You Don’t Have to Dream It, You Can Do it! Take a Certified 72-hour Permaculture Design Course in Konso, Ethiopia


The ‘master plan’ concept is alive and well in Ethiopia – allowing low-income
locals to have their permaculture training subsidised through the tuition fees
of western students, who in turn benefit from indigenous wisdom
and exciting cultural immersion

This PDC will take place in Konso, south Ethiopia, from October 17 – 30th, 2011, at Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge. It will have a special focus on the application of Permaculture to rural African communities where the successful application of PC is a way to develop long term food security and community empowerment.

Facilitators: Rhamis Kent, Tichafa Makovere, Alex McCausland
Dates: October 17th to 30th
Location: Konso, South Ethiopia
Venue: Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge
Cost: US$1000
Includes: Course fees, food and accommodation for the period of the course
Excludes: Transport, accommodation in Addis, travel insurance etc.

Download Course Info and Application Form: Word doc (400kb) or PDF (130kb), and read on below for more….

The Course

This PDC will be lead by Rhamis Kent, a certified trainer for the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) of Australia, who joins forces with our regular team; veteran facilitator, Tichafa Makovere (SIED), of Zimbabwe, and Alex McCausland, Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge’s director. Rhamis’ experience of applying PC in the technologically advanced western setting, complemented by his background in advanced technical engineering, joins forces with Tichafa’s local knowledge and traditional African wisdom to produce a team which covers the needs of those looking to practice permaculture across the spectrum of conditions. This PDC is however of particular relevance for those interested in rural development and indigenous communities in Africa and the wider third world. The focus is on appropriate technology, soil and water harvesting, indigenous knowledge systems and permaculture in schools. Schools are a key focus point for the communities and a chance to influence the coming generation to shift away from the mentality of dependence on aid towards self sufficiency and sustainable resource use.

The Facilitators

Rhamis Kent: Rhamis is a consultant with formal training in mechanical engineering (University of Delaware, B.S.M.E. ’95) and Permaculture-based regenerative whole systems design. He has previously worked for the renowned American inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen at DEKA R & D for almost 3 years, with subsequent engineering work ranging from medical device research and development to aerospace oriented mechanical design. After taking an interest in the design science of Permaculture, he sought extended training with Permaculture expert and educator Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. This led to his involvement with design work connected to the development of Masdar City in UAE after Mr. Lawton and his consulting company (Permaculture Sustainable Consultancy Pty. Ltd.) were contracted by AECOM/EDAW to identify solutions which fit the challenging zero emissions/carbon neutral design constraint of the project.

Rhamis recently lectured at Schumacher College (named after the influential economic thinker E.F. Schumacher) in Totnes, Devon UK about the application of Permaculture in post-industrial Detroit:

www.permaculturenews.org/2010/08/24/permaculture-and-society-a-look-at-the-example-of-detroit

He is presently consulting with a delegation of Somali expatriates initiating ecological restoration and education work in Northern Somalia.

Given the rapidly growing interest in sustainable development, Mr. Kent hopes to bring to the attention of the investment community an aspect of the emerging sustainable economy that has yet to be seriously considered for significant financial support — Earth Repair/Ecosystem Restoration Work (ERW) and regenerative design.

Rhamis completed his Permaculture Design Course, Permaculture Aid Worker, Permaculture Teacher Training, Permaculture Earthworks, and 10-week internship at Zaytuna Farm in 2009. He has since taught PDCs in the U.S. and Palestine.

Tichafa Makovere: Tichafa grew up in a marginalised farming community in Shurugwe, Zimbabwe. He has developed a career in education over 30 years, including 20 years as a successful headmaster in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana. In June 1994 he took a PDC at the Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre in Zimbabwe sponsored by the SCOPE (Permaculture in Schools and Colleges Outreach) Program. He went on to take first prize for best implementing school nationally, in 1995. He sat as secretary of the Permaculture Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) for 2 years from 1994 – 1996 and subsequently as chair person from 1996 – 1998. He took the Training of Trainers Course and become the official lead facilitator for the SCOPE Program in 2001. His activities as a SCOPE, and more latterly ReSCOPE, have included: Drawing up 1-week and 2-week programs for SCOPE have included facilitating at both 1-week and 2-week workshops; producing training materials and handouts, making follow-up visits to schools; participation on the curriculum, training and fundraising committees for the advancement of Permaculture in Zimbabwean schools; attending and contributing to Permaculture planning workshops, reviewing and monitoring workshops for expansion of Permaculture in schools in 66 districts of Zimbabwe, representing SCOPE at international fora e.g. Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa (EEASA) and reviewing books on Permaculture before they were published e.g. SCOPE Learners Book [on Permaculture for primary and secondary schools].

