Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Life at Sabina

Life at Sabina has been nothing short of full ever since Cam and I arrived here late January. Getting used to our new surroundings wasn’t such a leap, as we both come from Northern New South Wales in Australia and the climate and landscape is very similar, so seeing the grass grow 2 inches in one week (with constant rain) insects which make kamikaze runs into any available food out in the open and bonding with the roster at 5.00am was familiar territory!

Getting acquainted with Sabina was like uncovering buried treasure; it possessed so much potential and with rolled up sleeves we threw ourselves into it. It’s has been a whirlwind of activity in the last three months and just when you think you have completed one thing, 5 others loom up to take its place. We have been looking forward to having some quiet time, but when Sabina beckons and there are a group of kids constantly wanting to learn, I now realise, having dinner with Museveni (the Ugandan president) would be easier.

Below; Being greeted!

Mornings start with the rattle of chicken keys being left at our front door as Steven (one of our Permaculture members) drops it off after feeding and watering the chickens- a duty he loves dearly. We throw back the mosquito netting and open the door to be greeting by the anticipation of the day. The warmth filters in, but still cool enough to enjoy the next few hours without looking for shade every 10 minutes! A big thank you to Clive and Kim for building such a cool Banda!

We throw on some gear to rival any hippy and splash around in a shallow bucket of water, quickly followed by some bananas hanging from the bunch next to the door, which suffices for breakfast until brunch, although Cam need to start the day with coffee hasnt dimished at all to kick-start the day!

James, our intern arrives at around 9, who works for 3 days per week and we go through the day’s activities and then split off into different directions attending to areas, which call out like long lost relatives.

Amongst the daily activities, Cam and I complete a Development and Action Plan for income generating Agri businesses and programs for self sufficiency. Having presented to the Kampala board now, we have formalised a direction and timeline which includes food production-Main garden, expansion of chicken system, water upgrades and repairs, cash crops, orchard expansion and intercropping, a Maize Mill, Bee keeping, Medicinal Plants, Nursery and Woodlots with the inclusion of infrastructure development, Integration of Permaculture Education for children, guardians and community, whilst not forgetting the important task of creating a beautiful environment for all to enjoy.

Making compost

When we arrived, we asked the Sabina boarding kids who would like to be in the Permaculture club and 22 excited kids put their hands up and from there it has been a flurry of activity, learning and teamwork. We now have 25 members and these kids are always involved in looking after the chickens ranging from feeding, egg collecting, replacing bedding, watering and rearing baby chicks. We have been putting the Rooster to good use (after all his claim to fame shouldn’t just be his early morning wake up calls) and we have 8 healthy chicks, we would like to breed more, but we need as many hens as possible producing eggs, so we can maintain our supply of one egg per child per week and to staff members, whilst also selling 3-5 trays a week providing much needed income to pay for the chicken feed and extra bits. A small incubator would do very nicely to continue the breeding program expanding the chicken numbers to 300 in the time frame we would like.

In the meantime, Cam and James have been busy increasing the chicken “grazing” area to include another two bays, one of which extends into a portion of the Matooke area resulting in some very healthy bunches of Matooke springing up. Our main issue now is replacing all the chicken wire, as it disintegrating before our very eyes! The replacement wire is 3 times the cost, but will last for a very long time which is extremely important for containing our ever curious chickens, which are finding holes everywhere to climb through and then there is the issue of stray dogs and wild cats who come to visit at night. We had a predator hawk sit and watch the chickens the other day looking for lunch, but the I think all the criss-crossing of wiring we have put up as support for the new passionfruit, beans and Choko didn’t allow for it to manage easy pickings.

Some shots before the Garden overhaul

The kids have been busy overhauling the main garden and turn up every Saturday morning eager to continue work. Cam and Rico have the boys who have no off switch once hoes, picks and shovels are in their hands and I work with the girls weeding, compost making, transplanting, propagation, watering, collecting grass and harvesting. Now this is an equal opportunity club, so don’t think we have split the roles promoting gender bias…..all of them take part in all aspects of Permaculture during the week, it’s just easier to manage them all at once with specific tasks allocated on Saturdays! Just when I think I’ve allocated all tasks, I have 3 approach me asking me for something else to do because they have finished!

After 11am on Saturdays we stop for a whopping great big jack fruit which the kids distribute amongst themselves and then have a little rest..…once energy levels are back in gear, they are biting at my ankles to continue working again, but this old body waits for the intensity of the sun to back off a little before we start again.

