Menstrual Health Day – Today 28 May

Did you know that you may use 14 000 menstrual pads or tampons during your lifetime?

Multiply this by the thousands of women living in Mpophomeni and it is no wonder that the local sewage system is often blocked and the landfill sites are overflowing.  We hear stories of young women losing out on education because they are not able to afford menstrual products – some say that 30% of South African girls miss school when they are menstruating.

Emily Burnett is trying to make a difference to the situation in Mpophomeni, in partnership with local organisations, and shares the story of how she began this journey.

Before I moved to Africa (from America), I don’t remember giving a thought to how other women around the world manage their menstrual cycles. Buying tampons and pads was a basic necessity for me, a non-negotiable and never given a second thought. I hadn’t the slightest idea that, for millions of women and girl, sanitary products are literally inaccessible or an unaffordable luxury.

But my worldview began to change when I turned twenty-one and moved from Wisconsin to a rural village in Cote d’Ivoire. I settled into an Ivorian host family and shared a room with five host sisters between ages seventeen and twenty-two. They became my companions and cultural guides and taught me the way of life for young, unmarried women in their context and culture.

Ivorian Host Family
It did not take me long to notice their struggle with menstrual management. Disposable pads were available at little wood-frames shops along the dirt paths, but they were expensive and most girls could not afford them. The only alternatives were old rags, mattress foam, leaves, or straw. Of course these materials led to infections and were not effective in absorbing heavy flow. My sisters sometimes skipped school in order to avoid an embarrassing leak. Their school, like most in rural areas, did not have clean bathroom facilities or running water, making it doubly difficult to maintain good hygiene during menstruation.

After eight months in my host family, I traveled to a handful of other countries in West Africa and heard the same story again and again. It was humbling and frustrating to accept that my personal experience of managing menstruation, one that did not interrupt daily life or cause serious health issues, was unimaginable for so many women and girls. I decided not to ignore this reality.

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I now live in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and I have connected with three local organizations that exist to break down the taboo around menstruation and bring sustainable solutions to adolescent girls. I am certainly not the only one passionate about seeing girls unhindered from pursuing their dreams and fulfilling their valuable role in society. The following organization provide hygienic, effective menstrual care products to girls and are worth knowing about:
Project Dignity: Founded by Sue Barnes, this organization distributes packs of washable, 100% cotton panties and pads to high school girls in rural communities. This product is designed to last for five years. Project Dignity hopes to end school absenteeism due to menstruation and lower school drop-out rates.

Dignity Campaign: This organization’s goal is to empower girls with knowledge about their innate value and worth, while providing them with menstrual health education. Dignity Campaign facilitators host workshops for groups of girls, creating a safe place for discussion about femininity, relationships, menstruation, sex, social pressures, and a variety of other topics. Every girl leaves the workshop with a set of washable cloth pads or silicone menstrual cup. Dignity Campaign aims for a deep cultural change by weeding out lies and speaking truth with one girl at a time.

Pink: Launched in October 2017 in the KZN midlands area, this organization seeks to supply earth-friendly menstrual management products and education to women and girls. It also creates jobs through a network of community agents and ambassadors. They supply beautiful, budget-friendly cloth pads, silicone menstrual cups, and degradable disposable pads made out of natural fibres.

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I have partnered with Steph Bridle and a few other young women to run the Cherish Dignity Program (developed by the Dignity Campaign) in Mphophomeni.

We are currently facilitating the twelve-week program with twenty girls from the community, and our hope is to see more women trained as facilitators in order to reach a wider number of girls every term.

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Midlands Pink representatives, Kimberley Kunene and Wendy Mkwanaza attended the Dignity Campaign facilitators training in Johannesburg from 23-29 April 2018.  Kim reports: “We were equipped to train individuals and groups to increase their capacity in addressing issues that women and girls face in our communities. The program focuses on issues such as healthy menstrual management, education, and making informed choices about which menstrual products to use.  We love that the program covers topics like Identity, Purpose, Belonging, Sisterhood, HIV/AIDS, Human Trafficking, Relationships, Puberty, and of course, Menstrual Management.”

Emily, Kim, Steph, Wendy
Emily Burnett, Kim Kunene, Steph Bridle, Wendy Mkwanaza

​Today May 28th is Menstrual Hygiene Day. According to this website, Menstrual Hygiene Day “will help to break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.” If you want to be part, here are a few ideas for you!

​Keep learning about the realities faced by real girls and women around the world and develop a sense of compassion that will motivate you to act.

Start Conversations with your friends and family about some of the stigmas around menstruation in your own community. Discuss ways that you can help change negative ideas and turn shame into appreciation and celebration of the natural, beautiful cycle our bodies go through.

Partner with people and organizations that are helping girls and women find their innate value, dignity, and purpose. If you live in KwaZulu Natal, start with one of the organizations listed above!
​Someday, Emily hopes to go back to Cote d’Ivoire and bring some sustainable solutions to girls in the village she lived in for eight months. “It is hard to know that my host sisters probably still do not have good options to manage their periods, and menstruation is likely still a taboo topic in their community. But I am grateful for what they taught me about life as a young woman in rural Africa. Those lessons will continue to spur me on to love the women and girls around me so that they will know their beautiful place in this world.” she concludes.

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Contact Emily on 076 355 5070

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Sisters in the Wilderness

“Will they be lunch for the lions?” asked Mrs Ntombela nervously as her daughter Amanda and Wendy Mkhwanaza packed for the wilderness trail in iMfolozi Game Reserve.

“I admit I had mixed feelings about this trip,” said Wendy, “I was excited because it is a dream come true, but also apprehensive.” Amanda adds “I even Googled my feelings of fear about what to expect, to make sure I was ready for the experience of a life time.”  Understandably, the young women were a little intimidated by the idea of sleeping under the stars, having no toilets, and walking near dangerous wild animals.  iMfolozi Wilderness area is a very different place to Mpophomeni!

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Amanda and Wendy had been invited to take part in a social impact documentary film ‘Sisters of the Wilderness’ which takes a fresh and unusual look at human and Nature interconnectedness and the power of wilderness to empower young people and develop a new type of leadership based on compassion and respect.   The passion project of London based, Ronit Shapiro, Founder of One Nature Films, will tell the story of a group of young women who aspire to elevate themselves beyond challenging life conditions and become a force for good in their communities. They embark on a life-changing journey, within and without, into the wilderness of Zululand where they experience true wild Nature for the first time.  “A journey into wilderness is an intense experience where one can expect to undergo a personal transformation. It can enhance personal growth and leadership development; and it is also a soulful experience that has the capacity to heal.” says Ronit who experienced it herself on a wilderness trail few years before.

“The second we met our new sisters – Andile, Nokuphila and Thembani –  all laughing at first sight, I had this gut feeling that this is going to be more than I could ever have imagined.” There was a  jolly atmosphere with much singing all the way heading to meet their guides Baba uZondi and Janet at the Wilderness Leadership School and Lihle, who told everyone to enjoy their last shower for a week!

