Monday, July 14, 2008

June 26-July 12 - Jan

Thursday, June 26, 2008.
We are off! The Rakai Permaculture team - Rosemary (Rowe) Morrow and Dan Palmer (designers and teachers from Australia and New Zealand, respectively) and Jan Smart (Board member, Children of Uganda and Permaculture Across Borders) - is joined by Margaret Kasekende (COU’s Program Director) and Mike Iga and Henry Mugabe (two potential interns, graduates in urban planning and agriculture, respectively) together with two eager course participants. We assemble at a gas station in Kampala, at noon; only 2 hours later than planned. (That will become a theme running through our project, allowing us to spend time together in ways unanticipated!) We are excited to be on our way to explore bringing knowledge of permaculture-based food production to the 250 children and staff living at Sabina Home and Boarding School in the southwest Rakai District of Kampala.
We stop en route at St. Jude’s Organic Farm, run by Josephine Kizza, who started the farm with her late husband. It looks lush and well established. We decide to return for a visit another day, to take a leisurely tour of a site that is a well-established, integrated food system.
We arrive at Sabina in time for a pre-sunset stroll around the near grounds  before a welcome dinner with the staff.  

Friday, June 27, 2008
Today we held a half-day seminar for Rakai District agriculture officials and other local officials who can’t attend the 4-day Introduction to Permaculture workshop. Rowe and Dan present the principles of permaculture, and use the seminar to gain information on some of the practices, traditions, and needs of the Rakai District. It is great to watch the dialogue come alive, as Rowe skillfully moves the seminar to a real exchange of ideas. Some of the least engaged become the most energized and enthusiastic participants. At the end of the seminar, the Rakai Agriculture Extension Officer promises to second a staff member to the project, and to provide animals and other materials needed. We arrange to follow up on this promise to see what becoming a District “Contact” Farm means in terms of local support.

Saturday, June 28
Today is the first day of the four-day Introduction to Permaculture workshop, with about 15 attendees, a mix of local officials and Sabina school and home staff. The local Council Chief arrives mid-session to open the workshop, which gives the project local weight. We have great fun with introduction exercises and energizers… and are away on a journey into the power of permaculture to transform.

Sunday, June 29, 2008
Dawn sees Dan and workshop participants mucking in to create a huge compost pile in the morning, while the rest of us visit a local secondary academic-vocational school that gives our students the opportunity to gain a nationally-accredited vocational diploma as well as an academic “O levels” certificate. (Most students leave COU’s program after four years of secondary school so it is important that they have both vocational and academic skills to enable them to earn a living and on which they can build further academic credentials should they wish.)

The Workshop begins at noon and by the end of the day we break into four groups to select and design a site for a kitchen vegetable garden. The day wraps up with lots of grins; we have done our first permaculture design project together!

We break off the formal Workshop until the next weekend, but in the meantime we will be doing lots of work: walking and mapping the entire Sabina Home and School site; gathering information from the cooks, the housemothers, the teachers, and the children. What do they want? What makes life tough? How can free them up from arduous unrewarding work, giving time for creative, interesting projects? What areas do the children use to play and gather together? Are there areas used for one thing that might be better used for another?

The team will spend the week in fact-finding mode; the design for the home and school must fully incorporate all the ideas, needs, and even dreams, of everyone who lives here. Otherwise, it will whither and die like an untended garden. All this information will be sifted by the team each evening, when we all come together to talk, to share what we’ve learned, to pull the information into the course work for next weekend’s Workshop. Most importantly, the information will inform the site design, ensuring that all components of the site (buildings, water tanks, bore hole, water flows, boundaries and land use by squatters, etc.) are integrated into the design, and that implementation of the design is broken into sensible short-, medium-, and long-term priorities, based on gaining maximum impact with the $$ and other resources available. It is important that the staff and children see the results of their input and labor, and feel a real ownership of the project. This is not an “outsiders” project: transformation of the home into a lush, productive, peaceful haven must be the realized dream of all who live here and bring their talents, imagination, and hard work to its accomplishment.

