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Building intentional communities - Interview with Ticha Murengweni, Kufunda Learning Village
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
September 09, 2009

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What is an intentional community?
At Kufunda, we're trying to help communities, especially in the rural areas, for them to see how they can live sustainably and how they can help themselves as well. Especially with these economic hardships. So at Kufunda, we try to teach them different ways to do this like organic farming, composting of toilets, community leadership, how can they lead themselves in the communities.

How was the learning village created?
It came about as a vision or a dream to Marrianne Knuth, on her 30th birthday. She was celebrating in Mhondoro. She saw how people were living, and how hard it was for them. In July 2002, it started functioning.

What is the philosophy behind Kufunda?
We're different from other villages and the like because we don't have any hierarchy within us, we treat everyone as equal, and we try to help each other, love each other, not hurt each other. That's the kind of philosophy that we have at Kufunda. Listen

How is Kufunda different from other development projects?
The difference is that at times in other development projects there's Mr So-and-So, the big man or whatever, but in Kufunda, we are equal and when we sit in our meetings we sit in a circle, whereby we want everyone's voice to be heard. And in the circle we have got some tools that we use. We have got a talking piece, we have got a bell, and each time we meet we ring the bell to bring us into the time of presence. That's how we live at Kufunda.

In what ways are you practicing sustainable agriculture, and do you have any recommendations for farmers who want to start doing the same thing?
Right now we're practicing organic farming, where we're not using chemicals. We are using our natural resources that we get, like compost, cow-dung manure. We're trying to encourage people not to eat fertilized foods. Right now at Kufunda we have a small garden where we try to grow some nutritious foods from there.

How do you recommend, or can you recommend that new farmers, like the A1, A2 farmers, practice sustainable agriculture?
We can but right now with A1 and A2 farmers I know they'll be doing this for commercial reasons. But we could recommend them to start small, maybe, with a small portion where they can do organic farming.

When you're doing organic farming what fertilizer do you use?
We don't use any fertilizers we just use manure, cow-dung manure, compost, chicken manure. We don't use any chemicals to treat pests.

What is permaculture?
Permaculture is like permanent agriculture, whereby, we grow vegetables or crops without using fertilisers.

So it would be the same as sustainable agriculture?
Kind of.

What attitudes have you discovered that make people think that their situation is helpless in your dealing with rural communities?
At first people think if someone has money you are the only person who is able to live. But we make them understand that it is not only financial richness that makes a human being. Even your natural wealth, your ideas that you can share with people, everything that makes someone see that you are helpful in a community. Listen

How do you teach new attitudes to people who feel that they are helpless?
People come to Kufunda and we teach them how we Kufundees live. And at times they see for themselves, by being in a village like Kufunda, they just see a difference from where you are coming from.

Have you encountered instances of extreme poverty, and what have you done to help people overcome those circumstances?
At Kufunda what we have tried to do is to try to help people. Like we have a project that we do, composting of toilets. This is a project whereby it's kind of latrines that we use which are cheap and we use manure in the garden. Like a bag of cement can make five toilets for a rural family. So maybe five families can combine to buy a bag of cement, and they can have five toilets. So we are trying to help them, or motivate them to have toilets.

How did you come to work for Kufunda Learning Village?
I like nature walking, and I was walking in Mbizi Game Park. One morning I met Mrs Knuth, who is our director's mother, and she said 'I need people who can harvest some maize at my farm, do you think you can find some?' and I told here there are a lot of women that are living in Epworth Community. And then we organized to see when we could meet. I went with about ten women to her. And then they were doing some work. After the work, it was a month or so, and she told me about Marianne. A month later I met Marianne, we talked about what the school is going to be like. I was part of the building, and I was part of the pioneers of Kufunda. I am still at Kufunda.

In what ways has being part of the Kufunda community changed your life?
I never used to like helping other people, even my neighbors. Now I feel a bit sad to see someone not doing well. I used to cut down trees when I was staying in Epworth. But when I came to Kufunda, through Bev Reeler, through a programme called the Tree of Life, I now feel sad to cut down a tree. Listen

So would you say Kufunda has changed the way you look at life and living?

Do you believe that Zimbabwe provides opportunities for social entrepreneurship?
Yes but if we could have many Kufundees spreading the word about what we practice at Kufunda, I think life at times could change.

I also read that you have programmes that are geared toward people living with HIV. Can you describe these programmes?
Right now we have a herb garden and a herb laboratory, and we encourage people to get to know their status.

How does the Community Currency project work?
We use what we call hours. It's equivalent to the dollar, so I can buy tomatoes for half an hour using that currency.

As a result of the work that you have been doing in communities, mainly the Mhondoro community, have you seen any changes?
Yes, in the way people live, of late. There was much hierarchy, the Chief and the Sabhuku, but now they see themselves as being equal. If there is a problem they call circles in the communities, and find a way how they can solve some of those problems. Listen

What makes your work rewarding?
We're a resource to the world, and we're trying to spread all this to the world. Right now we're seeing that the world is wounded and there are a lot of things that are happening. We try to see that everyone in the world gets to help himself or herself.

If someone wanted to become a part of the Kufunda community, how would they go about doing that?
Some people come as volunteers, they come and stay and practice what we do, maybe even just communicating with us, you can get to know what Kufunda is and what we practice at Kufunda.

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