Interview: Bram & Elias, Stijn & Mr. Kalima

 

 

For GKMT we do our interview a little different. We divide the three fixed parts of the interview this time. Because the foundation with four large, mostly individual projects works, we asked for Part I two people to tell their stories about the project they are at home: Stijn Geijbels, Elias and Bram Sol.

For Parts II and III, on development and imaging, we spoke mr. Kalima, CEO for GCMF.

Part Ia: Stijn and Elias

 

Stijn Gijbels left three years ago with his girlfriend Kathleen from Leuven to Zambia. Together they worked almost two years GCMF. During this employment, he put itself in the redesign of the Ibala project. And successfully. The project is now in its second year Ibenga busy and led by Stijn and GCMF found the right formula. Stijn and Kathleen are now busy with their own project Ibenga: set up an income-generating guesthouse for the nearby hospital, under the name Kamutamba. Stijn and headteacher Elias we talk about the Ibala branch of GCMF.

 

 

An interview with Stijn Geijbels and Elias on the Ibala-project:

 

 

I General Information

 

a. Can you shortly describe the genesis / history of the Ibala-project?

Stijn: Long before we came towards Zambia three years ago, there has been a plan within GCMF for an agricultural school, under the name Ibala. This set-up, led by the current secretary of GCMF Wim Mensink, ultimately was not very successful. Initially there was a lot done in a short time, but then the appropriate follow-up was not there. After our arrival in Zambia, we started thinking about a sustainable design for this agricultural training.

A major problem was to hold on to students for long periods of time. Together with Elias came to an approach in which the participants have to pay registration- and course fees. This makes the threshold higher in first instance, and the commitment eventually larger. The course participants get back their fees in the form of all the materials they need for their farming: wheelbarrows, shovels, but also the seeds for crops. So basically the course is "free."

Ibala is now a three-year curriculum, based on what we would call active learning in Europe. The students come in to the school one day a week, where they grow crops together on the school lands. The first year the emphasis is on the basis of organic farming and crop-rotation, on the ground near the school. In this first year everyone also starts with an Ibala-field at their home. In the second year, students work only on this private land that they cultivate at home on their farm according to our rules. We monitor these plots than in the student’s home, as a kind of homework. The profits from this land comes to their own benefits of course! In this way, they recognize the value of our methods more easily. The third year they are prepared for the final exam, which is purely practical. Show us your piece of land to see what we have taught you over the years!

The ultimate goal is to make the school self-sufficient. As I said, students get the tuition they pay back in the form of materials and crops. With this registration fee, we complement the income from the harvest at the school. Next year we get the first class who 'graduates' from our program. After the third year, we hope to be largely self-sufficient. The next step for the program, then, is the commercialization of agriculture. The production is now mostly for their own use, but we want to work towards a point in which they also go earn money through their organic farming. We want to achieve this through collectivization of their labor and through the deployment in processing the yields, so there is not much waste.

 

 

b. What has been the impact of the project since then, on the target group and local community and surroundings?

Elias: In Ibenga we are now in the second year of the first group of students. There have definitely been some drop-outs in this year. However, the group that is left, is absolutely convinced of our philosophy of agriculture. The greatest impact is perhaps that everything our students are learning is very transmissible. Now they are convinced of our organic, sustainable way of working, they can disseminate this knowledge. The greater the spill-over effect, the better.

 

 

c. What has motivated you, personally, to start your development project?

Stijn: I guess I'm a classic example of a Western adventurer. For years I had a thriving cafe in the center of Leuven and also a joinery company. I had a good life. But I still wanted to find adventure. Three years ago, we took the decision to go to Zambia.

I also have my own idea about development. The whole social aspect of development is not really for me. That development thus begins on a social scale, to me is a very Western perspective. In our world 90% of the people are economically comfortable, making the social more important. Here in Zambia it’s the other way around. I strongly believe that economic development is paramount. The best thing you can offer someone is a job, income, the ability to provide for its own existence. In that, I wanted to support. That's exactly what we do with the Ibala-project.

 

 

d. What is, according to you, the strongest point of the project?

Stijn: The power of Ibala lies in the fact that our students also work at home, from the start of their education, on their own land applying our methods. In Zambia it is very important that the students may soon see their benefits.

Elias: The short term, simply surviving here is very important. Now we have been able to implement in the training, that we take away this worry for the students, at least partially.

