On Friday, Litha and I set off to the Umthathi offices, not really knowing what to expect in our first encounter with the project in action. By the time we got there one of their practical workshops was in full swing, teaching the community to cultivate their own vegetable gardens. So I set off eagerly with my camera and recorder in hand, ready to immerse myself in the community’s reaction to the project. However, to my own surprise, before even getting to grips with what the community thought, I started to reflect on my own responses to what the Umthathi facilitators were talking about. I soon realised my own ignorance in the matters of small-scale cultivation, and even when talking to the community, I felt the need to soak up this knowledge myself in order to make sense of it.
There were little stations set up all over the Umthathi property, each dealing with different aspects of cultivation. As I stood under the warm sun listening to the facilitators talking to the small groups of community members gathered around their displays, I began to understand the true importance of the Umthathi project. They are truly ‘bringing the culture back into agriculture’ and passing essential skills to the community.
And with this insight, I have no doubt that the Umthathi project is well on its way in helping create a sustainable life for the community in which they operate. The facilitators work hand in hand with the community to provide hands on education and training in methods of organic permaculture cultivation. Throughout the workshops the community has the chance to get physically involved in the planting experience and two way conversations are encouraged between the facilitators and participants. This allows for knowledge to be shared and greater learning experience is thus reached. A neglected culture is therefore brought back to life through the sharing of such knowledge. Simple wisdom such as which household plant can be used to cure an illness to mind-boggling methods of cooking which utilised the power of the sun, consequently avoiding the unaffordable commodity of electricity within rural communities. I found that the true ingenious of the project lies within the simplicity of their methods. Their simple techniques can be used by anyone and don’t cost a cent.
The workshops also talk to the community about the importance of healthy living, nutritional eating and the effects of climate change. I believe that it is the combination of both the practical experience and theoretical knowledge that will allow the participants to create and sustain their own livelihoods through vegetable and plant cultivation, even once their training is completed. Even after attending just one of the Umthathi workshops I feel that they are putting the foundations in place for something that goes beyond the Grahamstown context and has far reaching potential in the creation of a much needed sustainable world.
However, what really stuck me was the keen interest the participants had in learning about what the project was teaching them. They were egger to be taught and many were getting involved by getting down and dirty while digging, shovelling and planting in order to experience what the facilitators were talking about.
Ultimately, the whole workshop was well organised, timely and efficient. And even though it was carried out in isiXhosa, through the help of Litha’s translation and my minimal understanding of the language, I think we all left feeling that we had learnt something. More importantly we now had the practical experience to put theory into practice in our own gardens.