By MELANIE FURMAN
Special to the Driftwood
My 13-year-old son and I recently returned from three and a half months in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, where we were visiting family and friends as well as learning about the rich cultures and extraordinary people.
I had lived and worked in Zimbabwe for a local NGO 15 years ago, so this was also time for me to check in with Kufunda Learning Village and reunite and volunteer with my old friends in their community-building and land-restoration work.
I was welcomed back as if no time had passed. The community has grown strong. A Kindergarten to Grade 7 Waldorf-inspired school is busy with 40 or so students, and the biodynamic gardens are flourishing, feeding the community and selling food baskets (including local honey, jams, soap, sauerkraut, raw cows’ milk, herbal teas and sourdough bread). The leadership team is now teaching resiliency and leadership skills to more than 20 communities, and the teens that were babies when I lived there are now teaching their own youth-empowerment workshops to their peers.
And all this in the face of a military coup in 2017 setting the stage for a new dictator, one of the highest inflation rates in the world for a record 18 years, high levels of corruption, and years of drought due to climate catastrophe.
The connections and adaptive strategies Kufunda teach and practise not only shine within the community but in the land as well. Where there once was scraggly fields of sand for soil, there is now large Msasa trees, inhabited by a diversity of birds and butterflies, grass for the dairy cows, and bushbabies and squirrels enjoying shade.
My greatest joy was connecting with the children, whose parents I have been friends with for over 15 years. One day we went to a children’s cultural festival where they and about 15 other schools performed dance, music and theatre. When the kids observed the traditional dances and music, mainly marimba and mbira (a 24-key thumb piano traditional to the Shona people of Zimbabwe), the Kufunda kids went wild with excitement, wanting to learn and play themselves. I told them I play mbira and our destinies were set.
They would come to my small hut every day after school to learn. Especially Owen, Natalie and Chiedza. Thanks to funds donated by the Salt Spring Marimba Band, I commissioned three small mbiras to be made for the school. They told me no one at Kufunda knows how to play mbira. It felt awkward being a foreigner teaching the kids part of the heritage, but the adults encouraged me, knowing how vital their traditions and culture are.
Due to the continued passion of these kids to keep their traditions alive, Kufunda is hiring an mbira teacher to continue teaching them. He will come to the school and teach each class once a week.
We are now looking for funding for them to continue for at least a year. This is a cost of $2,500. It’s not much for the kids to carry on the traditions, something we in Canada have way more access to due to the Shona people sharing their music so generously with us in Canada for decades now.