 

 

e. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / point of improvement for the project?

Elias: One of our greatest challenges is to keep the students coming. In the course of the program, there are always students dropping out, because the training is more work than they thought. Beware, education is for students not the only thing to do. It is not a priority. In this society, other matters come first. Therefore, we consciously only give training once a week. The dropping out of pupils remains a challenge, despite everything.

 

Another challenge is to convince some students. Some of the students are experienced farmers, who may have more than 30 years of working experience. It is very hard to change the minds of these people. They are often also very stubborn. But they didn’t enroll in the program for nothing, so usually this is okay.

 

Another challenge is the collection of the course fee. Sounds stupid, but many students say that they pay from the yields of the land the farm with our methods, so they will provide us the money in the future. But often we do not have much time, haha! Just a practical problem.

 

Part1b: Bram Sol

 

Bram Sol is engineer and manager of VTC project within GKMT. Bram was born and raised in Drenthe, but soon the Netherlands was too small for him. Bram graduated in Nicaragua and previously worked for 7 years in Chilli. In 2013 he met Ton Korsten, who had a vacancy for a building at the Vocational Training Center, a project of her organization GKMT in Mpongwe, Zambia. Soon, there was a link between Ton and Bram and he got the job. Meanwhile Bram's been in Mpongwe for 2 years, as manager of the VTC project. In the GCMF guesthouse we speak with Bram about his VTC.

 

 

An interview with Bram Sol:

 

I. General Information

a. Can you shortly describe the genesis / history of the VTC -project?

In 2010, the VTC project was launched under the banner of GCMF, coined by Ton and George Korsten. What they noticed during their visits to Zambia, was that there were loads of young people unemployed, and that there also were available only a few good professionals in Mpongwe. VTC is then additionally born out of necessity: the idea arose when there was a lot of trouble to find suitable workmen to build the guesthouse. This created the impression that it was important to the young people in Mpongwe to learn a trade, a skill.

 

In March 2011 a permit was obtained to acquire the land and to be allowed to build. Meanwhile, there was a command for the students at Hogeschool Zuyd in the Netherlands to create a design for the VTC, and a design was elected from the various entries. In November 2011 after they had started to build, there has been interfered fairly quickly because there was not built according to plan and with the wrong materials. Then there were some people brought in, (including a new manager and a construction team from Belgium), which have given the project a new impuls. Good concrete foundations were laid, rafters and thatched roofs were made, and all of sustainable local materials. At this point a new manager came in, and soon found that there were problems with the budget and permits. The project was so big that there really was an engineer needed. That is when I myself was taken in the project. Financially the project was much larger than had been budgeted, which was received with difficulty by the Dutch board of GCMF. At that time we decided the plans for the building can be divided into four phases. At present we have almost completed stage one, an important first step. After several attempts, we will start with the first students in September.

 

 

b. What has the impact of the project since then, on the target group and local community and surroundings?

The impact should absolutely not be underestimated so far, although there is not yet actually given education. Fourty construction workers who work for VTC and previously had no wages, suddenly all have money for their families. In addition, a very large, but less visible impact is that the land surrounding the project has soared in value. The county-council now makes new plans for all buildings in the area, all because the VTC stands here now! The project also has many general 'spillover' throughout Mpongwe. Partly thanks to GCMF, Mpongwe is really growing, Mpongwe is booming. Finally, there are also some small things: women and trainees who occasionally are able to work at VTC, the football team that I set up with the workers, they all have their impact here.

 

 

c. What has motivated you, personally, to start your development project?

Even though I had estimated it smaller when I applied, I saw the VTC in the first place as a true architectural challenge, a prestigious project for me as an engineer. It's also a sexy project, even for an outsider. Besides, I immediately had a good relationship with Ton, which I find important. When I came here once and found that there was hardly any something done architecturally, I got a little scared. By contrast, it is a thrill then also again when you notice that you have it all under control after some time. I think it's great that I can help people in Mpongwe my way, but my main motivation was therefore mainly the architectural challenge.

 

 

d. What is, according to you, the strongest point of the project?

Ton would say that the purpose of the education makes the project special! The "problem-based learning 'is something one does not know in Zambia yet, but it perfect in this community! In Zambia, education is still very classic and passive, but we give students a problem and let them solve it themselves. So this is something special in Zambia.

