Recently, Lieutenant Planet began a closed Facebook group, with a membership curated from a page of the same name, as well as from other environmental groups around the world. The hand-picked members are people that are passionate and/or prominent in their communities on matters concerning environmental/sustainability problems and their solutions. Environmental engineers, foresters, EPA staff-members, sustainability students/teachers, and activists abound. Within the budding campaign of getting people onboarded one-by-one, there was a permaculturist that has done some amazing work in Kenya and was happy for the opportunity to reach out, which sparked an agreeable conversation and provided insight to the environmental problems and solutions in another part of the world.
Paul Odiwuor Ogola, 36, was originally an artisan blacksmith, but due to the pressures of climate change and extreme poverty in his area, is now a permaculture teacher and designer in Homabay county, Kenya, in the southwestern part of Kawiya village. The village has a population of about 1,800 people, and is relatively isolated. Fresh water for drinking and agriculture is hard to come by in the area, which in turn made food scarce as well.
Paul had the chance, through a scholarship, to attend permaculture classes. He graduated as a permaculture teacher and designer, and brought his knowledge home. There he coordinates the Permoafrica-Centre, a decentralized permaculture and organic farming project dedicated to spreading the permaculture knowledge and techniques for the betterment of the community.
Permaculture is the design and development of sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems. The focus is on using less resources, like water, to produce more crops. There is also a focus on the environmental revitalization of the surrounding area- this helps to promote nutrients in the soil, pollinator populations, etc.
An approved Community Based Organization with the Kenyan Government, Permoafrica-Centre is not only a community of farmers, but of teachers and students. The organization has now touched 12 different villages with a total of 250 farmers that have been taught concepts in permaculture design and maintenance.
The challenges have been numerous. The relative isolation of the areas in question, as well as low levels of outside investment and high levels of internal poverty, make growth an uphill battle. But the official participatory commitments of the Permoafrica-Centre for its farmers, students, and teachers set the stage for success:
- Treating all people with respect, dignity and fairness.
- Taking both personal and group responsibility including: being accountable for our actions, measuring and sharing our contribution to the community, making and keeping commitments.
- Demonstrating openness, honesty, clarity, good faith and integrity in all our communications and encouraging shared leadership in our community.
- A participatory decision-making and conflict resolution process.
The Permoafrica-Centre initiative has touched many young lives through the education of permaculture and basic life skills in an environment that fosters healthy communication and togetherness. Through the organization, students can also learn techniques in basketry, blacksmithing, pottery, tailoring, fishing, beekeeping, and more. In this way, the initiative helps to support entire communities of people with trade skills and access to fresh food.
Paul’s story is one of risk that came with great reward for his community. He left his job and home in search of something that could help, and when he found it, he came back and put it to good use, enriching the lives of everyone around him. I can only hope Lieutenant Planet might be able to some good as Paul has done in Kenya.
If you are interested in learning more, Permoafrica-Centre now has an official website! In it, you can meet the people involved, see their photo gallery, and learn about their teaching programs. You can also offer much-needed support for permaculture teachers, life-skill teachers, and the ongoing needs of an expanding farming program that is helping to feed thousands of people in an impoverished area.