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Wendy and Amanda take up the story:

We woke up early to do the final packing – filling our backpacks with pots, cups, food, spades and neutral coloured clothes that we would have to carry for the rest of the week on trail – all we had to survive!  Amanda was amazed at how a whole life can fit into a backpack.  Nokuphila said to Andile “Yours doesn’t look heavy, feel mine!” Andile responded “This back pack is like troubles of life – we all get a different load that is measured for each person’s ability.” Everyone laughed but we all knew it was true.  On the three hour drive to iMfolozi we sang and shared stories of our lives.

The iMfolozi Wilderness is home to one of the biggest rhino population in Africa. “I chose this location to highlight the plight of the rhino whose numbers keep plummeting due to the illegal hunting for its highly-value horn; and the threat to this unique wilderness area and the surrounding rural communities from intensive mining. This is a place which has so much potential to enrich us but at the same time it is greatly vulnerable and threatened by man’s greed and his forces of destruction.” Ronit tells the team. “You will be exposed to the elements and have to cope with emotional and physical challenges, and learn the practical skills of survival in the wilderness.”    Wendy adds “Most people don’t understand that everything we use comes from Nature – cars, clothes and food.  If there is no Nature, we won’t be alive either.  We must be more thankful for Nature and stop polluting with toxic waste and plastics that cannot decompose.”

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Just 15 minutes after crossing the border into the Reserve, the car stopped. Right beside the road there was a gentle giant – an elephant feeding in a tree. “It was so beautiful and so massive and just on left hand side there was this amazing herd of buck. I must say at this point Nature had welcomed us really well.” At the reserve offices, everyone made use of the toilet for the last time for the rest of the week, before shouldering their packs and starting to walk. Baba uZondi told us that at this moment we must leave all the burdens of the world behind.

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As we entered the wilderness we were told to walk in a straight line and be silent all the way but to keep our senses sharp. To communicate anything we saw, we would make a clicking sound to get the attention of the others.  Before long we reached a spot that was Ian Player’s favourite place – we sat on a rock beside the umthombothi tree (Spirostachys africana) and Janet told us all about Dr Player and his friend uBaba Magqubu Ntombela – their passion for the animals and how we can all learn from Nature.

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We crossed a river, feeling nervous about crocodiles, with our feet sinking into the squishy sand. Here we were able to see many other animal’s footprints – including buffalo and rhino.  Amanda thought “I can hear my foot steps and this bag is so heavy. It feels like although I am out of the world but I seem to have it on my back. I can hear myself breathing. We walked and we walked and we sat down by the trees to drink water and my back is already so sore.”

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We collected some wood as we walked so that we could make tea and supper when we decided to camp. We got settled in and made fire.  We were advised that if we needed to use the ‘bush toilet’ it was better to do this while it was still light and to take someone along to keep watch.

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Around the fire we were given instructions about the night watch – the sun had retired and the moon was now awake.  Each person had to keep watch for an hour and 20 minutes before waking the next person to take over. Baba uZondi told us that humans have a disadvantage as we can’t see as well as animals in the night. The most important thing is to be alert as each person doing night watch is responsible for the lives of everyone in camp. He told us that it was not our job to chase the animals away, just to keep an eye out and if we see animal approaching, best we wake up one of the guides.  “Lihle told use to use the time alone to think and be at one with ourselves but as she is speaking I am thinking hell no!  I was already shaking in my boots, I could hardly even hear what she was saying.” recalls Amanda. “I tried to be brave, but there were animals moving everywhere and I woke Janet a few times,” remembers Wendy. “Then I spotted some hyenas drinking and felt happy and very lucky to be able to watch these animals all on my own.”

Each day we woke early, packed up camp leaving no trace and set off through the bush.

On the second day we got to a place where Shaka and his family had lived – even finding the grinding stone that they had used. This was incredible because it was still there after all this time, untouched. We loved this history, learning about how people lived before all the technology existed in our lives.

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We had been advised what to do if we came across any animals and were excited to see some zebras and a rhino with its baby. The wind was blowing in our direction, so they couldn’t smell us but the rhino did hear our footsteps. The next thing the rhino changed direction and started running towards us, Janet said “take cover” and we quickly hid behind some trees until Baba uZondi chased the rhino away. Amanda was so surprised at how calm she felt – just wanting to see what would happen next and remember the experience.

Every time we crossed a river we saw footprints – of lions and leopards. We were scared a lot, but had to face our fears and continue. Wendy remembers “During quiet time, sitting alone, the first thing I did was listen to the wind blowing gently and the bush moving slowly – it was like the sound of water flowing. I breathed the fresh air and could hear different animal sounds.   My problems all just disappeared. I know that when you feel stressed the best way to relax is find a quiet place and relax.  This was an exceptionally quiet place.”

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Bath time in the river was very quick – just a few seconds as we knew there were crocodiles and we were scared of being eaten! We all got into the cold water at the same time.  One afternoon, after walking far from camp to find suitable soft ground to dig a toilet hole, two of the girls looked up to find an enormous elephant right nearby!  They covered up quickly and scurried back to camp.

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Then after supper it was time for night watch again. Amanda relates her experience:  Andile was first and I was second. I was awake the whole time Andile was on watch, huddled in my sleeping bag I did not want to turn my head torch off.  Although Andile was terrified she just seemed to be in control. Then it was my turn.  I was so scared that I didn’t even want to sit down.  After about 30 minutes I heard something walking in the water and although I was scared I gain courage to find out what is it so I can act. As I was looking, Andile and Thembani woke up and came to sit with me. When we shone the bush light about 15metres away from camp, two eyes were looking at us, big and shiny.  It was a buffalo so we decided to wake up one of your guides.  I woke Lihle by mistake and she said don’t worry, it is just my socks I hung in the tree to dry!  Andile kept an eye on a buffalo while I woke Jennet. She told us to keep shining the light on it eyes and it will go away.  We all ended up awake as my shift was about to finish.  Thembani spotted some eyes across the river –  judging from their height we thought it was lions, but later figured out that it was hyena.  One night Ronit mistook a pair of bright stars for eyes – it was so funny. We had lots to laugh about.

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Soon Wendy started to enjoy the nights:  When I was not guarding, I would look up at the sky filled with sparkling stars. I would imagine my ancestors and deceased family members looking down on me and say thank you for giving us light and protecting us. This made my smile every night as I did not feel alone or afraid knowing the stars were watching over me.

Every time we left camp, we cleaned up and left no human trace behind, to show we respect the environment.  Before we reached the next camp we had an Indaba using a talking stick to share how we feel. It was a very powerful session with tears and connections.

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The days followed similar patterns with lots of learning and sharing along the way. We were fascinated learning about some trees that are special to Zulu culture.  Umlahlankosi (Ziziphus mucronata, buffalo thorn) is traditionally used to fetch the spirit of someone who has died in an accident or far from home. The thorns on the branches face in different directions – one back and one forward –  illustrating the importance of looking to the future, while never forgetting the past.  We got to see the plant which the San people used to use to collect drops of dew to drink.

After a few days, we felt at home and more comfortable. We had a chance to watch sunsets each day and somehow as the sun set our troubles seemed to set with it. At night we didn’t only see the dark but saw the stars that came out, instead.