Below; some members of the Permaculture group digging into their Jackfruit....this time at night

Saturdays’ are also special days for the Permaculture kids from the perspective of an informal Kitchen Garden Program occurring at 6.00pm where they all harvest food from the garden, prepare and cook various recipes and then devour their meals! Cam and I supply oil, salt, condiments, flour, pots and gas cookers and the kids supply excitement, passion, hungry stomachs and a lot of laughter. These evenings are such great examples of what can happen when kids are encouraged to create and what is so evident is their strong independence and ability to work in team to make it happen. After dinner, it’s movie time and as soon as those dishes are washed, they all disappear from the Banda area like startled rabbits to be found waiting patiently at the library for Cam to set up the computer and speakers.

Finishing up after making dinner on Saturday

As a result of the program working so well and our own need to have a functioning cooking area, we are building a semi open kitchen with back and front verandah…(lovely view of the chickens at one end and rivals Lake Como!)….Having discussed its potential with the Director of Studies- Jude Ssantale and his unbridled eagerness; the idea is to have many more children benefit from learning how to grow food, its nutritional content and methods of cooking it. We will be introducing far more greens, cooked vegetables, fruits and baked items into their diet. With this new program comes the introduction of a trained cooking teacher to lead the way and we hope our new cook Tina with further training can wear those shoes. Soon we will be building a cob oven to add to the kitchen….. the call of baking bread and making pizzas has been a distant sad memory for us addictive flour types of late! Whilst addressing my withdrawal symptoms, it is a great way to introduce the kids to baking and potentially have the community members learn how to build their own ovens.

The kitchen is half way complete and we expect to finish in a couple of weeks where it will be fully equipped with running water, a sink, gas cookers and kitchen cabinets. It also serves the dual purpose of allowing volunteers and interns a place to cook and hang out in the heat of the day.

Right; Building the foundation for the Kitchen

The water upgrade and repairs are in motion now and thanks to Jeane Kroenigs donation, has helped fast track running water into the medical room, the chicken house, the main kitchen and the Banda Kitchen. It means the end to countless Jerrycans of water continuously being carried to the kitchen and other areas resulting in time efficiency for all. Below; The kitchen built half way

Four tanks at the school are being placed at ground level, all being removed from their raised concrete bases, which are all cracking and collapsing with the huge weight of water and bad workmanship. A much cheaper and practical method is to place the poly tanks on 3mm aggregate, at 100mm thick, which is thoroughly compacted, a method used quite extensively in Australia. The guttering is also being fixed on the school buildings to capitalise on far more water catchment and with the additional good news that the water collected from the red painted roof is safe to drink (a chemical analyis has been done), an additional source of drinking water is available through dry season.

The main garden has had a huge overhaul and has doubled in size adding much needed beds, enough to supply the Sabina kids with a variety of vegetables and salads on a weekly basis when it comes into full production. The next stage of this plan is to upgrade the Main Kitchen to accommodate for the correct preparation and cooking of these foods to add to the daily meal of posho (boiled maize flour) and beans. Nutritional training and different cooking techniques are required for the current cooking staff, as it is an essential component to allow for the full benefits of paddock to plate at Sabina.

Below; The main garden almost finished

The Main Garden now has a shade structure covering half its size, the shade provided by reed mats allowing for protective covering over portions of the beds; some of these beds require permanent cover from the sun like cauliflower and lettuces, while the other areas are removed once the establishment of the seedlings is secured. The great thing about the mats is they allow the rain to come through acting like a drip irrigation system from above, but prevent heavy downpours from shredding the leaves of young seedlings. They also trap moisture and in the morning you can find the steady dripping of water onto the beds, so combined with this and mulching, water conservation is now a reality.

The nursery bed bimming with seedlings ready for transplanting

With the addition of a fifty metre hose and ample water pressure, Cam has built a resourceful water sprayer using bits usually used in plumbing for opening and shutting valves in pipes. The kids love it, as it means no more endless carrying of watering cans for thirsty plants. This also means the water is now directed to the seedlings and not to the surrounding bare zones, which was the result using a full watering can and small children!