In November 2008 Tichafa travelled to Ethiopia and took up the role of Resident PC Facilitator and Farm Manager for Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge in Konso, where he has to date facilitated a total of 17 PDCs. He subsequently went on to spear-head the formation of the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project working in partnership with various NGOs as well as SFEL itself. In June 2010 Tichafa formed his own independent consultancy, Shumba Integrated Eco Designs (SIED) and handed management of the model farm at Strawberry Fields over to Alex McCausland, SFEL’s Director.

Alex McCausland: Alex is developing as a Permaculture practitioner and trainer. His lifelong passion for ecology and the allowed him to excel in school and at university in that area. But, having graduated with a BSc in Biological Sciences in 2003, he became disillusioned the reductionist science and turned his back on academia. He dedicated two years to travelling the world, WOOFing, working on farms and learning about cultures and languages, during which time he became interested in development and food security issues. In 2005 he heard about Permaculture and realised it combined the holistic aspects of ecology which he had been so fascinated with the practical orientation and community empowerment that the academic approach completely lacked. He dreamed up a plan to establish a project which would promote Permaculture as a means to achieve sustainable development in the third world. The next year he came across Ethiopia, seeing a land of great ecological wealth and yet economic poverty and food insecurity, he resolved that this would be the location for the project. He took his first PDC later that year in Catalunya, Spain.

In 2007 he returned to Ethiopia to establish a viable Permaculture–based business which would facilitate the local community to learn about and practice PC. It ended up being an Eco Lodge in the South of the country, which went on to become the site for Ethiopia’s first model PC farm. Unable to think of a better name for it at the critical time, it ended up being called Strawberry Fields. The model farm has developed with input from a number of volunteers, interns and PC practitioners, such as Guy Rees, Dan Palmer and Tichafa. Working alongside these people Alex has developed and honed his skills as a PC designer and practitioner over the last 3 years. During this time the project has hosted a total of 19 PDCs to date, 2 lead by Rosemary Morrow and 17 by Tichafa. Alex took over the running of the demonstration farm in June and has designed and developed systems such as drip irrigation and terraced vegetable beds, black water, composting and compost powered water heating. Alex will explain and demonstrate some of these systems as part of his contribution to the PDC.

The Venue: Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge (SFEL)

The venue for the PDC will be Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge, the first working PC demonstration site in Ethiopia, where a model design has been established over the last 3½ years on degraded land to incorporate elements such as drip irrigation, grey and black water re-use, composting toilets, hot composting, tree nursery and solar fridge, solar power, solar shower and much more.

SFEL integrates an Eco-Lodge, model PC farm, an organic restaurant, a PC design training facility and runs a program of trekking and community based cultural activities in Konso. SFEL’s project objectives are to promote alternative livelihoods for the Konso community through facilitating community inclusion in eco-tourism activities, and to promote food security locally and more widely in Ethiopia, through Permaculture. SFEL employs 20 permanent staff and up to 30 temporary workers seasonally.

Location: Konso, SNNPRS, Ethiopia

For interesting articles shedding more light on the location and its people, see Alex’s author profile.

Konso Woreda is in the South Ethiopian Great Rift Valley (situated at 5’15’ N 37’30’ E). Konso’s capital, Karat-Konso, is at 1600m altitude, located 85km south of Arba Minch, and around 590km south of Addis Ababa. The Konso people have a unique culture, based on sedentary mixed agriculture, which distinguishes them from their neighbours in the lowlands to the east and west who are pastoralists. Their intensely social mode of life and love of hard physical labour is unique in Ethiopia. Their villages are remarkable for the beauty and simplicity of their workmanship, constructed entirely of natural materials, cultivated or gathered from the surroundings, and ringed by massive dry-stone walls, at least a meter thick and two meters high. Stone-lined pavements run between the housing compounds and the stones have often become polished to a shine by long years of service in the village’s transport system.