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The sisters bonded in such a powerful way. We felt free – emotional and spiritual healing.  On the last day in the wild we didn’t want to go back.  Our bags were much lighter and so were our hearts.  With blisters on our feet, sore muscles and the smell of the wild, it is safe to say this was the greatest adventure in our lives. This has helped us look the world with different eyes.

Amanda concludes “The most important lesson I have learnt is that it ok to love, it is ok to cry and it totally fine to be scared.  Just remember to never miss out on an opportunity to be home in the Wilderness.”

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For more about this project see: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sisters-of-the-wilderness-part-2-social-impact/x/14796140#/

 

Vote With Your Fork

When we emerged from the underground station into sunlit Piazza Duomo, Ntombenhle exclaimed “I feel like I am on TV!”  The spires of the magnificent cathedral, thronged by colourful crowds and the buskers playing in each corner of the square was our first taste of Italy. Milan is not a bad place to start.

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Ntombenhle and Nikki were part of the South African delegation to the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto event, organized across the city – the 11th such event to bring together food activists and producers from across the globe to learn and share.  For five days, Turin became the cultural capital of global food biodiversity.

We began with a couple of days in Milan to acclimatise.  Trundling bags to Ostello Bello Hostel along streets bustling with pedestrians, trams and scooters.

A friendly welcome awaited us – cold drinks, free wifi, delicious food and a lovely view from our window.  We hung out on the roof terrace planted with herbs and veggies and thought about cooking our own supper from the array of Italian ingredients provided in the adjacent kitchen. No, we would spend our time exploring and let them do the cooking!

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When Ntombenhle and Penz visited Cape Town earlier this year, they loved the Hop on Hop off Bus tours, so we hopped on and off in Milan too. What a beautiful city!   Our favourite things were the millions of chimneys on top of the buildings and the ornate balconies clinging to the sides.

We stopped off at a park for a picnic lunch and in the late afternoon, explored the canalside Navigli area. It was very hot, so ice cream (gelato in Italian) was welcome.

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Two days later, we caught the train from the impressive Milan Central Station – where a giant apple sculpture got us in the food mood. From the train window we noticed how every scrap of land was being cultivated – right up to the rivers, roads and houses. There were crops and fruit trees everywhere.

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Bound for Turin to join the seven thousand delegates from 143 countries, 300 Slow Food Presidia and 1000 food communities of the Terra Madre network from five continents –  representing a humanity that is united to discuss the great challenges which we must confront, above all the safeguarding of agricultural biodiversity, raising awareness and creating positive energy towards the objective of Slow Food: good, clean and fair food for all.

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Photo by Alessandro Vargiu from the Slow Food archive

There were about 400 delegates from Africa and 40 South Africans.  We all took turns manning the popular SA stand where we showcased hand harvested Baleni Salt, Rooibos tea, Marula Jam, Aloe honey, Zulu Sheep and Raw Milk Cheese.

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Slow Food organised our accommodation with local SF members. Ntombenhle and Nikki stayed with the Bottignol/Farinetti family in Monticello d’Alba a couple of hours outside of Turin. They had a small ‘farm’ with extensive veggie gardens, lots of fruit trees, one donkey, one goat and a couple of chickens. We had lots in common with them (besides language!). They were caring and considerate hosts and we will be friends forever.

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Trying to decide what event to attend or where to begin exploring the hundreds of stalls was a challenge. As we were in the Africa section, we started there – feeling right at home amongst our colourful neighbours. “I never thought I would see these things with my own eyes,” commented Ntombenhle, “the different foods, the national dress, listening to the foreign languages. It was amazing.”

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Naturally, Ethiopia had Forest Wild Coffee, Guinea Bissau – Farim Salt, Cape Verde showcased Raw Milk Goat Cheeses, Egypt the Siwa Oasis Dates.   Kenya had a wide range of products, including Ogiek Honey and Dried Nettles from the Mau Forest, Nzoia River Reed Salt, Pokot Ash yogurt and Lare Pumpkin.  From Madagascar – Alaotra Lake Ancient Rice Varieties and the Mananara Vanilla.  Marocco’s exhibition area showcased Argan Oil, Alnif Cumin, Zerradoun Salt, and Taliouine Saffron. Mauritania was represented by the Imraguen Women’s Mullet Botargo. The Ibo Coffee Presidium from Mozambique wants to safeguard Ibo island’s unique ecosystem where the plant still grows wild. São Tomé and Príncipe brought Robusta Coffee. From Senegal, Fadiouth Island Salted Millet Couscous – which preserves an ancient, traditional and original production line that links the earth with the sea. Sierra Leone had the Kenema Kola Nut used in drinks, Uganda showcased Luwero Robusta Coffee, the indigenous Kayinja Banana, the Climbing Yam and the Ankole Long-Horned Cattle, Tanzania the Arusha Stingless Bee Honey which is collected by a small group of beekeepers from traditional hives made from hollow tree trunk sections and hung from the roofs of houses, fences or the highest branches of fruit trees like mango, avocado and papaya.

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One hot afternoon, we kicked off our shoes with new friends from Lesotho – Mirriam and Ma-Lord.  They had produced a book of traditional food, so we had plenty in common and proudly showed off Mnandi. One of the Russian delegates we had met earlier joined us and we shared the last of the cherry brandy that she was promoting!

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Without a doubt, connecting with like-minded people was the highlight.  We were even excited to meet the other South Africans as their stories and projects were intriguing too. Representatives from rural Limpopo, to hip-and-happening Khayelitsha, from the West Coast fisheries to the inspiring food events of Soweto, inner city gardening projects, markets, indigenous food processing, foraging and free range farming.  A vibrant and diverse bunch.

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We attended workshops on all sorts of topics hosted by the Indigenous Terra Madre network. Particularly memorable was How Indigenous Food Systems Can Inspire Solutions. When it comes to global challenges such as climate change and global hunger, indigenous food systems are seldom considered. “Indigenous people are breeders of biodiversity – keen observers of nature and good innovators” said someone on the inspiring panel (made up of representatives from India, Philippines, Japan, Nigeria, Equador). The agroecological approach is just starting to be known in the Western world, while indigenous peoples have been using sustainable methods for centuries. Conclusion: “Who should really adapt?  Local indigenous systems or the modern commercial ones?”

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In the European section, our tastebuds tingled as we tasted strange micro greens and unusual herbs and flowers – purple yka leaves, sechuan buttons, salty fingers, sea fennel and oyster leaves, – produced in Holland.

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We smelled, tasted and learnt about raw milk cheeses from Ireland, Czech artisan beer, Spanish saffron, Macedonian peppers and Albania Olive oil. We were astonished at how much cheese there was.

