A GENERATION LOOKING FORWARD

Over the last 30 years in the southern province of Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, political instability and a massacre of  20,000 Ndebele people in the early 1980s has led to this once very prosperous region to become infertile and inhospitable. With farmers gone, the areas agriculture industry could not be sustained and collapsed, leaving the inhabitants incredibly poor and unable to develop the area. The Sihlengeni School is attempting to educate the next generation in permaculture practices to sustainably work with the arid land that they live on to give this area a new purpose and positive future.

      The Silengheni Primary School in Umzingwane Rural District of Matabeleland, South Province of Zimbabwe has been internationally awarded for its approach to education for sustainable development. This school provides an education to over 700 children in this vastly underdeveloped area. The project focuses on a permaculture program which highlights the importance of human integration to the natural landscape to create a sustainable way of working with land and animals for maximum yield but with a low impact on the environment. 

      Since Sihlengeni is an independent school it receives a minimal amount of funding from the Zimbabwean government. In order for students to attend the school, there is a fee of $32 per year. This pays for the education but also all extracurricular activities at the school and one large meal a day served at lunchtime. For most of the students, this is their main source of food and it is vital to their well being. The programmes run by the school try to subsidies many of the student school fees by selling produce harvested from the school. This allows students from family’s with no income to send their child to the school which would not be possible otherwise. 

      This form of education for sustainable development is targeting not only the students who attend but also but also the local community, and the families of the students. One day a week locals are invited to come to the school to attend various classes. Most of the parents in the area are subsistence farmers and having access to this education has had a huge effect on the local community.  For example, the school recently invested in an entire smart classroom. IT lessons are run once a week for young adults in the community and every day for students at the school, having this experience allows them to be far more employable in the slowly developing Zimbabwe. 

     

      I wanted to document one of the newest projects in the school, the piggery. A class has been learning how to raise pigs for the last few months before I had arrived. The idea of this project in particular, is to make money by selling the meat from the pigs to the community. The money is used to subsidise the school fees. I felt that this story is a very clear representation of what the whole school programme is about, this story could be transferred to any of the other school projects and it would work just as well. Education leads to a productive harvest which feeds back into the programme to grow in a sustainable and healthy way while influencing positive sustainable thinking outside of school as well. In this case, each pig has the potential to sell for $300, with 36 pigs currently at the school this project could subsidies school fees for 330 children. This makes it the most effective project in the school with the largest earning potential enabling other projects to go ahead which may not be able to produce a significant income for the school but are vital to providing a well-rounded education for the students. 

      Each project in the school aims not only to be an educational tool but also a sustainable concept that allows the school to function well. It is clear every aspect of the Sihlengeni Primary School is well thought out and considered while keeping an open mind to trying new things that will benefit it further.

Inside a 3rd Grade classroom in one of the origonal buildings of the school, most of the buildings are now built using more up to date methods making a far more established school 

campus to accommodate over 700 students and 17 teachers.   

A student collects eggs from the battery farmed hens housed in small out houses on the school site. Eggs collected at Sihlengeni are sold at a reduced price to a boarding house not far from the school which houses students living away from home to go to school in the area.  

 

A practical agriculture lesson takes place in one of the fields on the school site. Each week students have two lesson of permaculture theory in the classroom followed by two lessons of practical agriculture where students reinforce what they have learnt in the classroom in real life. All techniques learnt have an emphasise on sustainability, using less resources and maintaining fertile ground for future farming.

 

Lindiwe Mpofu (above) stands in front of a year’s worth of dried Maize held in a bucket made of gum trees and chicken wire. This corn was grown and harvested by herself using permaculture techniques she was taught by the community outreach programme set up by the Sihlengeni School. Her daughter has been part of the school for a number of years and Lindiwe has become one of the leading members of the community in the project.

     Lindiwe has also begun her own business helped by her knowledge of permaculture. She grows sunflowers in between the rows of maize during the summer and Peas in the winter. She harvests the seeds and packages them to sell as chicken feed to other locals who have begun to rear chickens. The by-products of the sunflowers are used as mulch to keep moisture in the soil during the dry season and the chicken droppings are used as manure to fertilise the soil for the next harvest. 

 

A group of school boys take sacks of dried corn grown by the students to the corn mill in a near by village. The ground corn meal makes the base know as Sudza, for all of the meals provided by the school to the students each day.

An escaped hen on the floor of the hen house where dozens of hens are kept. Each day eggs are collected and are sold to a local boarding house feeding children who stay there during the week to go to school which would be too far for them to travel to on a day to day basis. All live stock is fed by produce grown by the school which makes the project very cost effective for the school to run. The money made from the eggs is spent on the up keep of other projects in the school and subsidising school fees for some of the students. 

Nehemiah Gumpo (above) is an elder from the surrounding community who comes to the school to oversee the processing of the pig. Mr. Gumpo left school in the late ’60s and has lived as a farmer in the Sihlengeni village since a child. He comes into the school to help with the piggery project and teaches a few members of the staff how to process the pig in the right way. Mr. Gumpo is a crucial link to the community which has helped establish an important relationship between the village and the school so both can benefit from what the other has to offer.

I wanted to document one of the newest projects in the school, the piggery. A class has been learning how to raise pigs for the last few months before I had arrived. The idea of this project in particular, is to make money by selling the meat from the pigs to the community. The money is used to subsidise the school fees. I felt that this story is a very clear representation of what the whole school programme is about, this story could be transferred to any of the other school projects and it would work just as well. Education leads to a productive harvest which feeds back into the programme to grow in a sustainable and healthy way while influencing positive sustainable thinking outside of school as well. In this case, each pig has the potential to sell for $300, with 36 pigs currently at the school this project could subsidies school fees for 330 children. This makes it the most effective project in the school with the largest earning potential enabling other projects to go ahead which may not be able to produce a significant income for the school but are vital to providing a well-rounded education for the students. 

 A pig is cleaned while hanging at the end of an IT classroom. The pig was reared on the school grounds as part of one of the programs at the school. Students learn methods of raising livestock in the classroom before putting them to action in real life.

Students wait inline to be served lunch cooked by two women from the community. Lunch consists of corn meal and pork both commodities grown or reared on the school site making the cost of feeding all 700 students minimal.

Students warm up for a PE lesson by stretching and running around a hand drawn volley ball court where practice is taking place.  

 

School boys practice playing their marimba’s in a small mud hut on the grounds of their school which provides weekly lessons. 

     In an interview with the project coordinator, Mr. Ncube says that his generation has never had the opportunity to grow with the ambition to be successful, it is this opportunity he wants to provide students at the school with by giving them the skills and knowledge to become active members of a society that is in desperate need of new and progressive attitudes to development. 

The future for the people of the Sihlengeni community is bright if this school continues on its current trajectory for success. In time, it will produce a new wave of smart, forward-thinking individuals that will allow this area to become a benchmark for what education for sustainable development can achieve in developing nations.