Thursday, 17 October 2019

So, last night I experienced "load shedding", I was sitting in bed reading when, thriller movie style, there was a clunk and pitch black! All power was disconnected.  Wow, now I know the meaning of pitch black!  Luckily my phone had a full charge and I was able to use the torch to get ready for bed!  I think the power was off for two hours... but within minutes of the darkness I was fast asleep (but I did remember to turn the lamp off so it didn't wake me when power was restored!)

This morning I headed north of Pietermaritzburg, past Howick (where the Mandela Capture Site is) and on towards Lidgetton where a fabulous project called ACAT is based.  ACAT is not in our portfolio of projects but it is one of the projects supported by our friends, Helwel Trust and as I was in KZN it was too good an opportunity to miss going to see what they do at ACAT and, potentially, how there might be some synergies we could achieve through a collaboration.
My immediate impression, turning off the main road into a gravel track was to hope the map, saying I only had 600 meters to my destination was correct!  Indeed it was and soon a secure compound and electric gates came into view!  As you might be able to tell from the photo, we had a beautiful day today, the temperature was nudging 30 degrees C when I arrived shortly before 10 am and it was several degrees higher by the time we did our walk around.  KZN has had a dry winter and there have been several bush fires already.  As it now moves into the summer, the risk of bush fires heightens and the lack of water over the winter months may cause some significant problems for irrigation and water supply.  The saving grace is that in this part of KZN the cool, fresh drinking water comes from deep springs, thanks to the Drakensberg, the eastern part of the Great Escarpment which encloses the central Southern African plateau.
ACAT have been working in this area for nearly 25 years and they started with a vision and macro plan which is evident in the layout of the centre.  They do not use all of the land but have added buildings on a needs basis, meaning that there is now an administration block, a learning centre, some additional classroom / break out rooms and two accommodation blocks, one of which is youth hostel style bunk beds and the other, more private twin rooms with en suite.  They have a variety of courses running throughout the year and they are mostly residential, their usual cohort of trainees is between 20 and 30 individuals, which represents 100 to 150 people within each intake.  This is because the model is to encourage people to organise themselves into a group of 5, of the five, one person will attend the training and then they will pass their newly acquired knowledge onto the group of five.  In this way the impact of one training place has the potential to positively influence 5 families, or up to 25 or 30 people! The areas of operation are divided into areas of 30km radius, with up to a total of 150 zones or communities, which are set up to be within a reasonable walking distance for each group of five, so they can access support and training on an ongoing basis.  This model means that ACAT have a presence in 2/3 of the whole KwaZulu Natal province.  Their ethos is to reinforce the importance of family and to demonstrate how co-operative working can benefit the whole community, through strong family groups and strong role models.  The ACAT programme has four phases, it starts with what is called a "Survivalist Garden".  This shows people how, with their hard work, they can cultivate a moisture trench garden (gardeners dig into the ground to create an east to west trench into which they place organic materials and moisture retaining layers before planting crops.  Only a small amount of topsoil lies above ground level) which will provide sufficient produce to supplement the household food requirements and may even allow for excess crops to be sold or bartered.  This is usually in the first year.

Phase two takes two or three years and it creates what is known as a food secure  homestead.  This expands the size of the production and adds livestock, chickens, goats etc which provide dairy and protein in addition to the veggies and carbohydrates.  The measure of food security is a well known gauge to assess the well being of a community - you can find out more here - Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS).  The ACAT programme has demonstrated an 87% improved food security score from a 2011 baseline!  Phase 3 is in year 4 and this is where each family is operating a sustainable homestead, they have enough food to eat and additional to sell which provides income so they can improve their housing, send children to school and access healthcare.
Phase 4 follows, which moves into a more commercial enterprise, whereby they may extend their land, start employing others and sell on a more wholesale basis.
All this is achieved through the initial training, supplementary training, mentoring and support.  The group of five is the bottom rung of this model, culminating in a zone committee which oversees the support of the participants in the zone and also runs the savings and loans scheme; which encourages financial responsibility and future planning.

There is so much more to say about fabulous ACAT and you can find more information here

Following this visit I hit the road and headed back to Hillcrest Library where I was due to attend the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust (HACT) Peer Educators annual debating contest!  This is a programme in secondary schools where individuals are trained and mentored to be peer educators and they lead events and discussions in their school to raise awareness of issues from HIV Aids prevention, gender based violence, bullying and many others.  Each year, in conjunction with Gold Youth there is a debating contest at the end of the school year (South African schools run a January to December school year) and the subjects debated today included "Should the school leaving age be lowered to Year 9?" "Should secondary schools provide condoms in school bathrooms?" "Should knowingly transmitting HIV Aids be a criminal offence?" "Should smacking as a means of discipline in the home be banned?"
The debates were lively and passionate, considering some were arguing on the side that conflicted with their own personal belief, it was impressive.  The debates were judged by representatives from the University of KwaZulu Natal and there was much deliberation by the judges.

Whilst this was going on, a group of student nurses from Villanova University in Philadelphia conducted a session of "Fact or Nonsense" about all things HIV Aids related. The students were engaged and although initially some were a little reticent, they soon got involved and were able to debunk some myths about HIV Aids transmission and prevention.  That was followed by an increasingly complex game akin to "Simon Says" but conducted in a mix of isiZulu and English with a key word switching the game from doing what was said to doing the opposite!
Following the prize giving Candace, the CEO from Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust invited me up and kindly included me in the photos and introduced me to the group!  So an impromptu (and brief) GAGA pitch later... I headed back to the lodge for some much needed grub! So there you have it GAGA friends, another day done in KZN and so much learned and experienced.  We are so fortunate to have these connections here and to be able to be the conduit to sharing knowledge and experience and connecting projects and people.  So much that ACAT has to offer can be utilised by our very own GOGO lunch club and the peer educators at HACT are so close to the CINDI project at 1000 Hills.  As GAGA we are so lucky to be able to visit each of these and share what we find, and of course, we wouldn't be able to do that if it were not for you, our awesome supporters, without which none of this would be possible!  Siyabonga (Thank You)!