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We made friends with Palestinians and Iranians on our daily bus trips from the conference back to the village of Monticello d’Alba where we stayed. One day, Ntombenhle struck up a conversation with the folk in the Lebanon stand and swopped a copy of Mnandi for their gorgeous book Mezze – a Labour of Love, featuring traditional Lebanese food, produced by TV presenter and food activist Barabara Abdeni Massaad. This interaction epitomised the generosity and sharing of the event.

mezzeThe local branch of Slow Food organised evening entertainment for us (although we would have happily gone straight to bed!). On Heritage Day they provided an all local supper, with traditional music and dancing in a village hall. We sang Nkosi sikelel’iAfrica and Shosholoza as a thank you.  On another occasion we enjoyed pizza in the Alba town square, entertained by the wonderful CoroMoro – a group made up of asylum seekers from across Africa who live in the valleys of Piedmont.

ntombenhle-and-naudeNikki was among the first to be seated at the Wild Edibles presentation and workshop.  It began with a short video entitled Forest to Fork which illustrated how common food creates social cohesion, how the act of going out in a group to gather food and prepare food are essential components of strong communities.

20160923_134111A representative of the Bibomen Tribe from South Western Australia talked about the six seasons in her culture, the 150 indigenous tubers she knows to eat, the tragedy of the pioneer practice of removing deep rooted trees which dropped the water table and allowed the salt to rise to the surface creating barren landscapes. She also warned of the issue of wild food becoming trendy and the decimation which can follow. A couple from Chile talked about their indigenous fruits and battles with multi-national land grabbing; a Japanese woman suggested the reason we were gathered here was because women carry the information in our bodies that is part of the earth; a Kenyan man spoke about the effect climate change was having in his country. An activist from a Central Canadian tribe began with a prayer honouring the ancestors whom she believed were with us in this group. She spoke sadly of the elimination of bison (80% of the prairies are now gone), and the degradation of her people and more positively, about the hope her workshops on creation stories and indigenous food gardening gives to young first nation people.

sage-hazelnuts-applesThe Asian section was very unusual and much of the packaging was outstanding.   Nikki tasted shiso rice with wild mushrooms at the Japanese stand and Omiki – a fermented rice and sweet potato drink made by Shamans from Yuku Island.  The Philippines had a wide variety of food, but the most exciting find was Adlai – Coix lacryma-jobi.  Turns out that this is what we call Job’s Tears in South Africa (the grey seeds used in Zulu tradition for teething rings or, now popular as beaded necklaces).  “It tasted pretty good,” commented Nikki, tucking into a bowl served with kernels of corn, adding “they were excited to hear that it grew in South Africa too – albeit invading our wetlands.”  Besides being a substitute for maize and rice, it was also fed to livestock.

img_1328The strong, successful women on the panel of the session on Women’s Roles in Farming was inspiring. Quietly, the woman from Bukina Faso told how in her culture a woman must work four days in her husband’s fields and only one day in her own garden. She told of the circles women have started, to sing their seed songs and grow strong and how they are starting to teach men about their role in supporting women.

An Indonesian woman spoke of her work to promote entrepreneurship to ensure that not only did farmers have enough to eat but extra from cash crops too. She was proud to have contributed to keeping Indonesian products alive by adding value and creating export markets. A Spanish woman related her struggles to overcome patriarchy, how she broke with tradition to become the first woman to run the family farm. “Female energy is good. I feel deep love when I wake up in the morning and see my land. We do not have to exploit; we can have respect and balance.  We can fight together for change, rather than compete.”

women-in-agricultureLate one afternoon thousands of people gathered at the corner of Corso Cairoli and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II to march along the River Po, through the centre of Turin. This was an exciting and energising experience to be among thousands of people, many dressed in traditional costumes, waving national flags and bearing banners with universal messages that we all believed in. Save Biodiversity.  Vote with Your Fork.  They are Giants but We are Millions (referring to the power of the agricultural and food multinationals). There were marching bands amongst the crowds – we were fortunate to be just behind a particularly cool one and thoroughly enjoyed the music!

south-african-group-terra-madre-marchAlong the way we met giant non-gmo corn cobs.  The groups from South America were exceptionally vibrant and showed off a wide range of products – including chocolate, chillies, corn and pumpkins at their stand – when they weren’t making music!

At the end of the march we swopped small gifts of food from home with strangers. Carlo Petrini, charismatic President of Slow Food, welcomed us a Protectors of Biodiversity.  His message “We are a brotherhood, learn instead of only teaching. Give back to others, particularly to refugees and those affected by colonisation, share what we have.”  It was incredible to hear how people across the planet face similar struggles and feel just as passionate about good food produced without harm.

carlo-petriniWe loved an inspiring workshop on Women as Seed Keepers – safeguarding food and culture.  We learnt of many cooperatives and associations made up entirely of women (farmers, fishermen, chefs) We heard experiences from Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, where governmental bodies, along with citizens and small-scale farmers, have chosen to promote policies and actions aimed at safeguarding biodiversity. Agro-ecological farming, small scale farming and Nature farming was talked about a lot, but much to Ntombenhle’s chagrin, Permaculture was seldom mentioned, even though that was what was often meant.  She pointed out to the facilitators that many of the audience understood permaculture principles, so it would be a good idea to use familiar terms rather than confusing ones.

20160923_134111The volunteers working in the delegates canteen served delicious, good, clean, fair food every day. The long tables were a gathering place for animated conversation as we met new people, shared the day’s highlights and tasted new things – barley and farro salad, couscous, carrot soup, pasta with pesto or tomatoes or chicken, cured meat and cheese, fruit, bread and so much more.

farro-saladYou never knew if you would sit beside Egyptians or Australians or make a new friend. Ntombenhle met an Indian woman who told her – ‘Don’t make excuses, know your value, it is your business, you can do it.’  Nikki recalls a conversation with an American woman who ran an event catering business which focussed on food that incorporated the various needs of religious customs, food allergies, lifestyle preferences and medical conditions without making anyone feel uncomfortable or odd.

canteenValentino Park is beautiful. A magnificent location for such an important event.  Squirrels scampered on the lawns amongst those taking a break from the frenzy of the stalls and conferences.  It provided a sociable space to escape to, but usually with meaningful conversation. Ntombenhle used the opportunity to spread her “mulch, mulch, mulch” message when chatting to others who thought mulching made the garden look untidy!

valentino-parkNikki met vegan activists from England, hearing how the movement is growing rapidly and learning how they get their message across creatively. There was an entire Slow Meat section, where farmers, butchers, chefs, consumers discussed the consequences of exploding meat consumption on the planet. “Eat less meat of better quality” was the message.

On the banks of the River Po, the Slow Fish Tent was fascinating as commercial and small scale fishers from across the globe discussed ways of making fishing sustainable. Ideas clashed occasionally. Here we met the delightful singer and activist Olga del Madagascar.

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Terra Madre was the most incredible experience, not least because we learnt that common language is not the most important thing in communication – hugs, nods, smiles and hand gestures go a long way!  Carlo Petrini suggested that the greatest gift we would take from Terra Madre was recognising the value of others and seeing the pride of the farmers.  That is absolutely true.

We were not able to see or experience everything – not even close. The event was enormous and apparently, almost a million people attended over the five days.  These photos and words capture just a tiny part. Visit the Slow Food Terra Madre site to view incredible photos which illustrate the event so much more effectively than this article.   You can also read Nikki’s personal account of her trip to Italy here.

Do join us in Ntombenhle’s garden on Saturday 10 December as we celebrate Terra Madre Day with our new friends from across the world.  11am. Bring home grown, homemade, local, organic food to share. Perhaps your favourite Mnandi recipe?

