards of drinking dirty and polluted water is a positive event on our calendar.

Water is life and the search for a workable model of sustainable living that can be maintained indefinitely must revolve around the question of access to clean water and the uninterrupted access to this resource in the future.

At Sicambeni village we dug a small dam at Mama Pats place last year in time for the rains. This was done to prevent the loss of water due to runoff down the hill and also to alleviate the soil erosion.

The success of this dam in providing ample water for irrigating the garden at Mama Pats has focused attention on the need for proper water management in the rest of the community.

On the new land recently released by the community for further expansion by Amapondo Projects the question of how to store this precious resource and not allow the rains to simply flow into the river and out to sea is being debated.

Possibilities include another small dam or two, a channelling system whereby rain water can be redirected onto the crops as well as neighbouring land with their own small gardens as well as the location of these projects with an eye on future expansion.

We don’t have final plans as yet, the debate and discussion within the community is in itself a crucial part of the Amapondo Projects and the direction they are taking.

The current crop of volunteers are also involved in brainstorming and looking at possible solutions to making the new land self sufficient and not dependent on water from taps in the community.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Volunteers come and volunteers go but the Amapondo Projects go on growing and building on each individual contribution.

As we once again bid farewell to some volunteers and welcome others with new ideas and different skills and knowledge to add to our growing database it is interesting to take a look at the impact that this constant change has on our projects.

Some would say instinctively that it must be negative with faces changing constantly at the school and new recruits needing basic training from Mzu up at Sicambeni . The reality is different though as each individual leaves a footprint and a definite impact on children, community members, other volunteers as well as the permanent and semi permanent people involved here.

The whole keeps growing bigger and those that move on leave something permanent. We are also experiencing that deeper need in some volunteers to return, after earning more cash back home, and add more to what they see as unfinished business.

This characteristic of leaving than returning that is creeping in with all the volunteers to some degree or another is a direct result of becoming a member of a large, global family that connects than moves on, changes and reconnects.

The personal identity that each member of the crew has gained is something that they can build on further in their personal lives and future endeavours.

In regular conversation with volunteers on the final lap of their Amapondo stint a curious pride has been revealed in having been involved in a work in progress. The point about our projects is that it really is all about the journey and not the destination.

Having a destination and reaching it means a certain period of stagnation whereas a continuous movement onwards and upwards means being ever vigilant for new opportunities and new areas to apply older and well perfected tricks of the sustainability trade.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Volunteers are at the core of all volunteer programs but just who are these individuals that build these programs.

We have many people that have volunteered and moved through our projects so far and all have left something of themselves and their past experience behind.

Most come into a rural or semi-rural environment from a city back home in the 1st world and it would not be unusual if they struggled to find their feet.

The opposite however has been the rule as they jump straight in and start participating.

The word volunteer means, “a person who voluntarily takes part in an enterprise or offers to undertake a task”. The Concise Oxford offers us this very broad definition that does not focus enough on the individual.

Each volunteer has a background and a history complete with achievements and setbacks which they bring on board when they join the project.

These aspects are part of what goes to make a specific person tick and most relish the distance from home and certainty, within which they can work and contribute to a cause greater than themselves.

Our experience so far is that anything less than 3 weeks is not usually beneficial to either the individual or the project. It takes time for the individual to acclimatize to the dynamic and find a niche within which to live and sustain while contributing.

The overlap that occurs when volunteers arrive and depart at different times creates a wonderfully enforced change of personnel and the team dynamic is constantly switching.

This dynamic has a positive spin off and effect on those more permanently involved in Port St Johns and a constant inflow of energy and information. This dynamic would have to be created if it didn’t actually exist.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A moving volunteer gathers no rust.

We are moving forward with a couple of new ideas within the space created for our sustain-ability project. One of which is extending the volunteers program into Forest Glade, a farm outside of Port St Johns with a mango orchard and people living in different stages of sustain-ability and self sufficiency.

On the small farm we are working with there are ample amounts of chilies, mangos, potatoes, onions, various herbs, mielies, tomatoes and passion fruit amongst other seasonal fruit. There are also coffee trees growing, some with berries but most will only produce in about two years time.

One evening this week the meal cooked for the volunteers living at the Jetty was a vegetable potjie that consisted of ingredients all picked and harvested from the Glade except for the cooking oil.

Sisonke school opened its doors for 2008 on January 16 and enrolled 60 pupils. This was a major event for all the teachers and Pippa who is the driving force behind the school is excited about the teachers desire to teach and the learners desire to learn.

We have also been sharing and discussing the ideas and philosophies expounded by Masanobu Fukuoka, author of ‘One Straw Revolution’ within the volunteers circle.

The ideas that he puts forward about farming and life in general have stimulated much thought and discussion. Theories about farming and how to blend in with nature and not struggle against it are important but most critcial are his observations about how people change and find time to write haikus despite running a successful farm.

Try find a commercial, "scientific" farmer with time for haikus.

The effect of working on a sustain-ability project and eating organically grown vegetables flavoured with organic herbs have had a noticeable impact on our volunteers, many of whom come from large cities and were initially intimidated by the rural and semi rural environment.

It has also left indelible memories with volunteers who spent time here and are now back ‘home’ and wrote to tell us of their feelings and how much the project has meant to them as well as how much they miss it.

Some are working at marketing the project back home and others are gearing up for a return to work and live the sustainability project that as a whole is fast becoming greater than the sum of its parts.

Our extended family unit now includes peoples in the UK, US and Australia.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Change is something that affects everybody from all different backgrounds.

We recently had communication from a volunteer who was with us October 2007. Kelly talks of being back in the heart of the First world in the UK but her experience at Sicambeni and with the school has opened her eyes to the way people live across the other side of the world.

Looking at her UK life and appreciating what she's got and maybe becoming a little less materialistic. This kind of change is bound to happen when a project like Sicambeni gets going. People travel long distances and sacrifice time with loved ones back home to spend time volunteering and learning about a different way of life and maybe more about themselves as well.

The impact that this crossing of boundaries and sharing has on all involved is one of the perks that volunteers gain. Seeing themselves through somebody else's eyes who has never seen their home country and couldn't possibly imagine the wealth and access to material goods.

We have a new group of volunteers, all with us for different lengths of time and all bringing their own experience into the search for sustainability. Sustain-ability is simply another way of saying keep on keeping on.

We hope to hear from more of our Sicambeni family once they arrive back home as their feelings looking back are a crucial learning curve for us here.