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!
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.