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Being an Owl Mother.

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I fell in love with birds of prey a few years ago while I was still a Game Ranging student. I don’t have a great eyesight so I was glad that I only had to familiarize myself with large-sh birds that would be easier to identify later. I soon found favorites in the Bateleur Eagle whose name means tight rope walker, the Gymnogene now called the African Harrier Hawk, the Lammergeyer also known as the bearded vulture and the common spotted eagle owl. I found that I did not want to persecute them for hunting my warm bodied cousins as I would persecute fellow human beings that do the same as the birds. In my modules I leaned of birds of the night, the Owl and the Night-jars and all the larger sized birds of prey of the day, from hawks to harriers, kestrels to falcon to kites, snake eagles to eagles to vultures and everything in between.

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Bateleur Eagles at Raptor Rescue

We fast forward to a month ago when I got the opportunity to look after a pair of barn owls, rescued after falling through a chimney at Midmar Dam. I was way more than excited, mind you I did not know of any stereotypes attached to witchcraft except for those in the Harry potter movies. I only knew of the owls full of wisdom from the movies that I watched during my childhood.

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Leftovers from owls.

It felt like I had opened a can of worms into the creepiest of worlds where witches hollow out the bodies of owls and give them an enema filled with Muthi to turn them into their own personal zombies and where diviners use the eyes of the murdered birds to grind into a mixture that leads them to seeing far into the future and through the darkness of human misery.

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But like all problems the owls are not the true culprits, we are the ones that dump rubbish illegally inviting the rats, where there are rats there are snakes and we hate the snakes as well even though the earth belongs to all those who live on it. Besides, we cannot except to inhabit the planet alone with the animals of our choice, that is against the true balance of nature and if we believe that witches commit such marvels, they should be able to commit them with whatever animal they wish.

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Pellets regurgitated by owls.

One of the strangest questions I received while spreading the, “owls are our friends” message was, “How will people tell the difference between the zombie owls and the project owls?”  This was tough to answer but I have never seen a zombie owl and neither had the person asking so it was safe to say let us speak only of the owls we have seen and know.

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Regular visitors.

The owls being of a predatory nature meant that I had to feed them a day old dead chicks. The first time I was confronted with the task, I found it quite daunting as they looked like they were still moving while I walked with them thawed in the plastic bowl.

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Day old chicks.

With more days passing and the same task repeated I grew immune. A while after their meal, each owl would regurgitate a pellet made of feathers and bones, sometimes the head of the chick would be in a pellets on its own still whole. My dogs Trevar and Sapphire tried to dig holes to gain access to the cage in the middle of the night to no avail though.

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Gugu at her favorite spot.

Now that the owls have been released, I have to admit that I do miss them. Even my mother who was septic at first warmed up to them, she was afraid of the screeching sound they make but Siphiwe and Gugu did not ever screech at night while they were in Captivity. The neighbors were delighted to have them around and kept checking on their well-being daily. Baba James Mlotshwa said he had so many rats in his yard that he wished they could circle over his house every night catching them.

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Kids at an owl talk at a Thembeni

We would like to extend gratitude to N3TC, Owl Box Project, Predatory Bird project and Raptor Rescue, this would not have been possible without them. We hope the pair breeds and more generations carry on the rodent eating legacy.

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SunStove

Who would have imagined that solar cooking could be addictive? This may be surprising, but is true. It’s great fun and astonishingly easy to do. Sunny Winter days are perfect to put out the SunStove and boil water for tea and washing, harnessing the inexhaustible and free power of the sun. While a solar cooker works best in clear weather, a few clouds will not affect the cooking.

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The SunStove cooks rice perfectly, manages a whole chicken, hard boiled eggs, baked potatoes, stews and bread too. Not much water needs to be added, and nothing evaporates, so all nutrients are retained. Cooking with a SunStove means you spend less time ‘standing over a hot stove’ as once you have put your food in the black, lidded pot and placed in the box, it looks after itself and can’t burn. For best results, preheat your oven and move so that it directly faces the sun a couple of times. Or if you are busy, simply prepare your food early before you go out, aim your SunStove in the direction of the midday sun and come home to a delicious, warm meal!

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“I made such a nice green soup the other day – using all the little bits in the garden and I added some leftover cooked white beans. It was delicious, everyone was amazed. The SunStove does not overcook the veggies – it will cook slowly and gently.” Ntombenhle Mtambo.

We share the following recipes that feature in our book: Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni.  

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Sun Stewed Rhubarb

  • 8 stems, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar

Place in a pot in your Sunstove for the day while you potter about in the garden (or boil on the stove until tender). Lovely with ice cream and the syrup is delicious too.

Karen Zunckel’s Solar Bread

  • 1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 350 ml warm water
  • 500 g Champagne Valley Stoneground Wholemeal Flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 75 g mixed seeds

Mix yeast & sugar with half the warm water. Leave it in a warm place for about 10 minutes until it starts to bubble.

Mix flour, seeds and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture, the oil, and the remaining water, and mix well.

Put a little flour in your hands and dust the work surface too, and kneed the dough for 10 minutes, until it’s smooth.

Place the dough in the large mixing bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Put it in a warm place for an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the SunStove by placing a black pot or brick in it and positioning it to face the 10am sun. (Plan to start cooking at 10am).

Push your fist into the dough to knock some of the air out of it. Then knead it for another 5 minutes.

Put the dough into a greased loaf tin. Leave it in a warm place for another 10 minutes to rise. Cut diagonally with a sharp knife so that the crust doesn’t separate from the loaf. Brush it with the egg and top with seeds.

Then bake, turning the SunStove every half hour to face the sun.

Cook until a toothpick comes out clean, about 2 hours in summer or 4 hours in winter.

bread in solar oven

You can order locally made SunStoves (and insulated box with a clear top and reflective sides which can be hung up when not in use) from the PlanetPellet hut in the Community Garden, or from sunstove@iafrica.com.  You can order Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni  from mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

Enemies from above coming for the Rats

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Owls are beautiful, interesting creatures that hunt at night and are characterised by their flat face with forward facing eyes. There are twelve different known species in South Africa, the smallest weighing in at 50 g and the largest at 2.5 kg. The three most common in the Midlands are the Barn Owl, the Spotted Eagle Owl and the Wood Owl.  All owls have specially designed soft, fluffy wings that allow them to fly silently while listening out for prey, their tubular eyes are light sensitive allowing them to see their prey in low light conditions while sounds are bounced off their facial disk into little ear holes at the sides of their face and the rats don’t know what hit them until their hanging on that bill.   A family of owls can eat 2500 rats and mice a year.

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After hearing the successes that Eco-Solutions has had in Alexandria township in Johannesburg introducing owls to reduce the rat problem, the Mpophomeni Owl Box Project is to be launched to fight our troublesome rodent infestation that has grown over the years due to a decline in their natural predators. Orphaned or injured owls are taken in by the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, nursed back to health and released back in the wild, deployed to feast on the rodent population restoring balance between predator and prey.  Many people in the community will testify that the infestation is out of hand, it’s only by luck that we don’t hear of rats chewing off the feet of sleeping infants but they do destroy food in the gardens and cupboards, mutilate furniture and, let us not forget, that they carry a multitude of diseases.

