The book boxes are also used by the community members. The aim is to provide leisure reading so that villagers do not lose the skill of reading, but also to provide information on a variety of subjects – environmental preservation and protection, HIV/AIDs, human rights, nutrition, agriculture and other production. We intend that information then becomes relevant for people to take steps to improve their livelihoods. We have two community workers who move from one community to the next, assisting those who are interested to form study groups. In the groups they learn democratic methods of decision-making and then choose a project to embark on. The book box provides material on starting a small business, planning a budget, income/expenditure, consumption/saving, etc. It also provides material on specific topics such as livestock diseases, building structures for animals etc. Whenever groups feel they need materials on specific topics, they make the request to the library in Gwanda, and we do our best to find relevant information and if necessary translate it into the appropriate language.
We now have 31 groups involving 210 individuals in income generation projects. One group grows jatropha plants and presses the oil to make soap and candles. These are then sold within the local community and the money stays in the community rather than going to large companies in town. Others have nutrition gardens which initially feed their own children and the orphans in the village, but also have surplus for sale. There are a few boarding schools and government institutions which provide a market for a variety of vegetables. One group has a very impressive piggery; they sell the grown pigs in Gwanda town. Similarly two groups are rearing goats on a commercial basis. A male group selected cattle breeding for their project while a group of school leavers has formed a drama and arts group to perform at community gatherings such as weddings or school prize days. Our community workers help the groups to keep adequate records. They have to reach a group decision on how much money to reinvest and how much to allocate as allowances.
Rural Gwanda is a labour migration area, which means that most of the adult villagers are women. Only a few men are participating in these groups. One of the problems we face is to shift the mindset from the traditional subsistence farming which yields little in this low rainfall area to a commercial approach. Often women are reluctant to take decisions without consulting a male family member who may be far away in Johannesburg or even Cape Town. The study circles are working to break this dependency and help the women to take the full responsibility for ensuring that they have sufficient means to adequately care for their children and keep them in school. The income they receive may be small but it is often sufficient to pay fees, buy uniforms and purchase the necessary foodstuffs. We also provide small workshops on such issues as women’s rights, including inheritance, domestic and sexual violence, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation and climate change.
Chairperson of the study circle shows the jatropha plant and seeds
Reaping the Harvest
Members of a study circle draw water for their nutrition garden
The women of one of our study circles at a community called Domboshoko in Gwanda North. They have been growing vegetables for sale in Gwanda and have been watering them using buckets which they carry from the borehole. They borrowed $500 from our loan fund to buy the tank. Now they will be able to pump water into the tank and water the beds using drip irrigation which saves them labour and water, which is in very short supply at the moment. In the video they are dancing and singing to celebrate the arrival of the tank.