How Covid-19 has taken us down an unplanned route
When Covid-19 broke out in South Africa in March, ABN’s partner in the Western Cape took it upon themselves to step up to the challenge of ensuring that the youth that they work with would not go hungry. Diverting their efforts from their usual activities, they pulled together the communities and threw themselves into setting up a food distribution program. The outcome of this has led to a project that should help Usiko to become more sustainable into the future. Zachary Lager writes from Usiko Stellenbosch.
Now, more than ever, there is a growing awareness of the importance of connectedness for the sake of our planet and the wellbeing of all humanity. The Covid-19 pandemic, economic recession, social unrest, human rights violations, climate change and more, all alert us to the fact that we are deeply connected to each other and to the planet…but are these connections contributing to the upliftment of our society? Are these connections enhancing, revitalizing and enlivening the natural and spiritual realms? Are we actually moving beyond a superficial and utilitarian awareness of our connectedness and instead probing into the subsoils that feed our emotional and spiritual growth as a society?
For many of us, our current reality is just a sharper and more acute reminder of what we already have seen and experienced. Yet for much of the world, the Covid-19 pandemic and global social unrest has been a wakeup call to the deep inequities and schisms that exist in our global village. As difficult as this reality may be, it is also an opportunity for us to use this moment to reimagine the world and transition towards a more connected, just and fulfilling future for all life forms. To do this we need to acknowledge and confront these deep seeded challenges, and subsequently create healing spaces where people, communities and our broader society can come together and reconnect with each other and with nature in meaningful and generative ways.
For the past 20 years, Usiko Stellenbosch has been creating these healing spaces using the deep wisdom of indigenous cultures to help youth and young adults transition into adulthood through rites of passage ceremonies. Usiko takes youth into wilderness spaces and guides them through a positive rites of passage experience that includes a number of meaningful rituals and ceremonies. The goal of this process to is help youth find their voice and create a space for them to connect with their inner selves, their community and to the natural environment. Our goal at Usiko is to foster a generation of youth that contribute to strong and empowered communities where all members care for each other, live their purpose, know their identity and are connected to their heritage, the natural world and our common humanity.
The past four months of the pandemic has strengthened our sense of purpose and dedication to our mission and vision, yet it has also offered us a time to reflect and consider where and how we can further amplify our work. This has meant rethinking and seeing our work from new angles and perspectives and taking stock of how we can best serve our community. One of the primary outcomes that has emerged from this process is the inspiration and initiation of Usiko’s newest project the People’s Farm.
At the heart of this project is a long-term vision to build a resilient local food system that nourishes and provides sustenance for society’s soils and souls to allow for new and regenerative growth to blossom. The immediate goal of the project and its activities have focused on designing, developing and planting a garden, using agroecological farming methods, to support the 100 or so children that are part of the Usiko aftercare program and who are currently food insecure. In the best of times, many of these children’s only meal is during school, or the aftercare program. With the government mandated cancellation and closure of schools and ECD centres, many of these children are suffering from a lack of nutritious and filling meals. To support these children, Usiko set up a daily soup kitchen as well as a food parcel distribution program to support the most vulnerable in the community. These programs have also been an opportunity to disseminate and share information on important health and safety measures community members can take to contain the spread of the virus.
This food security outreach program was initially supported through food donations, but Usiko decided to establish the People’s Farm to provide a sustainable and long-term way to continue this support. In March, Usiko received a generous donation of about one acre (approximately 4,000m2) of fertile land from a local community member, as well as access to water from a neighbour’s holding dam, to plant seasonal vegetables. A small grant was secured to purchase a food security drip irrigation system and a committed group of local volunteers came on board to prepare the soils and plant the first crops. We have relied on the wisdom and insights from other local farmers and community members around local planting cycles, soil fertility and some of the challenges associated with farming in the area.
Although our initial garden only covers about 500m2, by using companion cropping methods and intensive agroecology farming techniques we have already started harvesting our crops. As we continue to learn, and seeds of support grow in the community, we intend to increase the size and scope of the farm by expanding our vegetable garden, developing a food forest, planting an indigenous medicinal garden, caring for a natural wild space and building an outdoor classroom to hold gatherings and lessons. We have also started to build partnerships with other farming and food security initiatives and we are actively building a community outreach and livelihood program to establish home food gardens with community members.
To help guide the development of the farm, Usiko has established a circle of wisdom that includes youth activist warriors, Usiko elders and healers as well as farmers and environmental managers. Although the immediate design and implementation of the project is oriented towards mitigating and addressing the current and very real impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, this circle of wisdom is helping guide a longer-term convergence with our larger vision of supporting a deep healing process needed for all life forms to flourish in a collective and conscious community of wellbeing. From this circle of wisdom, we have initiated conversations and are actively engaging and imagining how the garden can also serve as a healing space for community caregivers and volunteers by incorporating meaningful rituals and ceremonies into our work.
As a society, we still have a long way to go to ensuring the right of all life forms to a dignified and fulfilling life of purpose. For Usiko, we believe the People’s Farm can contribute to inspiring and invigorating the ongoing global movement in which we all care for and tend to our communities as life giving gardens that sustain and provide us with emotional, spiritual and physical sustenance. If we do, perhaps we can ascend and emerge from this global crisis with more fertile soils where all life forms can flourish and prosper together.