Moving to South Africa

By: Jo Ferris-Davies

Jo Ferris-Davies, Senior Technical Advisor, Rooftops Canada with Mary Mathenge (left) CEO, NACHU in Kenya.

Jo Ferris-Davies, Senior Technical Advisor, Rooftops Canada with Mary Mathenge (left) CEO, NACHU in Kenya.

I have been hired by Rooftops Canada as a Senior Technical Advisor working with Social Housing Institutions (SHI’s) through NASHO, the SHRA (government regulatory board) and municipalities to establish sustainable mechanisms to promote efficient development and maintenance of affordable, secure, equitable housing in South Africa.  Am I excited?  Absolutely. Am I nervous?  Absolutely.  I will be leaving my friends, neighbours, and family.  And I am going to have to drive – something I haven’t done in eight years.  And I might add – driving on the other side of the street.  But I have my visa and plane ticket so I am going.  I also have a massive list of to do’s to work my way through before leaving for the airport.

As a somewhat recently retired non-profit housing association worker, you might ask yourself why am I doing this?  I have developed my elevator speech (a 1 or 2 minute succinct and comprehensive presentation) as everyone I have told asks me this.

There are always reasons for not doing something.  I am too old.  I like sleeping in every morning.  I have had cancer.  I love my community and don’t want to move.  But there is a tremendous reason for being involved too.  Being a part of a very large affordable housing supply program helping thousands of people is a hugely compelling reason.  Being able to leverage my skills and insights to assist the South African affordable housing sector is another great reason.  But the final reason why I chose to apply – is I believe we are never too old for an adventure.  And I fully expect this to be one.  So please stay tuned for further postings.

Posted in Global Affairs Canada, International Development, Social Housing, South Africa | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Kenya Urban Farms Grow Homes Campaign is Underway!

Kenya - 2014 - Mazingira Daisy

Daisy holding tomatoes harvested from her mother’s farm

Rooftops Canada and its long-time partner Mazingira Institute have been encouraging people in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, to grow food and raise livestock on small bits of land.  This year we are asking you to help our campaign to raise funds to train and mentor 125 urban farmers.

Our Urban Farms Grow Homes campaign started in July and will be running until September 08, 2016. Our goal is to raise $50,000 to give families access to nutritious food, generate additional household income to escape dire poverty, improve living conditions, and help them to access loans to build a new home through our co-op housing microfinance programs. To think it all starts with a few square metres of dirt and you.

Click here to learn more about the Kenya Urban Farms Grow Homes campaign.

As a supporter of Rooftops Canada, there are a few key ways you can participate:

  1. Donate to the campaign

You can either give to a fundraising volunteer of your choice by clicking the “sponsor a volunteer” tab and searching for them by name, or you can make a general donation to the campaign by clicking the “donate to the event” tab.

  1. Become a volunteer fundraiser

We are still in need of individuals to join the campaign as fundraisers and reach out to their friends, family and networks to help support this incredible project. It is quick and easy to create a profile and we have template emails and social media tips ready to help you share the campaign. A reminder that if you participated last year you do not need to create a new profile, simply click on the button next to “Returning Participant?” and fill in your username and password. Click here to register

  1. Host a fundraising event

Many Rooftops Canada supporters have helped make our campaigns a success in past years by organizing bake sales, silent auctions and dinners. If you are interested in hosting an event and would like some support, please email Thandi at

  4. Share the campaign on social media 

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook (after clicking the “like” button on our Facebook page, click again for the dropdown menu and click “get notifications” to ensure that you get all our updates) and share our tweets and posts with your friends!

Thank you in advance for helping us make Kenya Urban Farms Grow Homes a success!

Posted in International Development, Kenya, Uncategorized, Urban Agriculture | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Rooftops Canada Study part 2 – Johannesburg

By: Janet Kreda

Janet Heather and Josie

Janet Kreda (left), Heather Tillock (centre) and Josie Adler

Stories of the riots in Soweto were potent memories from my youth, along with Peter Gabriel’s anthem for Steve Biko and the controversy stirred by Paul Simon’s Graceland album. Having participated in the divestment campaign in the mid-80’s at Tufts University in Massachusetts and given my son the middle name of “Nelson” in honour of Mandela, I was (needless to say) very excited about going to Johannesburg (Joburg) with the Rooftops Canada study visit team.

