This just in from Silas.
Things are really taking shape over here. I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. I have good people surrounding the project and wanting it to take off. The word “Project” is now buzzing through the village; some people knowing more than others, but nearly everyone interested to get involved.
The Chipinge Rural District Council (CRDC), a section of the local government responsible for the partitioning, purchasing and distribution of property, has just awarded us with a stand a mile outside Rimbi Township. In doing so, it has also made the name “Balance for Zimbabwe” somewhat of a legal entity, holding sole ownership of the property! The stand is 60 meters by 40 meters, a quarter hectare, about 25,800 square feet or three-fifths of a acre, if you can get a picture. It would normally have cost upwards of $1,200 and taken up to six months to process, but the Council gave it to us for free and in a matter of a month! They said that their job as the CRDC is to develop rural areas, thus, the project is helping them and they should support it!
The stand will act as our base-camp; a place to meet, to build, to grow, to run workshops and to listen to what is emerging from the people. Practically, it will be host to soap making and pressing of sunflowers for cooking oil. We also plan to run skills trainings in various things led by people in the community with a certain gift. We would like to find those interested in sustainable building, carpentry and metalwork, permaculture farming and herb gardens. One of the coolest aspects of what we’ve achieved thus far is that all the ideas, and others I didn’t mention, have really come from the people. I feel my role is to listen and to facilitate the ways in which we can turn these wishes and aspirations into a community reality. Up until recently, the Balance For Zimbabwe website was super out of date, which was a bummer on one hand, but it’s awesome on the other, in that, it means we are really listening to the needs and wishes of the local people who will be carrying the responsibility of fruition.
Chief Rimbi has also raised a voice of support and has just now given us one hectare (about two and a half acres) of farming land. He had told me long back that he would like to give us some land, but the size and extent was a surprise. On top of that, he had already plowed and planted the whole plot with Sunflower seeds! I couldn’t believe it, and I was literally jumping up into the sky for the thrill!
Based upon the interest of the people, we are looking into a sunflower-oil manufacturing project. Currently, all the cooking oil, one of the fundamental basic needs, is coming into the country through South Africa. Apart from very few, mainly personal, small time producers, there are none within Zimbabwe. This project has the potential to provide the people with jobs to grow and sell sunflower seeds, press and filter the oil and then sell it, all of which would contribute to drastically lowering the price of the commodity, two liters of which currently sells for $4.50 in Rimbi, equivalent to half of what a school teacher makes in a day. We are also researching soap making. There is a local tree called Jatropha that is highly acclimated to the environment and can flourish in plenty of rain or no rain. It produces large seeds that hold up to 40% oil. This oil is really not good to eat (like it will give you the master of all running stomachs just to swallow a drop) but it can be very good for the skin. If we heat it and combine it with caustic soda, add some lavender or some other fluffy scent, let it sit for a couple weeks, we got soap. This is yet another basic need shared by all who struggle to afford it with the lack of jobs and very low salaries of the those who have the rare few available.
From the 10th to the 12th of March we will be having our first “formal” workshop. 30 people from the community and myself will be joined by four people coming from a small organization called Kufunda Learning Village (www.kufunda.org) located in a farming area outside the capital, Harare. Kufunda has been operating for about 20 years, working with rural areas and engaging in conversations around ways of working together as a community to become more socially and economically productive. We will sit together for the three days and open up a space for conversation about what’s possible within ourselves and what is wishing to come forth. The folks from Kufunda will facilitate the space, allowing the time for each body to present and introduce themselves. They will also share the story of their organization giving a window into the beginning triumphs and struggles of something fresh emerging. We will also go into what is alive now within the place; traditions, dreams, gifts and skills that are already present and conclude by coming up with some concrete and tangible next steps that we can take within the project and within ourselves to host these changes.
I have recently moved the first shovelful of dirt at the stand preparing the space for the workshop to take place. I was joined by an incredibly hardworking 19 year old orphan and high school dropout to clear and burn brush and remove a plant called “tsetso”, the bane of my patience and existence with its rounded thorn balls that’ll do anything to sneak inside your shoes and joyfully puncture your feet. We cleared a space to set up a tent and sit together on grass mats and makeshift chairs, and another space for a small outdoor kitchen. Left to do is dig two pit toilets and set the place up!
At times I can find myself struggling to move forward in the face of what is present here. I have to work hard to focus on the positive aspects of what has happened so far and give it time to naturally take root. I am not here to force anything to happen. I am not here to impose, urge or preach. I feel I am here to carry out a vision that I shared with my brother, Balance, for his home and homeland. I am here to express a message of possibility. The vision is to work with the people, see what they are eager to release and help them do so. I want this vision to create good within the community and even create a new community altogether. The potential, the sheer power of the Zimbabwean people is apparent at every turn. The difficulties that they have survived over the years have created patterns and structures that people are not used to live within. Many are willing to break free of these systems and get a new perspective on what is valuable and free. I have had many experiences that inspire me as to the possibility of this vision. I am walking toward its truth, joined by others each day. Ultimately, it will be up to the people of Rimbi to come forth and embrace what is possible through new forms of working together and in doing so make Balance for Zimbabwe a reality, or not.
Tichaona, shamwari dzangu, tichaona.
We will see, my friends, we will see. (Read the “Proposal to The Chipinge Rural Counci”l next.)