When I first started writing my blog, I was quite keen to do an online creative writing course run by the University of Cape Town but it was too expensive, so I never did. Kiera suggested that I do a MOOC instead but I wasn’t convinced that anything offered for free would be worthwhile and ignored her advice. You get nothing for mahala, right? Wrong, so wrong! I recently completed a brilliant 4-week massive open online course (MOOC) run by Oregan State University. The course was an introduction to permaculture and it was so well put together and presented – what an incredible resource, and all the more so because it’s free. I found it extremely useful and thought-provoking, in particular the permaculture design principles. These principles have really inspired me to view our smallholding and my relationship with the land through new eyes.
At the end of the course we were challenged to take what we’ve learned, do something with it and post it on the course’s Facebook page. This is what I wrote:
I live on a smallholding in a farming community in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The contrast between the haves and have-nots is quite stark. On the one hand there are many prosperous farms, some of the most expensive private schools in the country and elite housing estates. On the other hand farm workers are among the most poorly paid; there are high levels of unemployment; and inadequate infrastructure including grossly under-resourced government schools – as many as 75% of the rural population live in poverty. Of course this leads to high levels of crime and many landowners tend to form what we call here a “laager mentality” (I think in America it’s called “circling the wagons”). As a landowner myself I’m trying not only to live in harmony with nature but also with the wider community. I was very interested to learn about the permaculture principle “Integrate rather than Segregate”.
In order to build relationships with the community I volunteer as a preschool / English teacher at a local farm school. When I read about the challenge I decided to buy colourful pots for all the children I teach and together we planted them with seedlings. The children were given their pot plants to take home, nurture and hopefully harvest.
Our school year has ended and next year, after the summer break, I plan to start introducing permaculture into the school curriculum.
This is something that really concerns me. We belong to a neighbourhood security network and each farm was asked to contribute R5,000 towards the installation of cameras on the district roads. Although we didn’t believe that this would sort out the crime issue, we contributed because we wanted to be neighbourly. Since the cameras were installed, the burglaries have increased! I do believe that if there wasn’t quite so much emphasis on security and more on integrating the community, the crime rate would drop. At the moment there is a definite us and them mindset which really doesn’t help matters. In total R250,000 was contributed towards 3 cameras – I’m sure a fraction of that could’ve been put to better use by trying to integrate rather than segregate.
Once again, the path of joy was connection and the path of sorrow was separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge that we cannot face-together.
Dalai Lama & Archbishop Tutu: The Book of Joy