Monday, July 1, 2008
We give ourselves a morning to do housekeeping. We wash our clothes; put our rooms into some semblance of order; work on reports due in places as diverse as Washington and Ethiopia.

In the afternoon we go with the staff and children to the funeral of a very revered woman from the local community. It is she who made available the land Sabina Home and School is built on. She has lived for more than 80 years on land nearby, and there she will be buried, within her fruit forest of bananas, papayas, passion fruit, coffee, cassava, beans, cabbage, onions, all the foods she needed to sustain herself and her grandchild, who has lived with and finally cared for her since his parents died. The children join the adults in beautiful harmony as the community celebrates Mass, reads out the many condolence letters, and finally places her to rest in her beloved land. It is a great privilege to be present at the closure of a life lived completely nurtured by a single piece of land and the surrounding community.

Monday evening we “go to town” at Kyotera, the largest town in the area, to pick up email, shop for permaculture supplies for the project, plan and dream, and wash the day down with Ugandan beer and plates of French fries.

Tuesday, July 2, 2008
Time to get that planning down on paper. A calendar goes up; days are filled in; priorities made; tasks assigned. We have no time to waste if we are to get a design completed and some of it implemented by July 16. Already we have made progress. The compost is cooking nicely; a teacher begs us to turn it over before school begins at 7:30 am, so that he can join in and watch the mix of materials become beautiful compost in 18 days. Today we will interview the cooks, whose kitchen is filled with smoke from a charcoal fire; whose supplies are stored far away in a room at the back of the dining room that necessitates many trips to and fro; whose firewood also must be carried a long way; and who crave a cool outside spot to peel and chop vegetables. The teachers are excited that we will use the 40-minute weekly agriculture classes to teach the children about permaculture. The children break into groups to pull seeds from vegetables, dissect them, learn to dry them, discover how deep to plant seedlings; and learn the magic of composting. They leave giggling, happy to have spent time outside of the classroom, doing hands-on projects. The teachers decide this is so important that they will even send the P7 class, which no longer studies agriculture formally, so that they don’t miss out.

Deborah and Jan meet with the District Agriculture Project Manager. He prepares and oversees the annual District budget for agriculture projects. After attending the first two days of the Workshop, he is a permaculture convert. He tells us he would like to make Sabina Home and School one of the 30 Contact Farms in this year’s budget. That makes us eligible to receive inputs in four areas: orchards; pigs; sheep; and materials for fencing or other needs. We are told “you are doing our work for us - bringing sustainable agriculture to Rakai”. He asks that the resource materials on permaculture be made available for the community. We are happy to tell him that the Sanji Community Resource Center (built at Sabina Home thanks to the heroic foresight and fundraising skills of Sarah Cowan) is about to be launched and will hold these materials, and that it is our intention to push out knowledge on permaculture to local farmers.
Meanwhile, the site mapping team returns by flash light, hot, dirty, scratched, and happy. They have walked much of the 100 acres property, through swamp and brambles, drawing a map of the land that includes the location of squatters, buildings, wetlands, roads and paths. This is essential knowledge: it gives us the location and type of land available. It will also be helpful for our Ugandan partner, Daughters of Charity, who have title to the land, to know what part of it squatters occupy. Some squatters have certain legal rights of residency because of the length of time they have lived on the land. A new law giving rights to squatters is working its way through the courts. It is a delicate, legal, issue and we must be aware of what land we can use or not.

After dinner, we watch a movie on Bill Mollison’s work in sub-tropical climates, giving us all a great visual picture of what we can achieve in such a climate. It is the first time some of us have seen land go from depleted, unproductive, windswept and uninhabitable, to lush and productive, nourishing and nurturing.

We fall into bed at around 10pm…each evening we are exhausted but energized and looking eagerly to the next day.