The shade structure finished and placed over a variety of seedlings

In two months we should expect cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkin, Kale, Bok Choy and many varieties of lettuce. Sweet corn, broccoli, Giant cucumber and zucchini have been planted too, but for seed saving purposes with a view to build on seed numbers for proper production.

Based on this new system of shade cover we expect to be able to grow throughout the dry season, especially made helpful with the additional water supply and catchment from the water upgrade and repairs. Succession planning for vegetables is in effect, so there is a continuous flow of seedlings being transplanted out, aiming for no gap in the food production. The permanent areas where the shade structure is will have passionfruit, choko and sponge plants growing up and over the wiring in place, acting as a natural canopy whilst the semi permanent area will continue to have mats.

Before and after shots of the area outside the chickens home

The outdoor class room is finished with some dedicated labour from Cam, Charles and Will, providing seating for 40 students under shade mats when Gardening classes are on. Students are also invited to sit during their free time and watch nature do its thing.

The gardening classes and Permaculture group have been planting out the nursery beds which are divided neatly in sections and named with the vegetable growing in it. The kids now are able to recognise what is what amongst all that green foliage and delight in being tested!

An interesting irony I have discovered is that the kids are totally freaked out by worms and other insects which live in the soil…. whilst catching thousands of flying ants and frying them up as a delicacy is no issue whatsoever…….convincing them that a worm is not a baby snake ready to bite happens weekly!

Tending to a sick chicken

I found a legless lizard (I think) which was a foot long and solid black, which looked very much like a snake and for all I know could have been, as I’m no snake identifying expert….nonetheless in true Steve Irwin fashion, I picked it up to show the kids and didn’t everyone just freeze in their tracks and those that didn’t freeze, ran…fast! It took 5 minutes of explaining it was more frightened of them than the reverse, so when one child dared to touch it with me firming grasping either end….many oohs, ahhs and excited murmurs later, all were ok. I let it go, away from everyone so it could find some sanctuary from the trauma it had just endured.

The worm farm is functioning and producing lots of worm juice where we use it for the nursery, and young trees to give it an occasional kick, but ask the kids to stick their hands in the worm bin and contorted looks start to form…I can only repeat to myself “slowly, slowly, things take time!"

Plans are now in motion to expand the Matooke area beside the Banda’s and a specifically allocated area for sweet Banana’s. Passionfruit seedlings and new areas with cash crops such as pineapple, tomatoes and cabbages are being prepared to take advantage of the wet season and being so close to the Main garden allows for access to water when needed via that wonderful hose and the convenience of its proximately for safeguarding our valuable crops.

The Rakai Agricultural office has offered to donate most of what we require and have been quite impressed with the overall objectives which the FWS program is endeavouring to complete…especially the psychological and physical well being of the chickens! Free range chickens do not exist for commercial purposes in Uganda! They also told us we would not be able to breed our Rhode Island Red princesses based on their own attempts and as a result have been keen to understand our success.

Below; Charles and I on our way to Kyotera to pick up chicken feed

The Permaculture group and I have been busy tending to all trees in front of the library and the Banda’s, whilst James has been busy in the Food forest area. Lots of digging around the tree bases to form a wide circle and to clear grass has been a focus to begin the healthy management of the soil and encourage a fungus environment.

I am still undecided as to whether the excitement of tree mulching is the driving force or whether it is the wheel burrow races to and from the trees to collect the resources required! The kids have learned how to dig, use chicken/ coffee husk manure and mulch the area. I have also added some bio dynamic preps to several sick trees with great results appearing within a few days. At this stage we are also requesting more fruit trees such as Mango, citrus, Haas avocado and Jackfruit from the Agricultural department to plant around the compound.

Below; the assembly area before woodchipping

Another area we have been very keen to fix are the roads around the compound and leading into the boarding section. For a very small cost we have had some really good workers straighten out the road and slant its gradient slightly to one side allowing water to pool and flow down a channel as can be seen by the photo.

Together with the kids we applied woodchip to the road, under trees and the school area. It has certainly made a difference with less mud and less work to keep the place clean. The Permaculture kids had so much fun running races with wheelbarrows full of woodchip and the token 6 year old inside….. that is…… until

one tipped over and the child went flying!

Below; the school assembly area covered in woodchip and happy members of the Permaculture group

By the end of it all there was just as much woodchip over the kids as there was on the ground! That was a really hard day to get them to finish, even with the call of Jackfruit!