Konso’s agricultural system is renowned for its terracing, which has been constructed over large areas of the rugged landscape by centuries of communal labour. The terraces are crafted to balance maximum infiltration of rain water, with adequate drainage in times of deluge so they don’t collapse. They are planted with sorghum, intercropped with a range of other species; including trees, Moringa stenopetala (also called the cabbage tree) Terminalia birowni, and Cordia africana; shrubs such as pigeon pea, coffee and chat (Catha edulis) (a cash crop) and annuals including sunflowers, maize, millet, chick peas, various bean species, cotton and cassava. The terraces are fertilised with wastes from the villages including partially burned plant residues mixed with animal dung, which acts to keep the soil fertile.

The Permaculture in Konso Schools Project (PKSP)

Today Konso suffers increasingly frequent food insecurity due to climate change. The UNDP’s Rapid Assessment Report: Konso Special Wereda, SNNPR (1999) states that; “since the 1950s, drought induced famines have hit Konso and the immediate area almost once every ten years.” “Konso was devastated by the droughts in 1973/74 and 1983/84”. In 2008/9 Konso was again suffering food shortage due to droughts.

The PKSP seeks to preserve aspects of indigenous (agri)culture which benefit the local ecology, but fill gaps in the traditional system by incorporating new practises, ideas and resources such as rain-water harvesting, small scale irrigation, nutrition gardens, tree nurseries, small livestock, appropriate labour-saving design-technology, alternative energy and nutrients based on locally available resources.

To date teachers from 8 schools have been trained in Permaculture and produced PC designs for their school compounds. From those, three schools have produced impressive model PC sites under the pilot phase of the project. The PKSP is eventually looking to expand to all 70 schools in Konso with likely support from the UK-based Ethiopia Permaculture Foundation. Visits to the school model sites will be included as part of the PDC.

Download Course Info and Application Form: Word doc (400kb) or PDF (130kb)

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3 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Dream It, You Can Do it! Take a Certified 72-hour Permaculture Design Course in Konso, Ethiopia

  1. I recently completed a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Strawberry Fields with Steve Cran as our instructor. It was an excellent course – Steve is a great teacher, coupling theory with a lot of hands-on practical experience.

    As background information, I have lived in Uganda for seven years and am a veteran of village-type settings and accommodation. I am not usually a whistle-blower, but in this case, I must speak out from my/our experience, i.e., the experience of the ten people who attended the PDC course with me in July 2011 at Strawberry Fields.

    One of the ethics of Permaculture is “care of people.” When one of our class members fell sick at the beginning of the course, she really suffered from prolonged diarrhea. Finally, she was diagnosed at the local clinic with Typhus, a condition spread by lice, ticks, and/or fleas found in bedding. Unfortunately, the proprietor of Strawberry Fields, and our host for the PDC, seemed paralyzed to do anything to address the conditions of her room which led her to being diagnosed with Typhus. He did not offer to change her bedsheets; he did not offer to fumigate her room; he did not offer to put her mattress outside in the sun; he did not offer to shift her to another room. Nothing!

    Then one by one, members of our class became ill with Typhoid. It seems that some kitchen staff had been diagnosed with Typhoid, but were still working in the kitchen and serving food. Typhoid is highly contagious, and anyone diagnosed with Typhoid should be forbidden from cooking or serving food. Likewise, the staff latrine should be quarantined, especially when it is close to the kitchen and dining area, as it is at Strawberry Fields. Unfortunately, this was not done at Strawberry Fields; all but two diehards succumbed to Typhoid or some other related bacteria, virus, or parasite.

    The day I left the course, our teacher was vomiting and struggling to be able to teach. Again, class members suggested ways that public health at the facility could be improved, but it seemed like the management was unable to address our concerns, and so “care of people” went unheeded. Finally, seven out of ten class members left the course early because of the lack of sanitation, poor public health management of the facility, and the seeming inability of the Host of the PDC to do anything to change the conditions.

    So, if you decide to sign up for Rhamis Kent’s class at Strawberry Fields, which will surely be a great class, make sure you go to Strawberry Fields with your eyes open – public health and sanitation are not well observed…and, this is the conclusion from someone who’s lived in Africa for seven years! Even the Africans attending our class were concerned about the poor level of hygiene and sanitation practiced at Strawberry Fields.