The city of Johannesburg and the surrounding townships are full of jarring contrasts.  Modern hotels where we are told not to leave the hotel unescorted; thriving commercial districts teeming with shops and people; abandoned modern sky scrapers with no electricity or water ‘hijacked’ and run by gangs.  Townships, some still with unpaved roads, are linked to the city by modern mass transit.   The legacy of Mandela is proudly told in signs on streets of Joburg.  A notorious prison that once held Gandhi and Mandela is preserved next to the constitutional court – the crown jewel of the victory over apartheid and a powerful symbol of the triumph of human rights and democracy in South Africa.  The country has achieved massive change in 20 years, but not without growing pains and there is still a lot of work ahead.  One part of that change was an ambitious housing agenda to address a massive deficit of adequate housing.

Josie and security -4

While there, we were fortunate to meet with the NASHO an organization of Social Housing providers and some of their members.  We met the folks at Madulammoho Housing Association, a housing and service provider that adapted a former nurse’s residence for affordable housing in Hillbrow, one of the toughest inner city neighbourhoods in Johannesburg.   We met those providing services to homeless people in the city. Among all the social housing providers and partner agencies we visited, the most memorable encounter was with Josie founder of Ekhaya security.  This spry elder and her team are reclaiming one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Johannesburg – building by building, block by block.  She is an inspiration. I think – Jane Jacobs and Saul Alinsky would be proud.

Some of the challenges we heard about from housing providers were unfamiliar: problems collecting rent in a society where rent strikes were used as a form of protest and where the government provides free homes to eligible families; building bridges among tenants of different ethnic groups where there is no history of living together. Another unfamiliar story was about the challenges facing rapidly expanding social housing agencies — that is something Canada and most other countries haven’t seen since the 80’s.

But touring social housing developments in Johannesburg and environs, I was struck by the similarities between South Africa and Canada despite such different contexts.  Not only does social housing look similar in form and size, but many stories from housing providers about infilling underdeveloped sites, property management challenges, creating tenant associations and balancing budgets were the same as you might hear in Canada.  I came away from the tour impressed by the long history of peer exchange, made possible through Rooftops, between Canadian non-profit housing providers and South African non-profit agencies on issues including social housing management, strategic planning and social housing finance.


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Study Visit ’15: Inspiration

By Jerry Boyer

In July 2015 I had the opportunity to travel to Africa as a part of a Canadian delegation studying Innovations in Social Housing.  What I experienced was abundant inspiration!  Africa is a magical place—high plateaus, mountains, savannahs, wildlife, big cities and large open spaces.  It’s also full of interesting and big challenges.  The opportunity to make a difference is great in a place like this.

In Kenya for instance, 65% of the population lives in poverty.   During our July 2015 visit to Nairobi, we had the opportunity to meet with several organizations dedicated to helping people move out of this cycle of poverty.   At the Mazingira Institute, we saw firsthand the heroic efforts of Davinder Lamba and his team.  The Mazingira Institute is a non-profit organization with a mission of “integrating knowledge and practice to advance human dignity for all – common interest and sustainable built and natural environments”.  Through teaching urban agriculture and basic business skills, and conducting advocacy campaigns they help communities create decent and sustainable living conditions.

One of the most inspiring stops was the “Precious Hommy Academy”, a school led by Dorothy Munyi, a graduate of the program.  She has converted her family home into a thriving school.  The students of the school depend on the produce from the three quarter acre plot that houses the school, zero grazing dairy cattle unit, pig unit, vertical chicken house, green house with sunken beds, energy saver stove, and composting unit and silage bags. She uses the animal waste to grow vegetables, maize and beans for the school in an adjacent piece of land and sources crop waste to feed her livestock.  This place and this young woman are so inspiring.  She also spends time mentoring and sharing innovative ideas with other graduates of the program.  Inspiration!


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Students at Precious Hommy Academy in Nairobi.

In a one-time upscale area of Johannesburg, criminal groups have hijacked many of the once trendy apartment buildings.  They pack, on average, 17 people into a standard 1-bedroom apartment.  As you can imagine, the living conditions are terrible, and security, safety and hygiene are difficult if not impossible to attain.   In many of these buildings, the infrastructure has failed or is failing – water, sewers, electricity just don’t work in many cases.  With this difficult backdrop, the inspiration comes in the form of an advocate named Josie Adler.

Josie, who grew up in the once trendy Hillbrow, has been working on revitalizing the neighbourhood since 2004 – bringing the residents into safe and secure housing, one person at a time.  Working with the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC), Josie has focused on reclaiming parks, cleaning up laneways, enabling rooftop gardening and creating a massive neighbourhood watch security program to keep the residents safe and secure.  Josie is well known and well respected in this neighbourhood for her incredible community and leadership building efforts.  Inspiration.


