Tag Archive: youth


Kufunda is a living, learning village and hosting centre located approximately 40km from Harare. It began as one woman’s personal vision and became a material and collective process of community-building. It is an active residential community that hosts training courses in youth leadership, permaculture, and other sustainable living themes.

Initiator, Marianne Knuth, hails from Zimbabwe but with Danish family on her father’s side, spent many years undertaking her formal education in Denmark. As a student, she was deeply involved with establishing Pioneers for Change. Shaped by living ‘between worlds’ and inspired by collective gatherings of people motivated to create a more sustainable world, Marianne shared her vision of Kufunda with her family in Zimbabwe and negotiated to utilise part of the family farm in Ruwa to begin the task of materialising this vision. She sent a ‘call’ out, by email, to all friends and contacts, communicating her idea for co-creating what has become a “communiversity” and inviting kindred spirits to join her.

Kufunda thus started as a group of 20 or so volunteers, with much emotional and physical support from the Knuth family. Supported by their own vivacious energy and passion, and donations from overseas friends, they began in 2001 by building eco-logical buildings that would form the physical structure of the hosting centre. Diving in with open hearts, Kufunda recruited and hosted their first youth leadership training in 2002.

The centre practices and offers workshops and training in permaculture, herbal medicine, sustainable technologies and leadership skills. Integrated into this, are regular yoga, aikido and other holistic therapies, community development activities and ‘art of hosting’ events. There is now a whole village complex of thatched dormitories and rondovals, A-frame houses, a communal dining room and kitchen, pre-school, classroom, bomas, herb lab and gardens, nestled amidst verdant forests and fields. In summer, you’ll find an uncanny array of wild mushrooms sprouting up from the carpet of dense leaves and rich humus beneath the trees. Cutting down trees for firewood is not allowed here and the ground is not swept bare of all life, for fear of snakes, as in most Zimbabwean homesteads.

The core community comprises of about 15 resident families, who either began as founders or joined after participating in a Kufunda youth program. Different tasks and roles are delegated among the community depending on skill base and interest. There are cluster groups, such as the technology/energy group, the herb team, the permaculture team, and the youth team. There are also paid cooks and pre-school teachers, for working with the resident children and the visiting youth.

The community have a meeting every Monday morning, where a participatory communication and learning model is followed. The group passes an object around their circle gathering, and all respect the sole right of the holder to speak (or not speak) at that time. As the object moves around the circle, each person shares how they are feeling and what has been going on with them in the past week. This patient process is designed to encourage active, democratic participation and the honouring of each person’s unique talent, standpoint and contribution. After this process of ‘tuning in’, tasks and issues are discussed. The cluster groups also have similar, more focussed meetings on a regular basis to plan and deal with their special responsibilities.

A wonderful and pioneering aspect of this community is their human waste management! Early on in its development, the community had to grapple with these ‘toilet’ issues. As a rural project, there is no sewerage or mains water system here. Unlike most other rural communities in Zimbabwe (where unproductive ‘long-drop’ loos and, in some places, open defecation, are the norm), at Kufunda, they recycle human waste (or ‘humanure’) using composting toilets. There are two types of composting loos at Kufunda. One is the ‘arborloo’, where a mobile upper loo is put above a pit, and moved on once the pit is three-quarters full. Topsoil is added and a tree is then planted in the pit. The other type is the twin composting loo, which cycles the process of decomposition and compost production over a period of about two years. Two pits are made inside a permanent outer structure. Once the first pit is full, it is covered with a concrete slab and the other pit is then utilised. After about a year, the excrement in the first pit has decomposed into a safe compost and it can be emptied and used as an organic fertiliser. The cycle continues as the second pit fills. In both of these types of toilet, one puts a few cups of leaves, ash and soil into the loo after use and this helps to ward off evil smells and cover the deposit, as well as aiding the production of a fertile, well-structured compost. In this way, human energy ‘outflow’ is transformed into a valuable input to the agro-ecological system; waste is transformed into non-waste, at no cost.

