Concentric Rings of Change –
The Power of a Single African Permaculture Design Course
By Warren Brush of True Nature Design and Quail Springs Permaculture
Over 700 children, orphaned by the scourge of HIV in East Africa, live here at Nyumbani Village. Nyumbani Village was founded in 2006 by the late Father Angelo D’Agostino with a dream of offering orphaned children love, guidance, and a sustainable existence.
In just four short years, Nyumbani Village, located in the heart of the Akamba traditional tribal area, has become, with the help of local and international partners, an important and successful model for the care of orphaned children and elders. It has developed an impressive infrastructure that includes site-built housing using mud, cement and tin for nearly 800 people, ecological toilet composting systems, rainwater harvesting, food security, long term natural capital systems, vocational education in woodworking, sewing, metal work, and agriculture.
Two years ago I was contacted by Joseph Ntunyoi, Director of the Nyumbani Village Sustainability Department, and asked to teach the first Permaculture Design Certification Course (PDC) at the village with the goal of inspiring and advancing stable, resilient and sustainable systems of human settlement in Kenya. As my bumpy ride up a rutted red dirt road ended just through the entrance to Nyumbani Village on a warm day in early December 2010, the dream of bringing permaculture to this extraordinary place finally came to fruition.
I was welcomed with open arms by the staff, interns from around the world, visiting consultants, supporters, and especially by the elders and children. When the elders address you they say, “Wasja,” which means “How are you my child?” and you answer back with a deep sigh that sounds like, “Aaaaahhhhhhh” which means, “I am well Grandmother/Grandfather”. In this place where so many people have lost family and have seen so much pain and death, there exists a humility and underlying hope that speaks to the language of unconditional love, and years of good and fruitful work.
Our Nyumbani Village Permaculture Design Course attracted a powerful and diverse group of students. From villagers and local Kenyans, to those from as far away as Uganda, Liberia, India, Germany, and America, people came with the goal of bringing useful knowledge and skills back to their communities. The combination of their varied backgrounds and visions brought an invaluable depth of understanding and experience to our course. This diverse group of people, their unique constituencies, and their commitment to generating concentric rings of positive change into the heart of the world is the focus of this article.
In my many travels and courses around the world that I have been teaching, it is the diversity of the participants who are drawn to permaculture design certification course that bring the PDC a foundational layer of learning for all of us. This occurs through the differing viewpoints and experiences that each person brings and shares. As an instructor, I have learned to call upon this diversity to expand to the edges the subjects I am teaching and to draw the entire class deeper into the subject matter by shifting their focus from patterns to details and back again through the voices of the students.
I would like to highlight a few of these visionary souls for you to grasp the importance of this work and how permaculture is a crucial weft in the basket of regenerative living around the globe. It is through these individuals (and many others who I did not highlight in this article) and their community connections that a single PDC in Kenya has a significant impact around the world. Let me highlight a few of these extraordinary individuals who were a part of the course:
Mohamad A. Mohamad is a young man who was born and raised in the biggest slum in East Africa. He has been a keystone in the formation of an organization called Youth and Farm Self Help Group. This group is based out of and works in the very heart of the slums of his birth, located in the Kibera District of Nairobi, Kenya. He has inspired many other young men and youth to tend, plant, nurture, and harvest their future rather than steal for it. Several years ago, these young folks took over an old dumpsite and have converted it into a productive farm where they both eat and sell their produce and have made a micro-business out of creating a simple toilet and bathing facility. He has been working for ten years on this crucial endeavor and has been a model for peaceful and ethical action during times of violence and upheaval. During the 2008 election when violence threatened his community he inspired others by living his ethics which beautifully coincide with the Permaculture Ethics: Care of the Earth, Care of the People and only taking a Fair Share. Their success can be seen at these two links: http://greendreams.edublogs.org/2009/08/03/kibera-youth-reform-organic-farm-one-year-later/ http://www.reuters.com/news/video?videoId=101078
You can email Mohamad at [email protected]. This group is in need of a laptop computer, digital camera and an external hardrive to be able to share their important and innovative work with the world to help them raise additional funds to buy another piece of land for farming. If you are inspired to donate one or all of these items, please contact me at [email protected] as I will be seeing Mohamad when I return to Kenya in March of 2011 to help with their permaculture design for the dump site.
