He owns this story

At the very heart of it, development is about individuals and their stories of the journeys they took. I had the pleasure recently of having someone share their journey with me, and this is his story – and as he told me, he owns this story.

Like any of the 300,000 young people leaving school each year in rural Zimbabwe, Themba had very few prospects. He heard about Ebenezer college from a friend and went to apply, and was happy to be part of the very first intake with other young people from nearby villages.

Interviewing Themba at the beginning of his training, his tutor wrote that Themba’s main ambition was to be able to help his father to feed the family, and maybe one day a family of his own. Over the next two years at the college Themba’s time was split mainly between conservation farming training, bible classes and work on his own 30X100m plot of land where he produced cabbages, tomatoes and maize. The college assisted him to transport his produce to the market, and from his earnings he paid a 20% admin fee to the college.

Corn-FarmerIn addition, as required Themba did 6hrs of voluntary community service in his village each week. For probably the first time he started to see other people’s needs, and with his 6 friends at Ebenezer they started to discuss what they can do. One of the guys paid fees for local aids orphans – at US$1 each, this was not a lot.  Someone else wanted to help former classmates who now spent their time drinking local beer and hanging about. Themba felt he needed to assist in the local church and he approached the pastor who was very happy to receive help. Soon he had extra responsibility at church and his mentor noted quietly that Themba had lengthened his working day to enable him to earn more and serve the community better. He duly agreed to extend Themba’s plot to allow him to increase production.

At Themba’s exit interview from Ebenezer his tutor wrote of the huge vision of the young man who now wanted a whole lot more than just to assist his father to feed the family. Not long after Themba went back home, the local chief approached Ebenezer College and asked if he could bring all the local young men in his ward to Ebenezer. His words were particularly encouraging, he said ‘for many years I have been approached by outsiders wanting to implement one project or another. Our people have become used to this, and some have even come to expect such assistance. But when our own children start to look after aids orphans and give freely to the widows, then the village takes note. Even those who are used to asking for help are challenged and start to do some work for themselves’.

Ebenezer’s first intake of 40 young people all earned enough  from agricultural production to pay their fees, (which the college recycles to take in more students) cover input costs, and have something left over to start their own enterprise. The cost of the program, the impact on the villages, and the sustainability would give any World Bank program a run for its money. Now, this is what I call development.

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