PARTICIPANT to FACILITATOR: Kwena Chipi, Moteti, Mpumalanga
In a Nutshell
Through their participation in SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) strategies to stimulate personal economic activity, Kwena and Julia Chipi have planned and grown their farming business. Julia’s home spaza shop has diversified and achieves stable profit, while providing affordable goods to her community.
Kwena was so inspired by the BBL results that he incorporated the training into his church, using the SocioTech philosophy and methods. Today he is a highly skilled BBL Facilitator, travelling regularly to Eastern Cape, Freestate and Gauteng to bring joy and abundance to communities far and wide.
From the time I was in primary school, I had a little vegetable garden at my home in Ga-Matlala, Limpopo. I am not really sure how or why I started it. No one really taught me. We did agricultural science at school but that seldom went further than a bit of weeding and watering. My grandmother (who raised me) grew maize and we had cattle (so there was manure) but the love of gardening with spinach and beetroots and tomatoes and so forth, that just came from within me. It brought me joy. It still does.
It is amazing the lifelong impact that a little encouragement can have on a child. I am where I am today, in part because of my Uncle Martin. He worked for Iscor and I remember that at holiday times he would come to visit us. He always made a point of praising my garden. He was impressed and surprised that such a small boy had taken the initiative to plant. He congratulated me on my consistency – I never missed a day tending to those plants. My uncle would say ‘my nephew you are doing very well’ and he would always ask to take some of my vegetables back with him when he went back to work. That made me feel so good. It motivated me. I remember thinking to myself that when I grow up I would like to expand my garden and plant over a large area. That childhood garden still exists – when I grew up and moved away, my uncle went on pension and he took over from me. He has continued and expanded on that land. In a way my childhood dream has been realized.
"... my first Phinda-Phinda session."
My big break as a child food gardener came when that same uncle bought my grandmother a new fence. I took the old one and used it to fence off my small garden. That kept out the chickens and boosted my yields enormously. In fact, after that, I had so many vegetables that my family started to sell off the excess. I think that, in those days, we got R3.50 per bunch of spinach.
When the boy next door to us saw how well my garden was doing, he wished to start one himself. Because he didn’t have spare fencing, he and I went and cut thorn tree branches to make him a barrier to keep out chickens. Once his garden was established, that neighbour and I used to put our money together and buy seeds. I taught him what I knew and we worked nicely together. I didn’t know it then but essentially this was my first Phinda-Phinda session.
Somewhere, somehow, I lost my way. I grew up and I started drinking. Life was tough. My mother died in 2003 and I drank because I felt that if I was drunk I would get some relief from emotional pain but that was horribly wrong.
Fortunately, God was in the driving seat and he brought me back from the brink. I remember the day I accepted Christ as my personal saviour as if it was yesterday. I went to Bible school and studied theology.
"I rediscovered that joy."
It was at Bible school that I was introduced to Farming God’s Way – when God finished creation he said that it was good, so, why question that? Adam and Eve had no tractor and in order to take care of the soil. God provided soil and we ought not to be promoting soil erosion with such machines. If we introduce chemicals we damage soil and kill insects. To farm God’s way is to farm with joy and gratitude and without wastage. To farm in this manner is simple and doesn’t require a lot of money to be spent.
These methods reminded me of how I had worked with plants as a small boy. I didn’t have theories about what I was doing then but I never used chemicals, I spent very little money and I always worked with joy. I rediscovered that joy.
In 2018, I was working at a church in Dennilton when Baba Cletus from SocioTech visited me. He asked if he could use the church building to do some horticulture training. He also asked me to help him mobilise the community to attend the classes. I didn’t know it then but that meeting was actually an appointment with God…
I started with SocioTech training as a student. I did the MyFood course along with the congregation. As I said, I had quite a lot of horticulture experience but I still learnt a lot. I was so inspired. After I had completed the classes myself, I immediately started mobilizing others. SocioTech’s Phinda-Phinda system (whereby each person trains three others) was in my heart. I didn’t stop when I got to three. I just kept going training and training and training. So much so that in October 2019 I was asked to formally join SocioTech as a fulltime facilitator.
"...we are honouring God's creation in this region."
I find the Lord in so much of our work. God uses me to heal broken hearts and minds and relationships through agriculture. The vegetable tunnels for instance, God uses those tunnels as a way of mending broken communities.
A broken community that is fighting and divided can’t build tunnels together. Our approach encourages people to unite. We teach in groups and they must be united to achieve the common goal. Through putting up tunnels together, they learn to love one another and work as a team to help each family to build their home tunnels.
My family and I practice what I preach. As I speak, my family is a family of farmers. Only yesterday we harvested beetroot. I am increasingly interested in growing indigenous fruit and vegetables. I grow lerotse melons and dinawa Sotho beans and leraka gourds. It is important to me that my children understand and love the traditional food of those who came before them.
When we eat according to old ways – things like semphemphe - we are honouring God’s creation in this region. My only problem is that people are not the only ones that love indigenous vegetables. Wild animals and cattle flock to my yard when I plant indigenous.
At SocioTech we don’t do hit and run. We are there for the long term. We are there from the start when there is nothing, through the expansion and selling phases. We celebrate when there are success stories but we share challenges too. I always tell our participants that farming has seasons and that there will be successes and failures along the way. Our WhatsApp group system means that if there is a challenge that an individual facilitator has never encountered, we can put it on the group and share our knowledge to solve the problem. No man is an island. Where we face challenges, someone will have a solution. Together and through God, we can make it.
Some challenges are practical ones – a pest has invaded the cabbages for instance. Other challenges come from the complexity of humanity. Those are the ones that can be most surprising. For instance, I had a family who were gardening so well and making money and their neighbours deliberately burnt their tunnels out of jealousy. The devil used them to destroy good work. Fortunately, the frame of the tunnel survived and the family bought new netting and continued. They were faced with an obstacle but they didn’t give up. They continued on to further success.
It brings me such joy to see people breaking the spirit of dependency.