Nath, who was named by his spiritual community in India, is a young man in his twenties from Germany. He is one of those young people who give hope to those of us who are older than him (and younger too) that the future is going to be held and guided in a beautiful way by these old souls in young bodies. He runs a youth organization called AYUDH Amrita Yuva Dharma Dhara, a Sanskrit term which can freely be translated as “the youth which perpetuates the wheel of Dharma (Righteousness).” In Sanskrit “Ayudh” also means Peace. AYUDH’s activities in India include providing food and medical aid to the poor and needy, offering free eye-treatment camps, cleaning hospital compounds, planting trees and conducting antidrug, -alcohol and -tobacco campaigns throughout the country. They work with thousands of youth and have recently expanded into working with European youth. He carries a big dose of inspiration that manifests in positive action and attitude. Learn more about the organization he runs: http://www.ayudh.eu/
Rupal Shah is a born Kenyan of Indian decent. She is a dynamic woman who is passionate about helping people and the earth and is an important part of the management team that has developed the Amrita Children’s Center which within just a few short months will be housing, educating and loving over 100 orphaned children. This home is part of a greater organization guided by Amma, the hugging saint, under her umbrella, “Embracing the World”. To learn more please see: http://www.ammakenya.org/
Gai Cullen is a born Kenyan of British decent and is a real mover and shaker in Kenya and beyond. Through her successful businesses, philanthropic endeavors and the development of conservation trusts she is creating, rehabilitating and preserving vital habitat for Kenya’s myriad wildlife populations. During our day off in the middle of the PDC, we went out in her small plane and spotted a white cheetah, the only one in existence, among the many other animals that have a permanent home because of her efforts. Her work is a legacy that will allow for wildlife to be a part of Kenya’s future for generations to come. Permaculture will be a formidable part of their restoration efforts on a broad-acre scale.
Stephany Salaita is a vital community resource to her Maasai community. As a young woman in a patriarchal tribe, she is one of the very few women who has made it to school and persevered on through college. With her education she could have gone into the city and acquired a well paid job, yet she chose to return to her community to be a coordinator for a youth group called RETO. They work with young woman who have been raped to offer medical and psychological support services, as well as working to prosecute offenders. They have education programs to combat FGM (female genital mutilation), and have tree-planting programs to reforest their region to help with rebuilding their badly damaged ecological systems. She is a dynamic individual who is committed to her tribe and will certainly be a key teacher in permaculture in her community over the coming years.
David Okware organizes and coordinates a large farmer cooperative of over 8,720 farmers in the Kinguru District of Uganda. They work to support this large network of farmers by helping with technology transfer, advisory services, marketing, addressing issues of land degradation, HIV, and climate change, as well as offering enterprise trainings. If David’s design project during the course is an indicator of what is to come from him, he will certainly be a formidable permaculture designer and teacher in the not so distant future in his homeland of Uganda.
Hawa Kamara is quickly becoming a leader in her Mandingo tribal community in northern Liberia by being one of the few women who have learned to both read and write. Hawa works with everyday gandhis, a peacemaking NGO in Liberia, to reach out to those in her community who were deeply affected by their recently ended civil war. She will touch many lives with her understandings and application of Permaculture.
Faith Musyimi is a dynamic Kenyan woman who has helped to develop SASOL, an organization that addresses the issues of water scarcity, food security, poverty and education in her tribal community. One of their key outreach programs is their sand dam projects that revivify the watersheds by slowing the water and trapping the silt which enhances their ground water recharge of the area wells. They teach and demonstrate broad-acre tree planting, terracing, community capacity building, and the development of leadership skills in the youth and young adults. They also have an international mentoring program where they pair local students with European students to share knowledge. Faith will be a positive change-maker in her community using the permaculture design skills she learned during this course.
People from all over the world come to Nyumbani Village not only to share their gifts but to gather for their own spirits a sense of what is possible. One visiting Kenyan dignitary shared with the residents and course participants the possibility of reducing their need to cut down the forests by cooking with solar cookers. Her name is Faustine Odaba and she is known in East Africa as “Solar Mama.” She teaches people how to live with real-time sunlight to meet their daily needs. Her organization, NAREWAMA (Natural Resources and Waste Management Alliance), promotes and encourages the use of renewable energy and environmental conservation. She is considered by many to be a pioneer in teaching people how to turn waste into profit through re-purposing plastics into woven hats, capes, bags, etc., and converting human waste into fertilizer for growing food. For more information about her work please email her: [email protected]]
Concentric Rings of Positive Impacts
On the last day of the course after the students received their certificates, we spent some time developing a mind map of where each student was going to demonstrate their newly acquired skills and understandings of permaculture. I was completely humbled by the inimitable pathways in which the deep learning that occurred in this PDC is about to make its way out into the world. It was wonderfully clear that many of the students attending this PDC will each individually touch thousands of lives with Permaculture who will in-turn touch thousands more. David Okware alone will be able to begin to develop demonstration sites and education programs in Uganda that will soon introduce nearly 9,000 farmers and their families to Permaculture.