    So, Buyer Beware! Make sure you have your immunizations, and come with a full round of broad spectrum antibiotics to treat whatever intestinal disorder may attack you. If you’re told, as we were, that “This is Africa,” what I’m telling you is that Africa does not have to be this way. Permaculture teaches “care of people” as a core value and ethic, and the venue of a PDC should embody that and demonstrate how to live very simply, yet ensuring the public health of guests at an “Eco-Lodge.” That’s the Permaculture Way! As an Eco-Lodge and Permaculture Centre, Strawberry Fields has a long way to go. Buyer Beware!

  2. Alison,

    We are deeply sorry about the way things went on the course. You are right of course, we do have a long way to go. There are a lot of things that need improving and a lot of obstacles to overcome along the way. I really did all i could under the circumstances to deal with the situation. The circumstances were really very difficult for us. I am not saying there was no blame on our part. And that is why we have offered you all a refund. However I must say i am surprised at the fervency with which you have attacked us here. I can’t see that launching a campaign to publically rubbish our name is going to help us solve the issues as hand. And saying that I simply didn’t care about the situation is completely unfair.
    The typhoid issue is very important and you are correct to highlight it, and it is important that anybody coming to our courses is aware that there is a high risk of typhoid in our area – we should note that one of the participants was suffering typhoid the week before he came Strawberry Fields. As for the staff having typhoid; as soon as I was informed that Teddy was sick with typhoid, I immediately had him stop serving food or handling plates. He didn’t tell me that he had been sick, so what could i realistically have done about it before i was informed? Secondly, the moment i heard that Stephanie was sick I offered to take her to the clinic. But she refused. So what was I supposed to do? When she finally agreed to go to the clinic, a week later, we drove her there and paid for her treatment. Steve himself also wasn’t interested in a visit to the clinic. He preferred to use his own remedies. We should not that while Steve was sick the course continued as Tichafa was there to stand in and keep things going.
    Now as far as general sanitation is concerned it is true that we were caught un-prepared to cater for the large group of people for the long 30 day duration of the course. As you know we lost our receptionist in the first week of the PDC. We also lost Eddy who had been our volunteer coordinating intern for the past 6 months. If you recall our receptionist, Teddy, quit the job when i asked him to pay 10% of the cost of the solar equipment which he broke by plugging a power tool into our solar system. That really left us in a very difficult position. As well as having to rush to Arbaminch to buy new solar equipment so that you could charge your laptop, which you were very eager to see happen, I had to try and hire a new receptionist at the same time, as well as buying new mattresses for Robert and Jimmy who were not comfortable with our facilities (it seems clear to me that living standards in Uganda are far above those in Ethiopia, by the way), materials which Steve had not previously ordered but ordered after he arrived, kitchen materials, organising cement, sand, clay etc. For the schools project and so on. Basically it was a very difficult time and found ourselves with a total lack of support team having lost our receptionist and our best intern right at the beginning of the course. So i really feel you are being a bit hard on us.
    As you say, we have a long way to go. And we do. As a pioneering project we have had to build up from the bottom. And we have come a long way from where we started. We have achieved a lot both on our site and in the local schools with our Permaculture Project. Despite what you say about being accustomed to rural Africa, the conditions in south Ethiopia are not comparable to Uganda. Ethiopia is a country where people eat raw meat and the guy who chops up and serves the meat also collects the cash and gives you change composed of filthy notes smeared with the grease of the meat he has just served you. With such a lack of understanding of basic hygiene diseases like typhoid are endemic among the population. In Ethiopia people urinate openly in the streets. They spit in public. Pick their nose in public. They don’t wash with soap before eating (with their hands) and they also like to shake hands every time the meet. Do Ugandans have such habits? Can we really lump them into the same category of “village Africa”? Ethiopians are poorer, far worse educated and have never been exposed to the British colonial system. It’s not a place you can show up and expect not to get sick at some point. This is attested by the fact that Goose, one of the other participants, was sick with typhoid the week before the course and before he came to Strawberry Fields. Ever heard of “Delhi belly”? Well you got “Konso belly” and you are correct to say that anybody who comes to Konso should come fully prepared for that. That means you should have all your vaccinations before-hand, and bring a full medical kit as well as having health insurance, all of which was written in the information sheet that all of you received before you came.
    When i showed up in Ethiopia 4 years ago with a plan to start a Permaculture project in Konso, i had to start working with the conditions i found on the ground. And i got sick too. Now we have come a long way from there, if you don’t mind my saying, we have actually developed a pretty good compost toilet design which is far more hygienic than most local toilets, including flush toilets, which are generally filthy and in complete disrepair across the country except in the top tear hotels and in foreign aid projects. It is also obvious that Strawberry Fields is not an organisation with international backing nor does it have large resources. We have been struggling to create an effective system with limited resources (including both financial and human resources) in an extremely difficult environment and I frankly feel we deserve more credit than you give us for what we have achieved.
