It’s always best to start at the beginning, & this story starts with a British couple – Sam & Emma – moving to Swaziland to volunteer with internationally funded charities. Their aim was to find ways of living a more sustainable lifestyle while positively contributing toward human development & environmental protection in Sam’s country of birth. Frustrated by an entrenched development approach that seemed to contribute to the very challenges international organisations had entered the Nation to help reduce, they started to wonder how to move forward in a positive direction. This story starts where many a seed of change has started – during a time of transition.
In 2008, Emma & Sam had a better idea of what they didn’t want to do than what they did want to do. The couple knew that they didn’t want to be part of the development in Swaziland that was crippling entrepreneurship & self-help through initiatives that were making people dependent on aid. They weren’t looking for quick fix solutions, but they did want to be a part of creating sustained, positive change, finding local solutions to improve quality of life for themselves & the lives of those living around them. They wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
It wasn’t until later that year that they pooled all their savings & went on a 3 month trip around eastern Europe with the aim of either finding a new home (nearer to a majority of friends & family in the UK) or to gain clarity on what they could do in Swaziland. Emma explains:
“There’s nothing like putting all of your eggs in one basket & moving away from the daily humdrum to quiet the background noise of life long enough to listen to ones inner fears & allow wishes to bubble up to the surface. It’s an extreme, privileged way of finding answers that lie inside all along. And we did find answers. Not with the clarity we’d have liked considering the price tag but our answers came in the form of a wish list.“
And these were simple wishes; like wanting to work connected to the outdoors, in a beautiful place, doing something they considered beneficial to themselves & others; working for themselves, without a boss or need to be a part of charitable institutions governed by international guidelines.
Although generally vague, their wishes revealed shared synergies that seemed to rule out Swaziland altogether. They realised that to run a social business or charity in a social context with such a badly paid workforce, institutionalised corruption, very low standards of education & high levels of unemployment, would require financial support with little need for immediate results. Mostly, funds available to organisations with charitable aims tend to be tied to project objectives usually defined by international offices & their national political agenda, geographically removed from the daily realities & needs of people living in Swaziland. The sort of funding they would need is certainly not the norm. They would need to build an organisation on the basis of gumption & tenacity, not school results, university degrees or work experience. To stay in Swaziland, they felt they would need the impossible.
They returned to Swaziland carrying more questions than answers around how to grow these wishes & put down roots. Commiserating with friends on the seemingly impossible nature of making it happen in Swaziland & their inevitable departure set a ball in motion that would change everything. Several events collided providing the right environment to gestate a seed of change that would grow into Guba.
Working on the basis that someone, somewhere had probably manifested similar wishes to participate in creating sustainable solutions to everyday challenges, Emma searched for “holistic solutions to life’s challenges” in Google & found permaculture. Here was a thinking tool for designing low carbon, highly productive human & environmental systems that care for people, care for the Earth & create a fair share. Permaculture offered the couple a set of tools for designing the sustainable solutions to the challenges they & their communities faced. They were now well positioned to start designing a more sustainable lifestyle for themselves but, without capital of their own, they did not feel well positioned to share this with their communities.
Cue a meeting with an angel investor orchestrated by a friend & fellow social entrepreneur. Jane Cox had once been at a similar crossroads before going on to start Moya Centre for orphaned & vulnerable children in Lobamba Lomdzala. Sam had learnt a lot from working with Moya Centre over 4 years as their Agriculture Coordinator in partnership with Agricultural Facilitator, Bongi Mndzebele. So, when Moya Centre’s founder suggested Sam & Bongi take over the agricultural arm by setting up a new NGO to cover the agricultural needs of the community, groundwork was laid around the Guba seed.
In the meantime, working from their own objectives to find plant-based solutions to everyday challenges faced by the most vulnerable people in Africa, GardenAfrica (GA) were looking to support permaculture initiatives in Swaziland. The timing couldn’t have been better! To cut a long story short, an introduction by Moya Centre to GA & community-based NGO, Vusumnotfo, eventually led to Guba’s first project partnership & the development of Swaziland’s first homestead-based permaculture curriculum.
Keen to further support the growth of this extraordinary story, the couples landlords offered a long-term lease on a 2.2 Hectare section of their privately owned land. Within a short magical time, Guba had land & enough money to employ a team of three to start planting permaculture ethics & principles. Without this synergetic generosity & support, the ideas behind Guba may well never have born fruit.
In 2009, Bongi, Sam & Emma attended a permaculture design course (PDC) where they learnt & applied sustainable design tools to the organisation – it’s vision, mission & objectives – & the land. They left this 2-week intensive course with a joint plan & design that would grow into a permaculture centre offering dynamic skills training to support local people to improve quality of life. Guba was shaped by the desire of a few people to change things for the better & continues to grow as more & more likeminded people come together to participate in the continuing evolution of a sustainable society.
Guba would like to take this opportunity to gratefully acknowledge a few key people & organisations whose support gave Guba shoots & wings.
Jane & Moya Centre for your unerring support & guidance. David & family for your generosity without strings attached, even when all we had to start with was the seed of an idea. The St Clements Family who generously allocated us land at reasonable rates without which we wouldn’t have put down roots in this way. George & GardenAfrica for your insatiable energy, brain & continued support. Vusumnotfo for your partnership & experience as we were just sprouting. And Cyril & Sahee for believing in our vision & growing with us through thick & thin.
We are lucky enough to be pollinating & attracting further pollinators as time goes on, but without these people & organisations, we may never have grown at all. We are grateful – thank you!