July 2017 saw the welcoming of “The Fab 4”, a group from Australia who came to spend a week in Mambanje Village, volunteering their time and energy to the various projects in the area. When the skills and input of a potential volunteer match the needs on the ground, The African Bush Camps Foundation are always happy to welcome people from around the world to spend time with the communities we have formed relationships with, to enjoy a cultural exchange and contribute to conscious, sustainable development in the area. The general agreement is that volunteers cover their costs for accommodation and meals provided by the community and be must be respectful of local customs and of the projects undertaken.
The group were known as “The Fab 4” and were made up of Gary & Deborah Sim who come from Clare in South Australia, who operate a quarry and road making equipment. Jan O’Connor and Richard Oliver were from Mildura, in northern Victoria, who work in the wine making industry. The group was led by past African Bush Camps guest, turned valuable ambassador for the Foundation, Liz Bently. After learning all about the projects from Liz, they decided to turn their safari trip into something more meaningful than a traditional tourism experience, for the sheer experience of working and living within a real African community.
Before departing, there were discussions and plans made for how the group would be able to meaningfully contribute during their time in Mambanje Village, on the North East border of the famous Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It has long been discussed the garden at Mambanje Primary School which is large and should be able to provide the majority of the vegetables for the school feeding programme. Water has, however, always been an issue and trying to manage the garden bed in an order, but not demanding manner. The permaculture solution of wicking beds was suggested by Liz Bently, which are easy to manage once built and use about one-quarter of the water of conventional garden beds of the same size. Methods of construction, using only locally sourced material, were used so that community members could replicate the idea within their own gardens. A ‘garden committee’ was formed including school students, teachers & community members. Local Lion Guardian, Polite Chipembere, who manages the Mobile Cattle Bomas in the area as well as Sarah and Sibusiso, who head up the School Development Committee form part of the committee. The Committee received training from local organisation, The Soft Foot Alliance Trust, on the basics of wicking beds, how to build them and how to grow vegetable gardens from seed.
By the time the Fab 4 arrived the first wicking beds had been built, the committee were already seeing the benefits and were adapting to the change. They all set about building more, elated by the benefits, planting vegetable seedlings and engaged around ideas to use less water and happy that now in the homesteads didn’t have to bring water up from the river as often to water gardens. Gary and Richard spend a lot of time with the Garden Committee and other community members, discussing the benefits of manure and composting. By the end of the week many members of the Mambanje Community were coming and see the wicking beds and hear about how they work. Pretty much every homestead signed up to building a wicking bed.
Installing the wicking beds has given the rest of the community confidence that the idea works.
As of October 2017 there are 26 households that have requested help with building the beds in their own homes. The school itself will need support to make a further 10 beds in their garden.
An agreement has been made, where households who receive wicking beds will offer their contribution to help in the school garden by volunteering hours to make more wicking beds in the school garden, which also serves as a way for them to learn through practice before they make their own in their homes.
The Fab 4 also interacted with the students talking to them playing sport – volleyball, basketball, tunnel ball, soccer and even Aussie Rules Football. All the students loved the social interaction and chatted happily away asking all sorts of questions. Jan, Deb and Liz also helped all the students who are Sponsored (for their school fees) write letters to their sponsor, thanking them and telling the sponsor a little about themselves and their families.
The group also visited the wildly successful Cattle Boma Initiative, some homesteads and went to the river where a lot of the community draw their water from. This gave the Fab 4 a better understanding of how the community lives and the changes that have been made. Jan said; “For me, the bomas are the highlight of the projects and the wick gardens will be valuable as long as they grow bulk, fast growing plants to provide more food on the table.”
“For me, the bomas are the highlight of the projects and the wick gardens will be valuable as long as they grow bulk, fast growing plants to provide more food on the table.”
On the first day the Fab 4 found the Mambanje School very confronting, with all the challenges the community face, being so remote and poverty-stricken, but once they got past that and discovered how delightful and welcoming the students are they slipped right into to being one of the team. Liz said; “The social interaction is probably the thing that impacts both ways when we visit the school. We all learn a lot about the culture and people and realize how materialistic life is here in Australia, that we can really live without. In turn, we took a lot of ideas and cultural things to the school and the students in particular really engage with us. It is a two way street on who gets the most out of a volunteer visit.”
“The social interaction is probably the thing that impacts both ways when we visit the school.”
The group also visited nearby Dete, and Jan said; “I enjoyed seeing the two groups in Dete, the sewing women are still at a stage looking for a steady market but I think the jewellery makers have better potential and people loved the pieces we brought back for gifts. The attraction is when people realise what they are made of and how they are made.”
Liz, our ambassador in Australia ended with saying; “We would all love to see the community thrive and become sustainable. Wicking beds and cattle bomas are part of the change for this community and there is much more to do. However the community love the positive outcomes of the changes. The Foundation now I think has to keep up with this. At the end of the day we try to improve the lives of the Mambanje community, we are succeeding even though sometimes we go backwards. We and all volunteers must remember and respect that we are going into the “their” world and not make changes that affect the culture of the people for the sake of change.