    We faced a series of unfortunate events during the course, some the result of poor organisation others which were un-avoidable, which lead to the situation you faced. I take full responsibility for that and have offered you a refund which you have not even acknowledged. I struggled endlessly for the duration of the time you were there to try and solve as many of the problems that arose as i could but it was not enough.
    On the other hand we have had a lot of constructive feedback from your group on how to move forwards and we are maintaining that momentum:
    Stephanie and Sam ran a sanitation workshop for our staff and left a series of recommendations for us on how to improve the sanitation to avoid the spread of infectious illnesses in future: using vinegar as a disinfectant and having separate buckets for cleaning in the different parts of the lodge – for toilets, showers, kitchen and bedrooms with colour coded cloths. We have bought the materials they recommended and have begun implementing the system of cleaning they showed us, as well as hiring as second cleaner and giving a pay raise to the first cleaner, who does a very good job, in-fact, and is one of our best workers (and we have told her so).
    We have also brought in a new receptionist, Ewnetu, who is doing fantastic, speaks good English, has experience working in Mombassa (which let’s face it, is a world away from Konso) and seems genuinely honest and very enthusiastic. It’s just a shame we didn’t have him during most of the course, if i could have arranged it, I would have done it, i swear by Allah, but that was not the way it worked out. Secondly we have now got Dawit, our new lodge manager, over-seeing house-keeping. He is a proficient and responsible guy who speaks English and has a good idea of western standards.
    Next we have already embarked on our program of room re-furbishing and No 1 is already complete: we have removed the wooden beds and put in mud-brick platforms which are rendered with Steve’s magic formula render and painted over with gypsum. The roofs are getting a dousing down with deasil on the inside – not very PC but then that is the most effective way we can think of getting rid of the bugs for the long term – and then we are covering the insides of the roofs with local material. We are also making new blankets and curtains from the local material. Externally and internally we are re-rendering the walls, blocking up all the gaps and painting on a slurry of cememt-gypsum over the render as you guys did on the school room. Fayisa has been inspired by his participation on the course and is going at the work with a vengeance.
    We have yet to begin implementing the new compost toilet designs which were suggested by Goose, but plan to get onto that ASAP, as soon as we are done with the rooms; starting with the staff toilet. In fact our current design of toilet, as with any composing toilet works very well if it is operated with discipline. And, since the workshop that Stephanie and Sam did they are working much better – though we do have to continuously follow up to remind the staff again and again, which our new domestic manager, Dawit, is doing. For the moment, we have dug new pits for the toilets that are too full and we implemented Jimmy’s suggestion of burning dry grass over the waste mass before covering over the pit.
    As for the light in the rooms, as you are well aware we installed a new solar system to provide light in the tukuls during the course. However it was not working because the battery was too small. We have now got a good battery and the lights in the rooms 1 to 5 are working well. We have not to sort out the other 4 rooms on ridge 2, which i have a plan for when i can get round to it.
    As you know we have a new kitchen which is half built. We are forging ahead with that now that we have the chance. We have put up the walls using the techniques that Steve suggested; a bamboo latticework rendered with clay, animal dung and gypsum. We are also going to add some chicken wire to make it stronger. We have modified the design of the stove that Steve built, as the cooks were complaining it used too much wood. Now that we have solved this issue the women are no longer staying in the old kitchen which is admittedly a sooty hovel that i have been trying to replace for a long time, but I just couldn’t get it done in time for your course. Apologies about that, though all agree the food was still generally good. And what’s more much of it came from our garden.
    I have also got a temporary solution for the water system, how we can get running water delivered to our kitchen using the materials we have without having to build any new infrastructure, so that will be achieved shortly. In the longer term we can build up the earth bag systems to store a good volume of rainwater. We have had great difficulty developing a system for large scale water storage to keep rainwater long term. This has been in part because of the huge capital outlay necessary to buy or construct large tanks. We will however endeavour to implement Steve’s suggestion of a network of earth-bag systems, once we have conclusively proved the technique really works in this environment. The tank we built at Gocha Primary School is going to need some tweaking before it works effectively. So i also have to follow up on that.
    In short we are working hard on remedying all the problems. Rome was not built in a day. We do have a long way to go and we are going for it. If you are really keen to see us develop, why don’t you help us rather than making things more difficult for us. Stephanie and Sam ran a sanitation workshop for us. They got sick on the course too, but they didn’t respond by trying to destroy our business. Is that not a better example of “Care for People”?
    Now we have assembled a much better operational team and things are really moving. Let’s hope the budget holds out. Now the tourist high season is here and we are not broke like we were for the previous 3 months before the course you took. Anyway, Alison your points are well taken, we apologise and are actively working on real solutions using your groups’ constructive recommendations as guidelines. As Steve said, we all learned a lot from this course. If you are not happy with the outcomes or the experience we are happy to offer you a refund.

