[blockquote cite=”Rosemary Morrow” type=”center”]”You teach a course so each person’s potential can emerge through some part of permaculture.” [/blockquote]
Let me set the stage.
It’s the early 1980’s.
The country is Lesotho, a small landlocked country surrounded by South Africa.
The political climate is volatile, and Lesotho is refuge for African National Congress, or ANC, political activists operating in then apartheid South Africa.
But despite the tumultuous conditions, aid work is still taking place, and in this case it involves a woman teaching children to read.
I will circle back to that particular woman, but in order to truly understand the conditions in Lesotho at that time, where this aid work is taking place, we need a bit of history.
The ANC was formed in 1912 to bring together South Africans and defend their rights and freedom against the injustices that black South Africans were facing from the government. The group became very active in the 50’s when the apartheid issue heated up. The big focus was on the issue of racial equality in then not racially equal South Africa. At the time protests were passive and things were generally peaceful, then things started to change.
In the early 1960s the ANC was banned in South Africa and the members went underground and some took up arms. The times had changed and so did the method of approach for some. As a result the spear of the nation was formed – Umkhonto we Sizwe, MK, and they emphasized to ‘hit back by all means within our power in defense of our people, our future and our freedom.’ They saw their means as a means to the end of apartheid.
MK continued to operate even though the liberation movement was officially shut down by the government. And despite the ban, the spirit of liberation and racial equality still pervaded throughout black society in South Africa. Blacks wanted equality, but the South African government wasn’t having it and the controls of apartheid cranked down limiting freedom, and in reality most aspects of people’s lives.
Think about that.
Put yourself in the place of a black living in South Africa at the time.
If you believe in freedom and you are being held down for decade after decade, then it is understandable that there was push back. And rightly so. You could say that the ANC didn’t have much choice; they had been banded, and South Africa was doing everything in its power to keep the then status quo in place; whites up here, blacks down there. If there was going to be a fight by the ANC, then South Africa was going to make that fight, very, very hard.
As a result of the controlling actions in South Africa a strong presence of the ANC began to grow in neighboring Lesotho. Lesotho became a home base for ANC activists and those exiled from South Africa. It also was seen as a “safe” ground for guerrillas operating for the ANC cause, because Lesotho basically turned a blind eye to ANC members within Lesotho and “ANC members sneaked into Lesotho at night to hold meetings and crossed back into South Africa the next morning through secret channels.” This is something that didn’t sit well with South Africa. So they tightened down their efforts to control the ANC insurrection and even started crossing the border into Lesotho..
It was now the 1980’s and the situation was volatile. “The apartheid government stepped up pressure on Lesotho by conducting more raids into the country. On 9 December 1982, just after midnight, about 100 commandos from South Africa crossed into Lesotho and raided flats and houses in Maseru, killing a total of 42 people, including three children. Thirty of those killed were South Africans and 12 were Lesotho citizens. […] More raids followed. A week after the 9 December raid, during an SADCC meeting in Lesotho, five bombs went off at the Maseru reservoir. On 13 February 1983, one of Maseru’s three main fuel depots was blown up.”
This is a scary situation. And this is not a scene that many Americans or westerns ever have been in or want to find themselves in. It is certainly not a situation that people seek out. Yet this is where my guest today, Rosemary Morrow, spent time in the 1970’s conducting charitable work. Charitable work. Amidst the chaos and violence, she was there to help children improve their literacy. It was brave, scary, insane, intensely rewarding – all of the above. She described the period as one of excitement and hope. A very optimistic view that is equally hard to fathom. Grenade attacks, commando raids, bombs – charitable work. Those things don’t really belong in the same sentence. But it is places like this that often times need the most help. Taking on the chaos as a volunteer is tough for people to understand. Yet this is what Rosemary does. She goes to places that absolutely need help, and helps – regardless of conditions. First with literacy in then politically volatile Lesotho, and later permaculture in places like Vietnam, Cambodia, the Solomon Islands, Bhutan, Uganda, and Somalia.