Wednesday, July 2
Breakfast is at 7:30 am – the local staples – (corn) porridge; sweet little bananas; African tea (seasoned with ginger) and sometimes delicious rice balls and other treats cooked by the nurse, who also runs the small canteen . At 9am we meet to plan and assign the day’s tasks. We begin the morning composting; teaching the agriculture classes; shopping for food; incorporating more staff ideas into the growing list of needs that we will incorporate into the final design plan.

In the afternoon we have a field trip to St. Jude’s Organic Farm, about 90 minutes away. We are greeted with elation. The young woman who will lead us on a tour of the farm uses Rosemary’s book “Earth Users Guide to Permaculture “ extensively, as can be seen from the many garden features. She cannot believe that Rosemary is here in Uganda. St. Jude’s blows everyone away. It is a mature organic farm, using permaculture principles to raise fruits and vegetables, chickens, goats, fish, honey, and more. Because none of the staff has a Permaculture Design Certificate they are not permaculture-certified, but they understand and use the concepts and practices.

Again, this is the first time some of us have seen a mature, well-planned, abundant fruit forest/garden. What particularly impresses those who live at Sabina is how beautifully everything is designed; with shady “bandas” (traditional huts) under which to eat and rest and meet and talk. One young woman said she loved to come out of her office, pluck a passion fruit, sit and eat it, throw the skin on the compost heap and return to work refreshed. Now all the Sabina staff are dreaming of shade and plenty.  We purchase seedlings, and return singing the Ugandan national anthem, dipping organic dried fruit into organic honey, products of St. Judes.. Now that is a commute home!

Thursday, July 3, 2008
Today we meet with the Sabina Home Staff – the Home Administrator, gardener/driver, cooks, housemothers, nurse, and others who keep the children fed, washed, and healthy. They are excited to learn about permaculture, to share their knowledge, and to visualize changes that will make life at Sabina healthier and minimize repetitive tasks such as weeding and sweeping. (Sweeping sun-baked home compounds clean is a task that one researcher estimated an African woman spends up to 50 cumulative days a year doing – time that could instead be used to grow food in that same “dirty” land.)

Friday, July 04, 2008
We meet with Daughters of Charity’s Administrator, who has traveled from Kampala to see our progress, to show him the rough site map we have pulled together, detailing what land is being used by the home and school and what is occupied by squatters. We begin to pull together a strategy to get the land surveyed, meet with the squatters to negotiate land use and how to stop further squatting - by planting the land ourselves so that is not lying idle. We also plan to contact the Wetlands Authority to see if we can get the wetlands on our land registered, so that it remains free to act as an environmental buffer.

Meanwhile, our two interns, Mike and Henry, are mucking in with Sarah, doing the very dirty work of pulling out burned plastic from the trash heap, so that the organic matter and ash can be hoed into the newly-planned vegetable garden. Yesterday’s newspaper had an article on how poisonous the air from burning plastic bottles is, and reminded everyone that burning plastic is illegal – although, sadly, the only way people have of disposing of plastics as there is no recycling program.  

In the afternoon we buy bins– green for organic; orange for plastics – to be set throughout the grounds and school. Next week the children’s agriculture lesson will teach them to separate organic and plastic trash – and introduce them to a new product - the Golden Rain they produce at night in their dormitories when it is too dark to go outside to the latrines - and how it will be used to help make compost!

We are grateful that it is Independence Day for our American Peace Corp volunteer. Hooray; an excuse to go into Kyotera, the nearest town with internet, restaurants, and hotels, and buy beer and French fries to celebrate.  

Saturday, July 5, 2008
This weekend is the final 1-1/2 days of the Workshop. The participants who have stayed the course are those we want; eager to learn; to share local knowledge and practices; to begin using the principles of permaculture in their lives, at their own homes.  