The village has existed for over 10 years and it has been a changing and challenging journey so far. As with all projects that are embedded in community- indeed, as with anything that involves people working together- conflicts of interest and divergences in opinion have arisen many times. A key challenge has been for individuals to develop full a sense of collective ownership and responsibility. Particularly when times are tough, it has been difficult for some residents to come to terms with the challenges of joining a volunteerist and collective enterprise, given that most of the time, people are living without a salary/income. In hard times, it is all too easy to question one’s own past decisions and current options, or to look to displace responsibility onto someone else, a presumed ‘leader’. But at Kufunda, the goal has been to consciously distribute and collectivize leadership and responsibility at the whole community level. This is a courageous and inspiring model of community living, not without its challenges.

But ultimately, Kufunda is a place of hope. Having first visited in 2011, I have since returned five times and each time, I come away with a sense that despite existing in a context where economic hardship, political unrest and environmental degradation are rampant, another world is possible and is in action here. This is a community that constantly seeks to be together in a way that nurtures and values each individual, while at the same time working to appreciate and sustain ecological life.

Although deeply grounded in a local, place-bound community, this project is very much shaped by contemporary emergences at the international level, such as the internet, social media, the global village concept and the transition movement. This is evident in, for example, the inception of the project through an international email invitation. International volunteers and trainers, researchers and visitors like myself, as well as youth trainees, regularly pitch up and participate, becoming an ephemeral part of the local Kufunda community. Moreover, through social networking sites such as Facebook, such participants are able to maintain an emotional and discursive connection to and involvement with the village. In fact, most of the material donations that fund the youth program and other developments are generated through these online and trans-local connections. Kufunda is thus actively participating in global networks and mobilisations, whilst simultaneously embedded in a unique context and constellation of villagers. In communion and connection with other communities in disparate geographical locations, the village actively experiments with building a more compassionate community, positively transforming relationships and thus creating more holistic, healthy and sustainable socio-ecology. In pursuing this agenda, Kufunda eschews any sense of completion and is instead an exciting place of promise, consciously unfurling like a spiral.

Other resources:

http://kufunda.org/

http://kufunda.org/author/kufunda/

Wheatley, M., & Frieze, D. (2011). Walk out walk on: A learning journey into communities daring to live the future now. Berrett-Koehler Store.

Watch a Kufunda video introduction here!

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Ebenezer runs a two year fulltime apprenticeship that enables young people (17-23 year olds) to start and run their own small-scale farm/agribusiness. It has a zealously Christian agenda, with compulsory bible studies and Christian education classes mixed in with a curriculum of business studies, maths, English and agriculture. Mornings are spent in the fields doing practical work, with afternoons spent in lessons.

The Centre has been running since 2007 and is located in Mablauwuni Village in the dry Matopo area of Matebeleland South. It is situated on a farm owned by the family that set up this youth training project.  The development of Ebenezer was largely enabled by the completion of a new dam on the farm, which has allowed irrigated agriculture to take place.

The Centre is co-ordinated by Renee Cunningham and in 2012, there were approximately 30 resident apprentices, all from the local area and not required to pay any enrolment fees. For the first six months, the apprentices gain basic skills in agri-business. The system is quite unique in that it is based in an ‘earn and learn’ principle. That is, after six months, each apprentice is allocated a small plot of land on which to grow their own cash crops (tomatoes, onions, beans, cabbages, etc). At this point, each apprentice is required to contribute $30 a month towards their food and accommodation at the Centre. They each utilise at least three 30mx30m plots and are encouraged to cultivate at least three different kinds of crop.  A contract is entered into between the apprentice and the company (the Cunninghams have a family agro-processing business), who provide the initial agricultural inputs.  They sell their produce to the buyer- a guaranteed market- and split the profits 50:50 until they are able to independently purchase their own inputs and therefore shift into a new contractual (90:10) relationship. By the end of two year period, successful apprentices will have managed to buy their own tools and saved enough to start their own small agri-business when they return home.  The system thus encourages discipline, forward-planning and entrepreneurial behaviour.

The Centre does not teach or promote organic production; they apply chemical fertilisers and pesticides and also use spray irrigation 24-hours a day. (They do encourage the use of mulch, manure and crop rotation). Ebenezer is developing and expanding a broiler chicken enterprise and aim to increase their monthly turnover from 3000 broiler hens sold per month to 8000. The students are graded on the basis of ‘the average Feed Conversion ratio and mortality rate’.  There is clearly not a huge emphasis here on environmental sustainability and holistic health. They are though, committed to supporting the economic and social development of the participating youth and promoting business ethics and entrepreneurial initiatives in the local community.

Introducing Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.