    Regards, Alex

  3. Alison,

    Nice to see that you are highlighting these issues here as you have been in other places. However I feel that your portrayal of the situation is A) one-sided and completely unfair and B) out of line with Permaculture principals.
    In Permaculture we believe in turning problems into solutions. You have highlighted these problems for us. However you don’t seem to be interested in a solution. In fact it seems more like you would prefer to see our business destroyed and our objective of training and implementing Permaculture in Ethiopia fail. I think that is callous and destructive and not how Christians were supposed to behave. You also declined to accept the refund we offered you since you were so dissatisfied with our living conditions. But have chosen instead a course of trying to rubbish our name on the internet with your exaggerated and inaccurate portrayal of the situation.
    To address your portrayal of the situation:
    – None of our kitchen staff were ever diagnosed with typhoid. That is a flat lie. Our receptionist was sick with typhoid the week before the course. As soon as we discovered that we stopped him serving food immediately. We should note that one of the other course participants was also sick with typhoid the week before the course before he had ever been near Strawberry Fields. There is no reason why he could not have been the source of contamination as he was interacting with the other participants more than any of our staff. That also demonstrates the fact that a) typhoid is common in south Ethiopia and b) anybody coming to the area should be vaccinated and should bring antibiotics with them (ciprofloxacin) in case they pick it up. We agree with you on that perfectly. We told you and all the other participants in our information sheet before you came to Ethiopia that you should have all necessary vaccinations and bring a medical kit.
    – Regarding Stephanie, the girl that was diagnosed with typhus. When i heard she was sick I immediately offered to take her to the clinic. She refused. The course of action that you suggest I should have taken – fumigating her room etc. – was not suggested as we didn’t know what she was sick with. She never suggested to us that she had been bitten by bed bugs or flees as you are inferring, so how would we conclude that her room needed to be fumigated? In fact we deliberately didn’t ask her to move out of her room when we had a large group of tourists come, because she was sick. When she didn’t recover after taking some remedies of her own we took her to the clinic and paid for her treatment. She could equally have picked up typhus by playing with the cat.
    – Stephanie was not the only student who got sick to refuse medical treatment. In fact Steve, the course trainer also refused treatment, and encouraged the students to do the same. I think it’s fair that if we are responsible for the general health of the class then the students should cooperate in getting treatment with the right diagnosis and the right medicine immediately so they don’t spread their infections to the rest of the class. This didn’t happen.
    – The students were also going to town to drink local brew in the meat houses where the locals eat raw-meat. We discouraged this but that was looked upon as though we were spoil-sports. These places are rife with typhoid as all the patrons are drunk, have dirty hands and eat raw meat with the same dirty hands and drink local brew from glasses which aren’t washed properly. The students seem to me more likely to have picked up typhoid here than at Strawberry Fields.
    You can put all of the blame on us if you like. I am not saying we have not got to improve our sanitation, we do and we are doing, but I feel that these points balance your story.
    Now to focus on solutions – solutions are what Permaculture is all about – the rest of your class made a series of constructive recommendations on how to improve hygiene, sanitation, accommodation and working conditions at SFEL, and we have been making use of the proceeds from the course to implement these changes, and are working on them right now. (Thanks for not accepting the refund as that has really helped us in this regard.) And you can follow our progress on our face book page (https://www.facebook.com/permalodge).
    Our approach to the issue of development has been to build up from the bottom. We accepted to live a local standard of living so that we can improve that standard in a way that is meaningful to the local community: IE If we can do it, they can too. And that is what we are doing. Steve has really taught us a lot on how to move forwards in that regard and the other students, especially Goose and Stephanie gave us a lot of helpful advice on how to improve things both in terms of infrastructure and operationally. Accordingly we have outlined the following schedule of tasks and are working through them (you can follow our progress on the face-book page.
    Room refurbishments
    – Dousing the grass roofs with diesel on the interior to repel insects. The smell dissipates after a day or two but the effect lasts for months. STATUS: done