Participants have brought in their homework: a water collection plan for their own home. They have mapped where water came from; how it is (or could be) collected; used; and then reused. Using annual average Uganda rainfall statistics, we calculate how many liters of water could be collected from our rooftops annually. Then we calculate per day water usage for our household and estimate how much storage we need to have a 90-day reserve to carry us through a typical Ugandan dry season. Where could we store that water; how could we re-use the gray water (water used to wash and clean ourselves) and how we could clean it so that it is safe to use on vegetable gardens? Per day water usage ran from 7 liters by a university student participant who lives in a university dorm to 180 liters per day for a participant living in America, where a shower can take from 60-200 liters; and a washing machine or dishwater 60 liters, and where a good long soak of a lawn or garden is unexceptional. It gave those of us from the west pause to see how much water we casually use when so many have so little of this life-giving resource.  

Sunday, July 6, 2008
Today we look at the role of the forest in providing clean water. Without forests the whole system breaks down, allowing water to fall onto barren, dusty, dirty, land, to wash away soil and silt streams and ponds; allowing winds to carry disease and dirt from one place to another. We were all in awe of the life-giving role of forests - how little we understand and respect their critical role in providing the world with clean, plentiful, usable water.

Finally, we walk the Sabina home to look at the sites chosen for the first vegetable garden. Together with Rowe and Dan, the participants have designed the garden using permaculture principles, so that the greatest area of land is used to plant a variety of vegetables that complement and support each other, providing mulch to minimize the need to weed, and to improve the soil, and also to continue to build up the huge compost heap – and its smaller siblings being built by the students.  

The Workshop is finished – and we are ready to plant!

Monday, July 7
Go Sabina Permaculture! We now have three accredited permaculture designers on site. Amanda Cuyler arrived yesterday, having completed her PDC course with Rowe in Ethiopia and stayed on to do some implementation of the design.  Amanda has jumped right in; picking up stray tomato plants from the road-site gutters in Kyotera town; touring the Sabina site, absorbing both the design and the local language (Lugandan) from the children showing her around. Monday being our designated day of rest (as Sundays have been workshops) we celebrate her arrival with chicken and chips and local beer at the best hotel in Kyotera.

Tuesday, July 8
Meetings, meetings, meetings. Are we in sleepy Sabina or Washington, DC? 9am saw us at the school for a whole-school show and tell on our vision for Sabina Home. A place of great beauty; shade; peace; and a plentitude of food to give us a nutritious, organic diet. We explained why we had placed those new orange (plastics) and green (organics) bins around the home and school, to separate out the materials for composting from the plastics that damaged the land and their health when it was burned. They laughed when we told them we would be using their “golden rain” from night buckets on the compost heap. The children got it! As we left the school, we ran into groups of children collecting rubbish to deposit in their bright new bins.

By 11 am we were in Rakai, the administrative town of Rakai District, meeting with the Head of the Rakai District Agriculture Department and the heads of the two local sub-counties. Several of these officials had attended Rowe’s 4-day workshop, and were determined that permaculture would be pulled into their own district eco-plan. They offered to make Sabina Home one of the District Contract Farms, eligible to receive resources from their annual budget. This year’s budget targets four resources: pigs, sheep, orchards, and some materials for fencing. We don’t need the pigs and sheep right now (or perhaps ever, as they compete for land to grow food for the children and staff) but fruit trees are a major part of our design plan, and materials are needed to delineate our land from those on which squatters have settled.  

Dan is asked to attend next week’s Rakai District agriculture seminar, to learn about the district and sub-county eco-plans, give a presentation on the Sabina permaculture project, and answer questions. This is the beginning of our outreach program to the community. This is exciting and encouraging!

At 5pm we are at the local vocational/academic secondary school that many of our students attend. We are there to listen to their transition issues. Leaving a much-loved primary (elementary) school to attend a large secondary school is daunting, and our students have asked for a meeting. Rowe and Dan have offered to talk to the students about permaculture, and about prospects for work in the field of agriculture, in part to allay the students’ fears about the relevancy of learning agriculture. Sadly, farming/agriculture is seen by many students as a backwards step. The bright lights of the city; careers in law, medicine and IT, beckon, if only remotely. The students (and the Headmaster!) listen intently to the career choices of Rowe and Dan. Rowe’s talk on global warning, lack of water; increasing costs of food and gas; and the need for each person, family, and community to achieve food sovereignty is pretty compelling. Perhaps agriculture isn’t such a dead end after all! Could it be that the rural cousins will eat while their urban cousins struggle to buy food they no longer grow?