Below; the road before grading

Noting how much fun they love to have and the lack of play equipment, Cam and I are planning to build a playground made from whatever we can get our hands on. It serves two benefits, they all stop hanging off trees and breaking fences and the playground becomes a learning tool as much as it is a sanctuary for them to hang out at. It was pretty evident to see after our trip to the Uganda Wildlife Sanctuary (a surprise for the Permaculture group) that the playground and food…..Not the animals, were the highlight of the day, it just reinforced we are all on the same page!

We are currently applying for funding from an organisation called Sawlog which support Woodlot development and all the necessary expertise for establishment. Combined with all the wood Sabina currently uses, it would provide a means to lower the expenses for running the main kitchen and providing building materials, whilst enabling an income stream from the sales. Ultimately, our focus is to implement far more sustainable options such solar ovens and biogas to the Main kitchen, which is the research we are undertaking now. With composting toilets high on the agenda, a resource such as biogas would go a long way to providing a viable long term solution for fuel requirements to the kitchen and with so many bottoms at Sabina, it makes sense! In our next posting, we should have a firmer idea of how to implement this plan and solve two problems with one solution.

In addition to this, we are all getting whoever is interested to participate in some creativity by building benches and sculptures made from Hybrid Adobe…this is made from newspaper mulch, clay, a touch of cement and soil…..who would have thought we would have such a hard time getting old newspapers? This is due to everyone keeping them as an archive for information and will only part with really old ones at quite a cost. When I have mentioned what we want to do, I am give a look similar to one reflected when burning holy books! Thank fully I have many other types of papers collected as part of the waste management program in the compost bay to use!

One of our first priorities was waste management when we arrived, with lots of plastic and rubbish lying about, it was our first step in teaching the kids about using organic waste for the garden and collecting plastics to place in the designating area for burning. Metal bins were purchased and with a bit of paint and a few brushes, the environment club went to work on all the bins labelling them appropriately with their waste type and the section of Sabina they belonged to.

Below Ben from the environment club explaining about organic and inorganic waste whilst I hold up Banana peels

Chained to their new homes, various wastes found its way in the bins, whilst Kenard (the cleaner) maintains them by periodically emptying them into the compost bays, chicken areas and under the Matooke. All plastic is allocated for burning with a future plan to build an incinerator rather than having toxic smoke waft for days. The waste management strategy is also joined by a fuel powered grass cutter to replace the hand slashing which is very costly for the school to upkeep on a regular basis. Whilst Sabina benefits from well maintained, snake free grounds, we also benefit from the regular grass clippings and use the resource for mulching the garden beds, under trees, the chicken areas (they love to scratch around) and compost making. Below; Cam dancing with the kids

On a final note, just so you know how boring we really are, when Cam and I are not playing in soil, rolling around in woodchip and building things , we creating templates for management quietly in the background…who am I kidding….. there is no such thing as a quite background with a few hundred kids darting about.

Templates such as; the Volunteer and Management induction, Operation manuals, Handover documents, The Development and Action plan with associated timelines, raising the profile of the school with a view to increase school fees and the networking and negotiation which goes hand in hand with the practicality of daily activities provide the binding glue with which we need to move forward ensuring continuance and longevity for those who come after us with a strong focus on empowering Ugandan ownership and management of this program……. sooner rather than later.

For further details of the Development Plan or anything else about Sabina, you can contact us on and


So until the next blog posting……..farewell


Clive said...

great to see the progress and hear what is being planned...hope you are both well, best wishes to the Permaculture club kids fron jjaja clive

presbybug said...

it is so exciting to read this =)
I can't wait to see it all. Keep up the good work!
A. Talitha

Growing a Community said...

Wow and wow Cam and Symmone. I will see you in Uganda before you leave and look forward to seeing everything with you. Jan

Maxine said...

Di has been sending me your newsletters which I have enjoyed reading. You are certainly making a difference and how exciting to seeing it evolve before your eyes. The kids enthusiasm must be infectious as well as being exhausting at times.We would love to help provide something for the school. let me know what you need.
Roger and Maxine

Unknown said...

Wow - what a fantastic project!!!!!
Reminds me of my time in Botswana- the kids always so excited about learning new things.......
Keep up the good work.
We send our love and light and big hugs
Doon xxoxooxox

Anonymous said...

Hi Symmone and Cameron, Wow! You are really doing a great job there. Keep it up and much love. Rasa

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