Josie Adler and the Johannesburg Housing Company have been revitalizing the Hillbrow neighbourhood since 2004.

Cape Town. This beautiful seaside city of 4 million has an approximate population of 1.5 million living in informal settlements or slums that are not easily seen by tourist eyes.   This huge population struggles to provide the most basic things for their families – like having enough food to eat.  Once again, this is where support from the community brings inspirational value.

Louise Vaughan and the team at Soil for Life are showing members of the community how to farm their land – how to turn the dry, arid land into nutrition giving vegetable gardens.  Re-establishing the harmony between earth and its people.  Soil for Life educates and trains people in organic food gardening using low-cost, soil building, water-wise, environmentally friendly technologies in whatever small space is available. They run hands-on practical training courses in impoverished communities and provide ongoing support and advice.  Inspiration.


Soil for Life trains people in low-cost organic food gardening in Cape Town.

These are just a few of the incredible and inspiring stories and experiences of the Rooftops Canada 2015 study visit.  Each inspiration demonstrates incredible world leaders doing so much with so little.

Posted in International Development, Kenya, South Africa, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating a Circle of Rich Learning

By Sharlet Poole

Rooftops Canada’s Technical Advisor, Sharlet Poole, has been working with the Kuyasa Fund Trust, a housing microfinance institution based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is providing training and support for branch management and leadership.

The richest learnings often happen when we are learning from each other, when we are teachers and students at the same time. Thus, once again, there were rich learnings on this my 5th trip to work with The Kuyasa Fund.

In Workshops with the Team Leaders we reviewed best practices when dealing with conflict in the workplace. We concluded that not all conflict is bad, and that certain approaches are more effective than others. We considered who we are in the conflict; collaborating on ways to shift performance conversations towards a coaching approach, and practicing coaching-oriented language and questions. We also discussed ways to encourage employees to develop their own best strategies to achieve their targets.

This recent set of workshops completes our plan set out in June 2014 to share and learn leadership practices and approaches, thus, we took time to celebrate completion and participation.

Workshop completion certificates presented

Workshop completion certificates presented

I believe I have been the most fortunate learner. I have learned that everyone involved with this amazing organization has a deep commitment to lifting people out of poverty. I have witnessed the far reaching social and economic impacts of adequate and safe housing conditions. I have seen how poor people can be credit worthy, how having a safe place to study can impact a child’s ability to succeed in school, and how a little extra room can substantially impact the family business.

I have been fortunate to meet staff, clients, and suppliers, all of whom have a rich piece of the story and all of whom have enriched my learnings. My humblest gratitude.

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Housing Governance and By-Laws in Zimbabwe

By Sue Moorhead, Technical Advisor

The Kugarikatangenhamo Cooperative was implemented on the ground by ZINAHCO (Zimbabwe National Association of Housing Cooperatives).  This CLIFF (Community Led Infrastructure Funding Facility), delivers secure housing to the urban poor and elderly.

Mother and daughter in front of their home, part of The Kugarikatangenhamo Cooperative of ZINAHCO (Zimbabwe National Association of Housing Cooperatives).

I arrived in Harare early this week to work with the Zimbabwe National Association of Housing Co-operatives (ZINAHCO) a federation of housing co-operatives. I had spent two weeks in June working with Tariro Nhongo the Community Development Manager and a small task team of staff and volunteers to design and conduct an education and member consultation process for reviewing and revising the federation’s governance and by-laws. I was amazed to see how housing co-operatives have persevered in the difficult operating environment and with very little resources.

ZINAHCO Task Team ready to head out to three regions: (from left) Tariro Nhongo, staff, Natalia Chakwakwama, supervisory committee; Sue Moorhead, Rooftops Canada; Mike Mavhenyengwa, local expert; Thembinkosi Sibanda, board of directors

ZINAHCO Task Team ready to head out to three regions: (from left) Tariro Nhongo, staff; Natalia Chakwakwama, supervisory committee; Sue Moorhead, Rooftops Canada; Mike Mavhenyengwa, local expert; Thembinkosi Sibanda, board of directors.

In June I travelled with the task team to members’ meetings in Mutare, Chipinge and Masvingo. In our travels we had an opportunity to visit the Great Zimbabwe National Monument, one of the most important archaeological sites in Africa. We had a fascinating two-hour guided walking tour of this collection of structures.