    – Re-rendering walls to seal all gaps and craters that may house insects and painting inside and out with gypsum which also repels insects. STATUS: Nearly done.
    – Replacing the wooden beds with mud-brick platforms filled with sand and rendered over and painted with gypsum. STATUS: Done on 2 of 11 rooms, in progress.
    – We have installed a new solar system to give light in rooms 1 to 5 and are now purchasing an inverter so there will be 240V sockets in the rooms as-well. STATUS: Part complete, part planned.
    New Kitchen
    – Building a new range with chimney so that smoke does not affect the health of the kitchen staff STATUS: Done
    – Get running water into the kitchen with a convenient hand so that staff can wash hands more conveniently. STATUS: In progress – pipes are now in place and we have attached temporary fittings. The sinks can be fitted once the walls are rendered.
    – Build a facility for heating water for the kichen using exhaust heat from the range. STATUS: Planned and materials prepared, can proceed once other jobs are done.
    – Fit doors and windows and render the walls of the new kichen. STATUS: In progress, nearly complete.
    – Build new furniture for the kichen; work surfaces etc. STATUS: Planned and materials prepared.
    Toilets and Sanitation
    – We have a new compost toilet design that was suggested by Glen “Goose” McGrath who took the course and is a professional compost toilet builder. We have purchased the materials to build this design and will use the prototype for our new staff toilet at a new location more remote from the kichen, behind our tree nursery. The other guest toilets are all functioning perfectly adequately, we have dug new pits and the design works fine as long as the operational procedure is followed and they are cleaned regularly, which they are. The problem with the staff toilet comes from the difficulty the staff have in grasping the concept of how it works, which stems from poor education and a general complete lack of toilet discipline in Ethiopia generally. STATUS: Planned and materials ready.
    – Stephanie and Sam, two on the course participants ran a sanitation workshop for our staff before they left. They demonstrated using vinegar as a natural disinfectant and recommended we use different colour coded buckets and cloths for washing the toilets, showers, rooms and the kitchen. We have now bought these materials the cleaners are implementing their system effectively. We have also hired a second cleaner. STATUS: Working.
    Staff and Management
    – We have hired a new receptionist and a new lodge manager for the high season. They are both proficient in English, well educated and have experience working in the service industry.
    – We have hired a new cook, Mirco, from Italy. He has revolutionised the management of the kichen to make the cooking much less work-intensive. This has taken a lot of work-burden off Semira, my wife, so she is also happier and more effective.
    – We have written a new operational code on the advice of Stephanie, and begun a program of weekly staff meetings with rewards for good performance to encourage better staff motivation and a spirit of teamwork. This is paying great dividends on staff moral.
    Over all I feel, Alison, that we have taken on board your concerns, and those of the other students on the course who got sick. We are not claiming that everything was perfect. That is why we offered you a refund. You didn’t acknowledge that but preferred instead to go on a crusade to destroy our name. We however will turn this problem into a positive solution and an opportunity for progress. This is a chance the build on the course outcomes, the ideas and advice of the participants who encountered the same or worse problems than you did but had something positive to offer in response. It is clear that some people will obviously never be satisfied with the general standard of living in Ethiopia any way. We have adapted to those conditions and are now building up from that base of the local life-style. It is sometimes a shock for westerners coming into these conditions to be faced with them. That is why people coming should take all due precautions. Still I think that what we are doing is a far better way to approach development for communities than building western-style compounds with all the modern mod cons that you have been demanding while the locals around you live as a different species. And I think we deserve a chance to keep moving forwards without being slagged-off slandered like this.
    What is really important to us is that our project has grown and will continue to grow by the input of the various different volunteers, guests and course participants that come to put their energy, ideas and skills into the place to build a real working example of Permaculture in the heart of food-insecure south Ethiopia. That is not just for us either but also for the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project which we have established in ten primary schools around Konso over the last 3 years. I can’t see what you hope to achieve by destroying our reputation here.

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