That is one reason why I really appreciate the work that Kufunda Learning Village does. The organization does a variety of sustainability projects aimed at helping people in poor rural communities learn how to provide for themselves in a sustainable manner. They learn about how to improve quality of life in a sustainable way, and then reach out to communities and teach them about it, learning in the process and developing a cooperative network for the sustainable development of rural communities. For example, they are experimenting with permaculture, trying out different methods such as using locally available dead leaves as fertilizer or specific trees as windbreakers, helping to improve knowledge pertinent to development in the area. They have learned and shared knowledge about how to grow herbs and process food with locally available resources, among many similar initiatives.
Kufunda also runs a free pre-school for locals and hosts a youth program for teenagers where they come to live at Kufunda for three to four months to learn about sustainability initiatives, community development, leadership skills and other valuable resources relevant to improving the quality of life for people in their own communities back home.
I lived in the peaceful and gorgeous Kufunda Village for three weeks to contribute as much as I could do their mission. I helped with the permaculture farming and tutoring some students in mathematics, but I focused on two main initiatives for the organization. The first was to draft a proposal of funding for an interesting project the organization is undertaking. The “Solar GoGos” project means the Solar Grandmothers project, and the aim is to train grandmothers from different communities on how to install and maintain solar power housing units and to support these women in creating a system to effectively electrify their own communities in a self-reliant manner.
A handful of “Kufundees”, or members of the Kufunda village, put in a lot of hard work and had some great success with the project so far, managing to get women from three different communities trained at the Barefoot Solar College in India. They also managed to get an agreement for the equipment to be donated, but hit a roadblock with a lack of funding for some key costs, such as the shipping and delivery of the equipment that would help solar electrify 800 different households in Zimbabwe. While at Kufunda, I worked on some information gathering and organization for the project, putting together a proposal for funding in hopes that we can garner enough funds to take the next step and make this project a reality.
While environmentally friendly, this is not just a green project. These communities don’t have any electricity at all, so the project is expected to contribute significantly to economic opportunity, community sustainability, environmental awareness, education, communication and countless other goals relevant to development and sustainability. The project also set up systems for it to remain self-sustainable, not requiring new funding every time a unit breaks down and not requiring external help with any maintenance. Clearly, it was a very exciting project to work on as it really has meaningful and far-reaching potential.
The other major initiative I worked on there was to assist with some broader strategic planning. Kufunda has historically operated with the assistance of external funding, covering the expenses of initiatives like the Youth Program and the Preschool, among many other projects. Additionally, external funding has provided a stipend for working members of Kufunda Learning Village, enabling them to work full-time to implement these projects.
Unfortunately, international funding has dried up as the global economic recession has spread and developed. The funding for key projects and stipends has been exhausted, creating a crisis for the organization and its members. As any organization would, Kufunda is facing some difficulty with the situation, trying to adapt to the reality of it while improving prospects for funding and transitioning into a new era of the organization’s development.
As such, my goal was to help Kufunda gain some clarity, focus and strategic direction to help it manage its current situation and progress. Despite drawing from external information and resources, Kufunda is a grassroots organization and its development and success has always been organic and internally driven. So my approach was to gather as much information as possible from the Kufundees themselves.
I interviewed everyone that was available about Kufunda’s current situation, where they would like to go, and how they would like to get there, providing one document with the organized results of the interviews and another with conclusions about the findings from the interviews and advice and suggestions for the strategic direction of the organization based upon those findings.
I asked everyone 12 critical questions, having 30 minute to 2 hour interviews with 23 Kufundees, including the security staff. My questions were direct and intended to get people in a conversational mood, which proved effective as individuals provided impassioned, intelligent and creative answers to my questions. Having such thorough conversations with the full breadth of the organization was extremely interesting and provided me a lot of insight into an organization that proved, unsurprisingly, to be truly special. Despite all the difficulties of life in Zimbabwe, these individuals chose to dedicate their time towards helping others learn how to live in positive “life-affirming” communities. When funding for their own livelihood dried up, these individuals believed in their mission so passionately that they stayed and worked anyhow.
Of course, the interviews revealed the frustration of the impact that the loss of funding is having on a variety of important projects, but the interviews also shed light on the impact the loss of funding had on the individual Kufundees themselves. I felt deeply for these altruistic people as they continued to show up for Kufunda tasks and responsibilities despite struggling to find part-time work to live off of.
As one woman explained, “my problem is I have  kids who need to go to school, my husband passed away and I don’t have any money. I don’t have any money and Christmas is coming. The ARVs”, (AntiRetroViral drug or AIDS medication), “make me very weak as I’m not supposed to be in the sun when I take them, so I can only work on people’s fields in the morning as if I stay out there longer I get dizzy and have a hard time continuing to work. It feels like these days things are not ok with me. We are not getting enough food for my family, but I don’t know how else to get the food and things I need. My kids may not be able to go to school next year, I am struggling so I am not feeling settled. I am now accepting everything because I don’t know what else to do.” However, like all the others who I interviewed, this individual continues to show up consistently and make meaningful contributions to Kufunda’s goals and activities.
Of course, I used the interviews to explore why people continue to stay around and contribute as actively as they can despite the loss of stipends, and the answers tended to be similar. As one Kufundee explained, “I have this journey that I feel like I am working for my people, for my surroundings, for the world. I feel like I am living in a place that I have a platform to do that. The other things I do I do for money so I can make things work, I don’t love that work. I don’t even enjoy it, but the work that I have passion for, that I love, that I feel I am making an impact, that is here.”
I genuinely believe in Kufunda’s mission, as well as the passion and sincerity of its members, so I hope that the strategic planning work helps them get through this tumultuous phase and back to making a difference on the ground without having to worry about their children’s school fees and basic health needs. As I wrote in a previous post, I am a deep believer in the power of the ripple effect. I think process improvement and anything that can have a long-term impact on a system or how things work is better than an equivalent amount of energy spent on a short-term fix.
Kufunda does a lot of work where their impact is visible, but the vast majority of it is more subtle and yet more powerful. Their focus on sharing knowledge and skill-building really does have the potential for far-reaching impact. Covering the high initial costs and teaching a community how to install and maintain a community solar-power system would prove more effective than paying a month of their electric bill. Similarly, Kufunda’s broader philosophy of helping people to help themselves not only humanizes and empowers those they work with, but has much greater potential for improving their quality of life in the long-term than providing them a meal or a set of clothing would.
Two and a half millennia ago, Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, wisely said “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.” It may be a cliché, but clichés are overused or “tried and true” for a reason – because there is truth in them.
If anyone knows somebody that is looking for an effective way to contribute or is interested in learning more about the Solar Gogo Project or Kufunda as a whole, please let me know. In these tough economic times, I can certainly understand if people don’t have the time or ability to help the organization, so if nothing else, I hope their story can provide inspiration about the human spirit and the ability to remain altruistic in the face adversity.