by Kate Neely (International Program Director, RoundTrip Foundation)
In this series of blogs focusing on life at our projects, we will be following the progress of Kate Neely, Program Director at RoundTrip Foundation. Kate is in Africa and then Sri Lanka visiting our projects and also investigating a potential new project in Tanzania. In this first instalment, Kate spends a couple of weeks at Tikondane in Zambia where RoundTrip supports 13 local interns. Click here for more about this project.
Walking along a brand new bike path from the bus stop, chatting with Sebastian, a porter who has my luggage on the back of his bike, I am looking for the yellow signpost that will tell me that I have arrived at Tikondane. And there it is, surrounded by lush greenery, the yellow sign that I have seen only in other people’s photos. We turn down the short gravel driveway and I note that there are neat pathways and buildings and food gardens. We find the well signposted reception and the lovely Rachael hugs me and welcomes me like a long lost relative. I am feeling at home already.
After a restful night’s sleep, my first full day at Tiko beckons as I awake in the quiet of my rondeval. My body clock still isn’t quite on Australian time so I need coffee before a tour of Tiko with Ennie Chali, one of RoundTrip’s many interns who works at Tikondane.
Wandering around Tiko I see that the community here farms rabbits, goats, chickens, ducks and pigeons for their meat. Along with this there are orchards of guava and lemon, banana stands and moringa trees – a nutritional superfood that Tiko is blending with ground nuts, milk powder and chocolate to supplement the diet of the many malnourished children in the area. Other vegetables grow together in small plots and bag gardens, their prolific growth and vegetable production attributed to the active composting program that sees compost piles dotted across the property, and even a set of composting toilets that are used by visitors.
Tiko uses much of the food that it produces but also sells some in a little shop out the front. There are jams and peanut butter made by Ennie, soaps made from the oil of a local Jatropha tree, lemon juice preserved and bottled, and the superfood moringa is dried and sold in little bags. There is also a craft store where I meet Afonsia and Grace who are making blankets and bracelets at the shop for sale to passing tourists/visitors like myself. I will definitely be bringing some of those home with me! Finishing my tour of Tiko at the kitchens I discover that everything is done lovingly by hand, including pounding groundnuts in a giant mortar and pestle.
After lunch Elke (volunteer director at Tikondane) gives me a pop quiz on health and disease… which I fail! She then teaches me about the 19 steps program that is at the heart of what Tiko teaches in the local community. 19 steps is an education and training program designed to encourage local people to look after their families health through better nutrition and diverse livelihood strategies based in sustainable agriculture practices. And it works – families are increasingly able to afford school fees and better food.
Happy sounds of children playing together on a swing ring out across Tiko. I also run into a group of young people learning how to make compost as part of a new ‘pocket money’ program for Tiko where young people are paid 5 kwacha (about 50c) to come and learn about sustainable agriculture.
My evening brings a complete surprise – I am invited to join Elke in attending a ghost dance at a local village. After a little bit of on-again-off-again because of some rain squalls, we pile into a car and drive about 20 km up the road. Finding a turn-off into a small village in the dark proves challenging.
But then we hear the sounds of drums and voices and follow them to our destination. This celebration involves young men dancing frantically to the beat of the drums and the rattle of a shaker. The men are in masks and costumes and the sand flies as they stomp and jump and threaten the crowds and the other dancers with their frightening masks (makishi) and aggressive dance moves.
The crowd sings and roars and taunt the dancers by moving into the space they are using. It is mesmerising, everyone in the village is there and everyone seems to participate in some way. The drums thump into my soul and I never want it to stop. I am humbled by the privilege of being allowed to see this ceremony which is listed with UNESCO as protected cultural heritage, but which is usually open only to residents of the village where the ceremony is taking place. I sleep under my mosquito net with a smile and the beat of drums in my pulse.
The next day, in the afternoon, after a fantastic thunderstorm, Elke and I went to see Doris. Doris is another intern at Tiko and she had offered to cook for us and to show me what she has done in her garden. Many of the learnings from the 19 steps are on display at Doris’ house; there is a new fence to keep the cattle out of the maize, a composting toilet and compost heap, bag gardens, moringa trees, a bountiful garden of diverse vegetables and fruits, a well, and an outdoor cooking area with good ventilation to prevent lung damage from smoke inhalation. There are also pigeons and rabbits (okay there is a rabbit hutch, but someone stole the rabbits) and what seems like a hundred children but is more like twelve.
Doris has taken on caring for the children of her extended family. The kids are happy and curious, they take my hand and lead me to meet their grandmother, we play counting games and sing songs, play with a ball and they are excited to use my camera for a while (the photos that came back are remarkably good). Doris produced a meal for us from her garden, which was delicious. As we walk back to Tiko in a fading sunset, I am astounded by the fortitude of people like Doris who take on so much responsibility and still find the energy to learn new skills that will help her family and community to thrive.