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Prevention is always better than cure they say, so we would like people to work with us in eliminating areas that could lead to the rodent population thriving. For example, piles of rubble next to your home and careless disposal of food scraps in the open attract rats.  We should stop treating vacant land as illegal dumping sites because we are only providing the rodents with a habitat to flourish in. We should also avoid using poison to kill the rodents because other domestic animals and little children are also in danger of ingesting and dying from it.

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Rats feasting on rubbish.

A release site will be erected at a private home in Mpophomeni this winter. This is facilitated by The Owl Box Project and Raptor Rescue Centre and funded by N3TC.  Local residents and learners will be invited to visit and educated on the importance of owls in eradicating the rodents. The owls nest in boxes that resemble their natural nesting habitat.  Barn owls nest in cavities, they like dark, quiet places so a big box with a small hole is ideal. Spotted Eagle Owls are not fussy they like open areas so a big box with a wide entrance is home for them and Wood owls live in forests and nest in holes in trees so they have along box with a small hole so that the can crawl all the way to the back. Barn Owls can alter their breeding habits in response to prey numbers, the greater the prey in abundance, the greater the owlets.  We already have a few owls resident in Mpophomeni.

A Barn Owl caught on barb wire
A Barn Owl caught on barb wire

Many owls sustain injuries and death due to colliding with razor fences, electric line and motor vehicle collisions. If you see or find an injured owl, try putting a towel or something over it before you pick it up, because they do have sharp beaks and proceed to call FreeMe (033 330 3036) or Raptor Rescue (076 724 6846) who have trained people to handle sick or injured animals.

This is a joint project of MCG, DUCT Enviro Champs, Midlands Meander Education Project and Funda Nenja and, of course, the Owl Box Project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eco-Community

Later this month, Ntombenhle Mtambo (aka Permaculture Princess) and Penz Malinga (aka Bad Ass Bunny Hugger) head to Cape Town to the Enviropedia Eco-Logic Awards at Table Bay Hotel. Charlene Russell of MMEP nominated Mpophomeni Conservation Group in the Eco-Community category.   This is our submission, according to the Eco-Logic catergories,  which includes comments from friends, partners and supporters at the end.  What do you think? Can we win?

Background
The Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) comprises a group of food growers, seeds savers, environmental activists and environmental students. MCG intend to inspire others in the community to think about their lifestyles with regards to sustainability, resilience, climate change, biodiversity conservation, healthy living and animal rights.

Leading by example, and working with many partners, MCG influence their neighbours by hosting workshops in the community garden, visiting local schools to get gardens flourishing, instilling a culture of recycling, training many people to conduct water quality tests and monitor sewage spills, and building a growing movement of people sharing similar values. Their own lifestyles, homes and gardens provide the inspiration to share their vision of a better, greener, kinder and more sustainable future.

MCG believe that inspiring people to see the value of growing food, protecting water resources and producing zero waste will have a far reaching impact.

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Benefit the Earth:
Pollution by sewage is a significant health issue in Mpophomeni. The uMthinzima river flows into Midmar Dam, which is a strategic source of water for residents downstream all the way to Durban. MCG representatives contribute time and skills to the Save Midmar Campaign.

Mpop Kidz Club meets on regularly to explore Mpophomeni, monitor the streams (do miniSASS tests), study grassland, conduct clean ups and create useful items from waste. To dispel the myths and fears that surround snakes, they regularly invite a snake expert to visit. Excursions to Thurlow Nature Reserve showcase natural treasures right on their doorstep, with little carbon expended on transport. Picnic food is locally sourced, with limited packaging. MCG hosts regular walks to introduce outsiders to the township, the sanitation issues and showcase the diversity of the grassland hills.

Rats are decimating gardens and food stores. Many people use poison which has little effect on reducing the rat population, but kills cats, dogs and goats. MCG, in partnership with the Owl Box Project will introduce owls and install owl boxes this year.  Orphaned Barn Owls will be raised at school and released. Lessons in schools and a door to door campaign will teach residents about biodiversity, ecosystems, earth friendly solutions and owls.

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Supports Sustainability:
MCG promotes the use of Sunstoves, Wonderbags, Solar jars and iStofu. In partnership with Planet Pellet, MCG is the agent for isitofu and the pellets to power them – reducing reliance on gas and scarce wood.

Rainwater tanks installed at members’ homes attract queues of people asking for water during water cuts – providing an opportunity to discuss water saving and water harvesting.

MCG demonstrate a working model of sustainable agriculture, where few external inputs are required. Their successful garden produces compost and seeds that regenerate the garden and those around it – little has to be bought, all profits can go back into the community.

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Embraces Holistic Thinking:
MCG aim to help everyone in the community to make better decisions regarding sourcing food, clothes, energy and building materials with great emphasis placed on the benefits of using local.

Permaculture principles do many things to uplift the community – demonstrating how to recycle, save water, eat healthily, get outdoor exercise, make money, improve the environment and to teach young people about values. Skills learnt are passed to others to uplift everyone in the long term – giving hope, new knowledge and skills to grow real food to feed their families and to sell.

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Ubuntu:
MCG believes that learning from members of one’s own community, who care about the wellbeing of the community, has a greater impact than outsiders who visit occasionally. Also that learning in one’s mother tongue improves understanding considerably.

MCG encourages informal work parties (known as ilima in Zulu culture) to assist people in their gardens. Donations of vegetables are made to orphans, disabled and needy people. MCG believe that stronger communities are more able to withstand the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

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High quality and ethical standards:
MCG slogan is “We are the change we want to see in the World.” As champions of food security, defenders of their community’s natural resources MCG are real activists for the planet and easily able to share this vision with others. MCG members volunteer their time and energy to assist the community.

As a result of their commitment, passion and hard work, many have recently been employed by the ACT Gardens Project and the DUCT Enviro-Champs Project. Everyone has embraced this opportunity to strengthen their work and step up their efforts.

While MCG do have a small amount of funding to support their work, their aim is to be able to generate enough income from their gardens, permaculture training courses, consulting, writing and running holiday clubs for kids that they are able to sustain their efforts to assist the community on their own.

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Innovation/Vision:
After years of persistence, MCG secured a lease for municipal land used as a waste dump, to turn it into a garden. This corner of abundance is an inspiring example to neighbours who have embraced new ideas – mulching and companion planting.

Much of the plentiful waste is useful and can have another life. MCG compost the cardboard, turn bread bags into skipping ropes, mesh bags into balls and newspaper into hockey sticks for Kidz Club activities. Plastic bottles stuffed with sweet wrappers become eco-bricks and crisp packets become colourful curtains. Many solutions regarding re-use of waste increase income earning possibilities.

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Reflects Wisdom and positive emotion:
While no label can adequately describe it, MCG sees joyful production and learning as a fundamental element of their work – food grown from the heart, lessons delivered from the soul and stories told with pride. Healthy society and a productive happy workforce play an important role in sustainable development.