The places, the situations, the conditions – they are tough. I have a hard time putting myself in her shoes. But I totally respect her for doing what she does – she helps. As a longtime friend Wesley Roe says of Rosemary, “she is usually one of the first aid workers entering a war torn country just after war has ended to help the women.” In her words she goes to places to teach permaculture where people absolutely need it. Harsh environments, harsh political conditions, areas where literally a little more food means the difference between life and death. Places where one small garden can dramatically affect the health of a family. These are life or death matters. Again, literally. This is something that is very hard to imagine in America in a land of Hometown Buffets, fast food on every corner, and cheap (albeit low quality) food abundant. When most Americans couldn’t source a meal for $1.00, Rosemary is working in places where $1 can mean the difference between being getting more calories though rice, or not.
It is a different ballgame in these places. And it is in places like this where permaculture offers huge leverage points. The permaculture design principles can make significant differences in villages and food production systems where doubling food output is a huge deal. We aren’t talking about going from scraping by to garden of eden abundance in these cases. We are talking about going from scraping by to now having enough food to subsist, and possibly sell to earn money so you can send your kids to school.
While many of us will never use permaculture outside of our own backyard or community, there is a whole world out there that can benefit from permaculture design. Places where small incremental changes can have huge effects. Life is hard in places and Rosemary is someone who has lived her life helping hard places. She has dedicated her life to teaching and helping people. She is a true permaculture pioneer and an inspiration.
People often ask, ‘does permaculture work?’
From a western standpoint, the definition of work is usually form of ultimate abundance, some unrealistic expectation of what the land should be producing on a huge scale with little input; in other words, a miracle. When those results don’t magically appear, people are disappointed and say, ‘see it doesn’t work.’
When I asked Rosemary if permaculture worked, she said absolutely, she has seen it. She has spent most of her time in the harshest places on the planet; places where the miracle isn’t ultimate abundance. The miracle is merely having more today than you had yesterday and having reasonable assurance that it can continue for the foreseeable future. Places where a little more calories means the difference between starving or not. And in places like that, permaculture does work, it performs miracles.
Permaculture and the Forgotten People. Teaching Permaculture in Places that Absolutely Need It. A Message of Hope from Rosemary Morrow
- Beware of blind transfer of local techniques. Apply the appropriate solution in for the given location.
- Interplant and encourage the stuff that you want to dominate and come ahead. Let whatever is growing grow. If it is helping to further the cause you can let it go and then look to contain it later. At least you have something there and working which is better than a barren landscape that is weed free.
- We have lots of teacher. We need more designers. And designers indirectly become teachers through those that they interact with.
- Good teachers create the conditions for learning to happen.
- So much of permaculture’s spread is looking at what your neighbors do. So be an example neighbor.
- “It’s not me telling, it’s like directing a way to approach their land that they haven’t done before.”
- “Principal for landscape is perennials, then adapting locally.”
- “We need to get anything on here that grows.”
- “Anything that grows here with increasing winds and floods and droughts is going to be better than nothing at all, so maybe we have to change our thinking to let’s just get something there and we’ll deal with it later. Because there will always be a need for some timber or mulch, rather than wait to get it exactly right.”
- “You teach a course so each person’s potential can emerge through some part of permaculture.”
Social Permaculture – Caring for People
“A few people have commented that The Garden at the End of the World doesn’t show much permaculture, so I have been compelled to write this blog. It is true that Rosemary doesn’t get her hands into the soil and help the people grow food. However, in fact, the film is full of permaculture – although it is not the permaculture that most people are familiar with.
The Garden at the End of the World’s primary theme is the effect of war on the women and children of Afghanistan, but the film also documents the pioneering of permaculture in Afghanistan, focusing on the integral first stages of re-building permanent social and ecological systems. For Rosemary Morrow, this ‘pioneer’ work is driven by, what she calls, Social Permaculture.”
[blockquote cite=”Rosemary Morrow” type=”center”]”It’s not me telling, it’s like directing a way to approach their land that they haven’t done before.“[/blockquote]
Books by Rosemary Morrow:
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