David’s strategy, which I consider the best strategy, is to begin by setting up a demonstration site on his own farm to show the people the ethics and principles in action and the appropriate local methodologies to apply permaculture. In this way, they see first hand the economic, ecologic and social capital that is developed and yielded in a well-designed Permaculture system. Each student in this PDC has committed to developing a demonstration example of what they have learned in this course and I can only extrapolate from this that many thousands of lives will be touched in the near future by these individuals and what they have learned and how they will apply it.
The success of developing a broad concentric ring of influence with a single PDC has been to create a course environment that welcomes and inspires change-makers and leaders to attend and participate together in the learning process. We have found that there are key understandings to create a course with a powerful concentric ring of change in the world. They include:
- Choosing a site for the PDC that has a solid and positive reputation for honoring social and ecological issues and remains in good standing in the community in which it dwells
- Involve reputable teachers both locally and internationally
- Have a well designed curriculum with a healthy mixture of lecture, discussion and practicum
- Ensure that your course registration process is professional and responsive
- Involve your former students in the marketing and include registered students in sharing about the upcoming course
- Use testimonials in the advertising from previous courses
- Arrange for scholarships for key-community organizers who are low-income to be able to attend
- Write stories about the potential of the course and use them like a press release
- Answer all inquiries from potential students with questions that lead to dialogue of who they are, what their connections are, and what their motivation is for wanting to know about the course. Involve this information in developing further marketing outreach
- Seek sponsorships to underwrite the course costs and involve those connections in helping with marketing
- If at all possible, make the course an international one. This lends itself to the broad application of the curriculum and the synergy that can be created by having different perspectives from different locales, socio-economic standing, tribes, educational backgrounds, etc.
In this manner, we were able to create a leverage point for the permaculture teachings and their application to reach far and wide into the fabric of myriad constituencies, cultures and bioregions with very little overall energy expenditure. I realized that the very design of this course was working with the principle of making the “most amount of change with the least amount of energy input.” A well designed and strategically attended Permaculture Design Course is a keystone in creating a worldwide network of the local application of the ethics and principles of permaculture. Let’s each of us support the growing of our capacity as an international grassroots campaign by supporting a strong PDC teacher network and certification process so that millions upon millions of PDC graduates in the future will be the fruit of our efforts now.
I will be returning to Kenya in March of 2011 to teach another PDC at Rusinga Island on Lake Victoria at Badilishi Ecovillage. If you or someone you know may be interested in attending this international course, please send an inquiry to [email protected]. I am also working on raising the funds to underwrite the expenses of the course and several design consultancies around Kenya and have received a generous matching grant. Every penny up to $9,000 that is donated will be matched by a private foundation to cover course costs and my travel expenses so the course fees paid by higher income international students can go directly to supporting local student scholarship funds. Please consider making a donation to this campaign by going to the following link: http://truenatuedesign.chipin.com/permaculture-in-kenya-and-uganda
Or make a tax-deductible donation through Quail Springs 501c3 non-profit organization by clicking here and designating the funds to Permaculture in Africa: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=12781
In Growing Peace,
P.S. I want to offer a special gratitude for everyday gandhis and the Tomchin Family Foundation for supporting these highly effective efforts that are touching thousands of lives in East Africa and for their continued belief in bringing peace to the world through permaculture education and demonstration.
Warren Brush is a certified Permaculture designer and teacher as well as a mentor and storyteller. He has worked for over 20 years in inspiring people of all ages to discover, nurture and express their inherent gifts while living in a sustainable manner. He is co-founder of Quail Springs Learning Oasis & Permaculture Farm, Wilderness Youth Project, Mentoring for Peace, Trees for Children and his Permaculture design company, True Nature Design. He works extensively in Permaculture education and sustainable systems design in North America and in Africa. He can be reached through email at [email protected] or by calling his office at 805-886-7239.