Mpophomeni Conservation Group acknowledges members of their community who stand above the crowd by writing and sharing stories to inspire others – Tall MPoppies – turning the Tall Poppy Syndrome on its head. There are many heroes in this community – Gogos who take care of lots of orphans; neighbours who help the frail and ill; animal lovers who look out for the dogs, goats and cows; gardeners who share produce, seeds and labour freely; small businesses that employ local people; environmentalists who share their passion with young people; volunteers who clear aliens and litter from the streams; teachers who go beyond the call of duty and many more.

Seasonal Celebrations – Pumpkins in May, Winter’s Best Produce, and Summer Greens – encourage gardeners to show off their produce and in the process generates good energy and builds community.

MCG believe that their success is determined by the spirit of participation from the surrounding community.

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Comments from our supporters:

Charlene Russell
Mpophomeni is an environmental education hotspot – it’s a beautiful township, and is a hive of activity! At any time you can drive through and see kids meeting at the Memorial Wall, going for walks in the hills, people gathering to work in gardens, or selling their produce; and all the time sharing what they know, what they have learnt, with others. I think it’s the sharing that makes this community group so special; we live in a time where there is such a disparity between people who ‘have’ and people who ‘do not have’, and here in Mpophomeni the MCG is working to close that gap, even if the unit is just knowledge and time, the MCG is sharing what they know with others, and giving their time freely to improve the quality of living of those around them. Their wealth is truly the diversity of members, each person has their passion that they willing share with everyone. How wonderful would our world be if every community worked like this?

Craig Millar, Municipal Councillor
I am a huge fan of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) and have a massive amount of respect for the work that you all do and what the group has achieved in what is after all a relatively short space of time. Having been privileged enough to make my acquaintance with the indomitable spirit that is Ntombenhle, I can certainly attest to the effectiveness and positive impact the MCG has made in their community.
The ability to engage with a wide spectrum of community members as well as funders and organisations to assist is so important for projects like the community garden to succeed. It also requires hard work and dedication and I have noticed that there is certainly no shortage of that whenever I have paid a visit to the garden site in particular. To turn a dumping site into what can only be described as a triumph for the community in such a short space of time is commendable indeed. Spreading the idea of sustainable eco-friendly gardens to others in this low income area not only helps people put healthy food on the table in an environmentally friendly way, but actually builds community itself.
I am particularly grateful to Ntombenhle for recently accompanying me to a small agri-project that I have been assisting in Emandleni to advise them on more sustainable techniques and to share information and experience. I am hopeful that we are able to get some of the Emandleni people to come over and assist in the Mpophomeni garden and in so doing take the skills and knowledge back to their project.

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Doug Burden, Manager DUCT
The work that the MCG are doing has helped greatly to raise the awareness needed to get the authorities to address the pollution levels affecting the Midmar Dam; rallied the support of the locals in Mpophomeni to ‘get involved’ with water and health issues affecting the community; adding significantly to furthering DUCT’s River Health Programme which embraces – healthy communities need healthy rivers. DUCT wishes them every success and encourages Penz Malinga and her passionate team to continue their great work in this important community conservation field. The commitment and passion – in the face of many hardships – is admirable.
Jessica Dreamtime – Coordinator Midlands Meander Education Project
The Midlands Meander Education Project (MMEP) is a proud partner of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group. In fact many of the leaders from this group have come through the MMEP so we know the group very well. We know how hard they have worked and what they have achieved.

The Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) have worked together to transform a vacant plot of land, that was actually used as a rubbish dump, into a flourishing food garden in no time at all. Everyone who participated did this free of charge, as a volunteer. The garden is an outstanding example of what community can achieve when they work together. The garden is used for educational purposes and is now open to visitors who want to learn about permaculture and or buy fresh, healthy, organic food. Surplus is shared with the needy.

The MCG have organised walks, talks, plays and run eco-clubs to educate, inspire and enthuse local youth. They also contribute to local newspapers and openly share their love and passion for the natural environment. Urging people to take environmental action. Their work is extremely valuable as it gives hope and shares other ways of seeing and being in the world.

MCG have worked with us on our Climate change DVD and hosted a few of our school groups, in their garden. We are proud to be associated with this dynamic, fun loving, hardworking and thoughtful group. They deserve all the awards that come their way!

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Judy Bell – Environmental Consultant and Chair of Winterskloof Conservancy

MCG live their vision – “be the change you want to see” and have inspired and motivated local residents to live healthy lives within the capacity of the local life support systems. They have also inspired people far beyond Mpophomeni – we have watched these wonderful people do exceptional things to change hearts and minds and demonstrate that there is indeed a better way. They are not victims of circumstance, but have taken the initiative to make their lives and those of people in Mpophomeni and the KZN Midlands a whole lot better. They have definitely left their mark to show how we can (and should) live more sustainably.
Rutendo Zendah- Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” ― Nelson Mandela
This quote summarizes a journey of the most passionate people I have ever met, who vowed to change their circumstances, bring hope and dreams to their communities, overcame barriers and changed the face of gardening in Mpophomeni. I first met MaNtombe of MCG in December 2013. The light in her eyes when she spoke about her dreams to change her community through agriculture was unmatched. She had the passion, the will and the zeal. I remember thinking to myself that morning, with such a mindset, how could she ever fail? Two years later, a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting MCG community garden and indeed she has not failed.
From a dumpsite, which nobody turned to, a beautiful permaculture garden stands that stops passers-by every moment in admiration. Evidence of a hardworking group of people who had a dream that they never gave up on. They didn’t let anyone to tell them it was impossible. The garden is fully serving the community by supplying fresh nutritious vegetables, hosting workshops for the youth and young children on agriculture and most importantly providing a livelihood for the men and women who only started as volunteers who had a dream and a passion to learn. MCG has continued to help community members set up their own home gardens. They have truly done well and have let their greatness blossom. We are so proud of them.

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Carol Segal – Agro-Ecological Consultant and Founder of Khula Shanti Sanctuary
My experience with the MCG group has always left me feeling inspired about the future of the community which rests below the Mpophomeni Mountain.
I am struck by the inter-generational and inter-gender mix of the group, the way in which they effortlessly flow towards their goals of learning more about the environment. A high level of understanding of fairly complex principles is evident by the worthwhile and pertinent questions members pose during workshops. Many members of the group speak fluent English and grasp the principles around agro-ecology.More importantly they manifest a willingness to integrate the knowledge they receive, applying the principles to their own lives. Enhancing their community. Growing themselves.
Having worked with many communities and Non Profits, my experience is that an organisation is only as strong as its leaders and visionaries. MCG is honoured and privileged to have the enigmatic leadership of Ntombenhle who has a burning passion to accomplish the vision of the organisation. She is an accomplished facilitator and motivates the members of the organisation by leading with example.
I have had the opportunity to be part of a Tree Identification workshop where MCG members were present. I was impressed by the participation and in depth knowledge of birds as well as indigenous flora that was shared by MCG members.
South Africa urgently requires more organisations like MCG, it is uplifting and gives me hope to know that young adults have not forgotten their indigenous inheritance and continue to feel connected to conserving and caring for our earth. I fervently support any endeavours which the MCG embarks on and encourage other organisations to do the same.