Sue with Thembinkosi Sibanda (left) and their guide sitting in the Hill Ruins at the Great Zimbabwe National Monument. Thembi is a member of the ZINAHCO board of directors.

Sue with Thembinkosi Sibanda (left) and their guide sitting in the Hill Ruins at the Great Zimbabwe National Monument.

After our regional sessions, we regrouped in Harare to review our work, summarize and analyse the inputs and make adjustments to improve the next round of consultations. I wrapped up my two weeks of work with the task team as they began to schedule sessions with co-op members in Kariba, Bulawayo, Mvuma, Chiredzi and Harare / Chitungwiza and to plan for the next phase of the process.

Small group discussion in Chipinge.

Small group discussion in Chipinge.

Now I’m back to assist with a members’ validation meeting where members will review the regional consultation results and discuss different options for the co-op housing sector’s structure, governance and by-laws. This will guide the task team in drafting new by-laws and moving them to approval by the board and eventually a members meeting. While I’ll only be in Zimbabwe for a couple of weeks until mid-November, the aim is to prepare the basis for the approval of new by-laws by the end of December. Watch this space for an update in November.

Sue and Tariro with members of the new task team Natalia Chakwakwama (left) and Katina Chikuku (right).

Sue and Tariro with members of the new task team Natalia Chakwakwama (left) and Katina Chikuku (right).

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African Housing Leaders Reflect on an Inspiring 3 days in Johannesburg

By Thandi Nkomo

“The workshop has left a mark on my life.”

From left to right: Tariro Nhongo, Tabbi Mnolo, Dorothy Baziwe, Suzanne F. Stevens, Judith Sando, Fortunate Nyamhunga & Thandi Nkomo

From left to right: Tariro Nhongo, Tabbi Mnolo, Dorothy Baziwe, Suzanne F. Stevens, Judith Sando, Fortunate Nyamhunga & Thandi Nkomo

“It is about the stakeholder with me in mind.” This simple concept was the most significant thing I took away from the Leadership and Communications workshop Rooftops Canada recently hosted in Johannesburg. It is a mantra that the amazing women leaders from our overseas partners and I have committed to following in our work.

It was an exciting three days of training in South Africa.  Our energetic and inspiring workshop leader Suzanne F. Stevens, Chief Edge Optimizer of Ignite Excellence Inc. Group of Initiatives kept us on our toes. We worked on skills that will help us improve our presentation and communication styles. We also identified different ‘communication styles’ we can easily implement in our work or personal routines. Making an effort to continue probing and finding fit solutions was also a focus.

Suzanne F. Stevens addresses the group as Thandi Nkomo (left) and Tariro Nhongo look on.

Suzanne F. Stevens addresses the group as Thandi Nkomo and Tariro Nhongo look on.

The other women who participated in the workshop found it equally as fulfilling as I did. Fortunate Nyamhunga of the Kuyasa Fund (South Africa) shared with me that the training will have a tremendous impact on her work as Human Resources Manager. Judith Sando, CEO of WAT-Human Settlements (Tanzania) saw it as a catalyst to spur change in her organization:

This was a very insightful experience.  The past three days have been used extremely well to learn on how to be influential internal and external stakeholders.  I have been empowered and go back with very important techniques that are bound to bring positive change in my organization.

Tabbi Mnolo (left) and Dorothy Baziwe practicing their communication skills.

Tabbi Mnolo (left) and Dorothy Baziwe practicing their communication skills.

Dorothy Baziwe, Executive Director of SSA: UHSNET (Uganda) took away some important details from the training:

Over the period of 3 days, the wealth of experience I gained is immense. Simple things that I had never paid attention to were the ones considered “deal breakers” in communication: gestures, eye contact and body language. I have been greatly inspired to always analyze my audience and ensure I have adequate responses based on their communication styles. These are skills that I have already started to use and will continue to use throughout my life!

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Dorothy Baziwe: “the wealth of experience I gained is immense.”

For Tariro Nhongo, Community Development Manager of ZINAHCO (Zimbabwe), the impact of the workshop went beyond her communication style at work:

I learnt how to be a beautiful woman, who has strength and purpose on this earth. I really valued the different techniques of controlling my voice, my body posture and movements as I present, talk with people and as I build relationships.

Finally, Tabbi Mnolo, CEO of The Housing Company (Malawi) was also profoundly impacted by our time together:

I have been empowered. My leadership communication skills have highly improved. The workshop trainer was amazing, teaching practical techniques rather than just theories. I recommend that Rooftops Canada continue giving opportunities like these to women leaders. The workshop has left a mark on my life.

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