I personally think the architectural design of the project is very strong. The VTC is built entirely of local, sustainable materials. Basically these are all simple materials which get a lot of value added by how they are used. That is a very strong point for me.

 

e. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / point of improvement for the project?

Unfortunately, the biggest mistake is made long ago and is no longer to recover, and that is that it is unnecessary become much more expensive. Unfortunately, too soon people started with a weak foundation, and we have to let a real engineer take over. Maybe we all wanted something to quick. We still need to watch for this. The lesson is: do not run yourself over, led by blind ambition, but plan before you start something. I think this has been an important lesson for GCMF.

II. Development (aid) - north / south relations

 

For this part we speak with mr. Kalima . In 2001, he was already involved, when the projects were all church-based. When Ton actually saw what things she could do, she got a passion for the vulnerable and orphans. Kalima was then head teacher in a school. The school was not doing so good. Because in the beginning everything was church-based, Ton could not always work they way she wanted to. She decided to start her own foundation, GCMF.

As an active member of the community, Mr. Kalima got a seat in the Zambian board of GCMF. With mister Kalima we talk about development and the African image.

 

 

An interview with Mr. Kalima:

 

 

a. What is your idea on development?

Firstly, development should be for the people: change the mindset of people. More generally, Africa must also develop in many areas at once: animal welfare, infrastructure, tourism, health care, and so on. The personal and general developments go hand in hand.

 

b. There is a lot of Western organizations starting development projects in Africa. What is your general vision on this development-aid?

It depends on the way in which it has happened. You should not just give something some means without conditions, because there must be good things happening with these means. And if you simply give people more help, more means, they do not think about what they can do, how they should solve their own problems anymore! Africans may become very passive, they stop using their free mind. At the same time aid is too often also a hugely submitted to conditions (IMF's SAP’s for example). You can therefore give people help, but you must also give them a certain freedom to decide what to do with these means.

 

c. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for Western organizations that want to develop other / foreign communities?

That is finding a balance between freedom and supervision / guidance in supporting development in Africa. Give Africans freedom for initiative, but also make sure you keep an eye on the development, make sure it keeps on going in the right direction, monitor what happens with your help.

 

 

d. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for African's that want to develop their own communities?

The biggest obstacle for Africans to begin development is that many do not have the capital or other resources such as land. I think you always need some capital for this, and few Africans have this.

 

e. The In2Afrika Foundation takes the civil society as main principles, in which small scale and local practice are the two most important principles. What is your opinion on our starting point?

Locals appreciate what GCMF has done for their community. Now you see that the locals will involve management position within the organization, and anyway GCMF works with all locals and employees. Within VTC for example, the principle is that we only assume locals, provided we can find a suitable one. The guesthouse and the VTC have also the intention that they will be completely run by locals. I think this is a good approach, but it is also important that outsiders help the locals where it is still needed, where knowledge or resources are lacking.

 

 

III. Image of Africa

a. What is, according to you, the current prevailing Western image of the African continent?

Africa is still developing, and it is not comparable to your world. I think the most developed country would be South Africa, but also due to the strong foreign influence. I also believe that the image of Africa in the West is changing. Earlier, even before I was born, it was seen as a 'dark continent'. If you were to go there, you would not come back alive: you drowned, would be killed or eaten by a lion. Locals would attack all strangers. I think this is now considerably changing and has already changed. People know more and more and more about Africa, about the real Africa.

 

b. What's your opinion on these images?

The current image is much better than it used to be. There is also much more knowledge and insight into the continent of course. Many more people come here, and can convey a realistic image of our continent towards the Western world.

 

c. How should this image be changed?

We Africans have a reverse image of the West: that we are not fully accepted, that there is still a lot of racism. I have been to the Netherlands two times, and my experience is that this is not so bad, that it is especially a lack of knowledge. Small children sometimes found me scary, but just because they had never seen a black person before! This illustrates that if you somehow know nothing or too little of something, you will have a false picture of it. More and better knowledge of Africa in the West is very important for that reason.

 

d. What does the GCMF-project do to create an image of the project and of the African continent in general?

GCMF not discriminate, and everyone is welcome. People come from many different places and backgrounds, black and white, and we mix them in a good way. The best way to improve the image of our continent is to show people how it really works here. GCMF creates a place to see all this. Moreover, people appreciate the evolution that GCMF brings, and this automatically improves the image of Africa as the continent is evolving!