Kevan and Karen Zunckel – Zunckel Ecological and Environmental Services
Mpophomeni, as a community has been blessed with a group of enthusiastic youngsters, supported by a group of equally enthusiastic, but possibly not too young folk; who have taken the need for reconnecting with nature and the soil to heart. The usual suite of environmental challenges are prevalent in this township and the Mpophomeni Conservation Group are in the process of systematically addressing them through direct action, raining awareness within the community and working with a number of conservation NGOs on a citizen science basis to keep their work linked to the outside world. Aspects which they are involved in and which stand out are their work on addressing water quality issues in the Mtinzima Stream, a tributary of the uMngeni which flows directly into the Midmar Dam; the development maintenance and promotion of food gardens; and the use of alternative energy sources in response to climate change concerns. The progress and the impact that this group has made stands as an example to many who have far greater resources at their disposal, so one can only hope that their message does rain down on the rest of their community and re affluent adjacent areas.

Renee de Wet – The Expedition Project

Our first expedition of the year was to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, an area we hadn’t visited before. On my way to visit the Mpophomeni Community Garden, my expectations were not unusual. I anticipated seeing a nice vegetable garden and hearing the story behind its creation. What I encountered instead was an organic work of art and its passionate creator. Ntombenhle Mtambo’s determination to make a meaningful difference in her community is beyond inspiring and her garden is hard evidence that will silence even the most jaded naysayers. She created a lush, organic community garden out of a rubbish heap in a rural township in a few short months (get the whole story here). Only, it wasn’t just a few short months. She had been petitioning the municipality to let her use the land for eight long years, while refusing to surrender to other challenges like being an unemployed single mother. Her ‘overnight’ success was almost a decade in the making. That reminds me of something a respected statesman once said: One secret of success in Life is to be ready for your opportunity when it comes. Benjamin Disraeli
But the most remarkable thing was that my companions and I left Mpophomeni feeling invigorated, as if being around Ntombenhle had fed our very souls. She’s not just growing vegetables, but cultivating joy and freedom. We’re very excited to watch the seeds of her vision grow into nourishing shoots that reach her whole community and beyond.

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Janis Holmes Ward 2 Councillor uMngeni Municipality
Just a short note to let you know how impressed I am with the progress made by the Mpophomeni Conservation Group. I have been following the blog and Facebook page for the group and just love seeing how the group is making a real difference in people’s lives and to the open spaces in the Mpophomeni area. It is lovely to also see that members of the group are constantly networking with other agricultural and conservation groups in order to share their knowledge and learn more so that they can pass it onto to the community. Keep up the good work!

Janis Holmes Peta Lee Mpop picnic
Samson Phakathi – Endangered Wildlife Trust
MCG are walking the talk.
Prolonged droughts and the lack of capacity to produce food leads to food security being under severe threat in most parts of South Africa, a situation which places rural and semi urban communities in a vulnerable position. Small scale agriculture is seen as a socio economic livelihood support mechanism if poverty is to be alleviated in rural and semi urban areas. In spite of this being the dominant livelihood support system very few community members see to it that pockets of vegetable gardens are initiated within homesteads. In a true sense there shouldn’t be any excuse of not producing ones food as long as soil and manpower in available.
The Mpophomeni Township that was once infested with rats and thrash in almost every corner is a totally different place today and this is to be attributed to the series of community gardens that have been initiated. The township is now indeed a better place to live in than when I first arrived in KwaZulu Natal in 2006. As a naturalist, conservationist and resident of Mpophomeni, I am truly proud to be living in an area with people who are full of life with excitements, enthusiasm and a will to produce organic food that will limit ones ecological footprints. I am a proud resident of Mpophomeni and true supporter of the Community vegetable garden.
Sma Sokhela – Community Chest
We have a good relationship with Ntombenhle and her work with us has proved that she is passionate and her training has proved to be fruitful. Those ladies have an amazing passion and patience for the garden training. The groups that they have trained on our behalf are all so excited to start successful gardens. We would like to work with them again in training our Early Childhood Development leaders. The MCG website site shows that you guys are doing such an excellent work in Mpophomeni.

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Watch our Facebook page for news on the 22 April to hear how we did!

 

Isitofu

Rocket stoves are not a new concept, but expensive electricity and load shedding mean everyone is thinking creatively about cooking.

We use Isitofu – a neat, pellet fed stove that is an effective and inexpensive cooking solution but also generates safe, clean heat. The pellets are made of waste from sawmills and other biomass that might otherwise go to waste.

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There is no need to buy gas and paraffin for cooking anymore so for people without access to electricity, the benefits in terms of time and money are incredible too. Girls can go to school rather than collect wood, women can do other activities rather than making fire and watching food cook all day, there is less smoke inside homes and the financial benefits of buying less fuel are obvious. There is a huge positive impact on deforestation in less developed places.

Living in a community where there are often power cuts, it is great to be in possession of Isitofu which needs so little fuel and astonishes neighbours with its cooking! Long cooking things like samp and beans are soaked overnight, set on the stove to boil in the morning and then finished off in the Wonderbag or SunStove. Isitofu is used to cook sugar beans, tripe, vegetable curries, ijeqe (dumpling) with just a little wood that can be collected from gardens or roadsides, or even better, a cup full of pellets.

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In cold weather the multi-purpose power of the Isitofu works well as a heater (imbawula) with the bonus of little smoke.

Isitofu (and Wonderbags) are available from the PlanetPellet Hut in the Community Garden.

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Wonderbag

Sometimes, simple things are completely wondrous. Like the Wonderbag, for instance. While the fabulously coloured shwe shwe creations so popular right now are new, the concept isn’t. Remember Hay Boxes and hot bags? Cooking in flasks and heb coolers? The idea is exactly the same, but food prepared in a gorgeous, plump green and red bag (or purple or turquoise) seems a lot more special than a polystyrene box lined with old towels. Of course, the real point is saving energy, but a dash of style never did the green cause any harm.

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Ideal for soups and stews, rice, beans and curries – food that usually cooks long and slow. Prepare your dish as you would on the stove top, add less liquid than usual as none is lost during cooking, bring to the boil and after a few minutes (you will learn how to judge the right amount of time – longer for chicken, less for a veggie curry), pop the lid on and place into the Wonderbag on top of a dishcloth, put the cushion over the pot, draw up the sides and tie closed.

r wonderbag and pot

Now you can go off gardening or dancing or visit a neighbour without having to think about food burning or overcooking. It retains heat for up to 12 hours – fabulous to come home to a warm meal perfectly cooked after a long day in the garden.

“The Wonderbag has become the microwave for me, I don’t need to reheat food anymore. It saves so much energy.” Lindiwe Mkhize

Nyasa Makena’s Wonderbag Stew

  • 1 onion
  • 1 leek
  • 1/2 cabbage
  • 4 potatoes

Heat oil in a pan and fry onions and leeks with a teaspoon of curry powder. Add the chopped cabbage, potatoes and a little water and cook for 15 minutes. Put the pot into a Wonderbag to finish cooking. Serve with macaroni.

Wonderbags are available in the PlanetPellet hut the Community Garden.

r wonderbag girls