Wednesday, July 9 – Friday, July 11
Time to get all that data together and into a Site Design to present to the staff and volunteers visiting from America to visit with the children they sponsor. Rowe, Dan, and Amanda are hard at the design process, walking the land again, working through the suggestions and requests of the staff and input from the Workshop participants. This is the really hard work; pulling it all together into a pretty good first draft comprehensive plan, with priorities established, making the most of scarce money and people resources.  

While the design work is going on a team of young men from the nearby vocational school come in at dawn and dusk, eager to earn money when they are not in school. They take up the hoes, slashers, and forks and set to: to rake out the remaining trash from the ground where the incineration of both organics and plastic took place; to dig out the couch grass from part of the newly-designed vegetable garden; and to turn in the lovely new compost. Transformation takes place! Finally, we see the fruits of the long design process and it is worth the wait. Along the way, we have picked up several other volunteers – older boys who had told us they were bored with school; bored at Sabina Home; and who had become a bit of a problem – taking the motor cycle for an unauthorized spin; breaking off a water tank tap; terrorizing some of the smaller boys. Now they are up at dawn; turning the compost; learning; become participants in the growing of their own food – no, not that boring digging and weeding done in the recent past. This is interesting work; knowing what seedlings are being planted and why; watching the garden come together as a whole. This is what we had hoped would happen - that children and staff would believe in and work on implementing their permaculture design! Two of these boys will finish their formal studies this year. At ages 18 or so, they are young men; they will become our first PDC candidates if they continue to be energetic workers on the project. Together with Peter, the young man who has graduated from high school but not managed (yet) to get a scholarship to university, and who has been offered the position of Librarian at the Ssanje Community Resource Center, they are the first “crop” of permaculture enthusiasts grown at Sabina. Sabina Permaculture indeed, rocks!

Friday night Rowe and Dan present their site design plans, showing "what is" and "what will be".  The staff are excited and happy to see what has transpired from their ideas and requests.  Two of the staff told me that they never thought that Sabina could become such a place to live and nourish the children and Blessed us all for our love and passion.  God Bless each of them, for their patience and care for the children as COU has struggled to find enough resources to feed and educate the children and to pay the staff their salaries.  It has been a difficult journey for each one of them, to endure and have faith that the future would be better.  Their trust and faith reinforced the responsibility we have to ensure that financial and other resources are raised to ensure this dream of sustainability and commitment to the community is realized. 

Saturday, July 12, 2008
Today is our day of departure – at least for Rowe and Jan. Dan and Amanda are staying on as volunteers, to keep the students, teachers, and staff involved and learning. Sarah, too, returns to Sabina until her term with the Peace Corp ends in November. She leaves behind the Ssanje Community Resource Center, which will host adult literary programs, give the children a (solar) lit place to study at night; and provide a place to hold resources and seminars, and perhaps Uganda’s first PDC course for the local community. This is such a huge gift to Sabina and the community. It is difficult to give thanks proportionate to the gift. 

We drop the teachers off at St. Judes for a tour, and go on to Masaka for a celebration lunch at a new restaurant – 10 Tables – run by an American philanthropist who also owns ChildAid, an up-market craft shop located at the Equator, a must-stop for tourists to have their photos taken and buy local crafts. We indulge in such non-Ugandan food as fruit smoothies (a perfect recipe given the local fruit)! Then Rowe and Jan head for Kampala for their onward trips to Cambodia and the USA while Deborah, Sarah, Dan, and Amanda return to our heart home, Sabina. After two weeks at Sabina, it is strange to be driving away – from the children, the dreams, the staff. But this is just the beginning – Stage 1 – of the permaculture project. Stage 2 – implementation (and serious fundraising) begins tomorrow!

No comments: