Women for Women

Ecovillage Design Education (EDE), Umphakatsi Peace Ecovillage, Mpumalanga, South Africa

The first 'by Women for Women' EDE took place at Umphakatsi Peace Ecovillage, situated in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. The EDE training for sustainability course was the second such course to be held in South Africa. The course began on the 30th April - two days after its initial starting date due to the challenges of the remoteness of the - until the 25th May 2013. Lua Bashala-Kekana and Kosha Joubert report.

This course had the aim of bringing together women in a region of our world that has some of the highest numbers of rape. Experiences of sexual abuse are a part of what inhibits women’s natural leadership in their communities. Together, we created a safe environment for all of us to share our experiences and support each other in a process of healing and empowerment. Please see an array of wonderful follow-up projects called River of Life.

The course was made possible by the financial support of Heidehof-Stiftung, which covered all costs pertaining to food, course costs and some of the accommodation costs. However, because there was not enough infrastructure in place to accommodate all of the participants and trainers, we took the opportunity and approached Lush Cosmetics UK, who once again were generous with their support to GEN Africa projects and supported the purchasing of beds, mattresses, work tools, transportation and many other items. This infrastructure now offers an opportunity for more courses to be held, not only for the benefit of the ecovillage, but for the benefit of surrounding communities as well.

There were 20 women participants in attendance for the four-week course, ranging in age from the eldest, 55, to our youngest participant aged 20. The majority of the participants where South African women from rural or township communities, others also came from Senegal, Ghana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. With us we had a former member of parliament, a former political prisoner, community volunteers, trainers, gardeners, a permaculturist, councilor, lawyer, grandmothers, married and single mothers, women who consciously choose not to have children, as well as heterosexual and homosexuals.

One core quality of the course was the beauty of the surrounding nature and above all the flowing unpolluted river, which has been the main source of water for the community for millennia. Our drinking water flowed straight from the. It was exhilarating to meditate and listen to the sounds of the river. Evenings were often spent sitting by the fire sharing life stories or music. Outings ranged from visiting a traditionally built Swazi village, learning local crafts, visiting local organic food producers living on the sacred mountain tops above the village, and paying our respects to the local Chief and his headmen, to celebrating with renowned Sangoma Gogo Mahlal’entabeni and his initiates.

The first and second week wove together both the social and worldview dimensions. GEN International President, Kosha Anja Joubert, and GEN Africa Vice President, Lua Bashala-Kekana, co-facilitated the sessions together, with input from the participants along with two EDE alumni’s, Bongi Ndakisa and Nokwanda Langazana, who were both referred community members to participate in the course, and who themselves are planning on hosting EDE’s in their respective communities in the near future.

Participants were inspired and uplifted by the presentations of the communities and organizations that make up the Global Ecovillage Network. Addressing the questions of rank brought awareness to group dynamics and personal coaching sessions encouraged to overcome shyness and speak up about what is of importance to us. Many participants felt held by the nature surrounding us and by the facilitation team, resulting in processes of opening and inner awakening, that led at two participants to committing themselves to follow through with their own spiritual ancestral calling. Honouring traditional South African culture, we were blessed with the presence of Gogo Mahlal’entabeni and Gogo Mathebula, a local grandmother. She was first introduced to us as an expert broom and mat maker, but soon we found out that she is also a medicine woman with an immense knowledge around herbs and healing.

The third week delved into the history of world economics and sustainable economic systems, led by Gillian Wilton, a developmental practitioner and freelance facilitator from Cape Town. The participants engaged in Asset Based Community Development and the setting up of our own local economic system showcasing alternatives to monetary systems and opening up an understanding to alternative economies.

The fourth week focused on ecology with a strong emphasis on permaculture led by Linda Kabaira, program coordinator for the Rescope project in Zimbabwe. Having overcome a near fatal accident on her way to the ecovillage without a scratch, we were all delighted that she made it to be with us. Having only taken one day to rest from the car crash, Linda decided to continue with the training, all of us extremely grateful to the universe for her safety. For many of the participants this was the best week, as the practical knowledge of permaculture is one based on nature and intrinsically built within each and every one of us, and therefore recognized as very much needed in our modern world.

QUOTES FROM SOME PARTICIPANTS
“The 4 week designed programme was well planned, organised, and it delivered the requirements of the participants. It helped me to gain more knowledge on understanding the concept of ecovillages, and added to my understanding of permaculture.” Phumla
“The humility and honest attributes displayed by facilitators has shown me the other dimension of life. The EDE training has created a sense of satisfaction in my heart, which has been open and empty for a long time. It created a sense of belonging that has been missing in my life. It opened a door to look at life… and consider the impact of my actions to the environment. Above all else the EDE training created appreciation of other religions, other people, animals, the connection to nature and the purpose and effect of relationships” Rachel
“In a very big way I now have better understanding of the matter and have the willingness to get started in our own country (Namibia), I also feel more comfortable to talk about the issues (as I feel more informed). It has provided me with the impetus to start with my inner search and re-look at different issues regarding my life.” Visolela
“Appreciative inquiry made me appreciate myself more and actually realise the potential I have and the qualities I bring to the world. It has evolved in a big way. I have always thought I need a lot of money to sustain myself but I have learned that there are alternatives and that I actually just need enough to sustain myself. This EDE has changed my mind on sustainable living.” Maureen

SUMMARY OF FOLOOW-UP ACTIVITIES
The River of Life Project: Weaving webs of kindness and trust for women’s empowerment. A women’s network of support linking North and South in a fruitful dialogue and exchange, inspired by the river which flows through Umphakatsi Peace Ecovillage. Open to women from all continents, and as women supporting each other in strengthening our communities, exchanging best practices, education and building of capacity, celebrating culture and heritage, working for healing and reconciliation, growing abundant gardens for food sovereignty, working with our natural resources to restore our ecosystems and building ethical businesses and fair trade networks - River of Life.
One of the River of Life projects that involves a number of the participants is a 10-day skills training and exchange program, that will run from the 5th-15th August at Umphakatsi Peace Ecovillage. Some of the skills transferred will include beekeeping, Aloe Vera propagation and the setting up of a co-operative.
This will also be the first official GEN South Africa project, as the national network was set up during the EDE with five representatives for GEN South Africa; Bongi Ndakisa, Nothando Manqata, Lucky Kekana, Rachel Francis and Nolene Morris. With Next GEN representatives; Lua Bashala Kekana, Tobhi Nkosi, Zandile Gloria Sikhakhane, Maureen Velile Majola and Nokwanda Langazana with Phumla Mbulawa and Visolela Namises as advisors.
The group has had several meeting during the EDE and has started to draft the national statutes for legalization of the network in South Africa.

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17.06.2013