Konso is a small ethnic-homeland in the southern Ethiopian Rift Valley, covering around 2300 km2, ranging in altitude from 800 to 2200 meters, with its main agricultural zone between 1400 and 2000 meters. The Konso people employ a unique mixed agriculture based on dry wall terracing (Engels and Goettsch 1999). Today Konso suffers increasingly from food insecurity due to climate change. Land use systems in Ethiopia tend to mono-culture and cash-profit orientation, usually at the expense of sustainability. This has lead to wide-scale land degradation; deforestation, over-grazing, soil erosion and loss of biodiversity, leading to social and economic impoverishment and food insecurity in the rural population of many areas. Land degradation feeds back into climate change as degraded ecosystems loose capacity for self regulation.
Permaculture (PC) is a methodology for designing diverse and robust systems for food production, which collaborate with nature, rather than work against it. PC yields for human needs, generates income and benefits the ecology (soil fertility, water purity, biodiversity) of the land, addressing both productivity and environmental degradation at once. PC seeks to preserve aspects of indigenous (agri)culture which benefit ecosystems, but fills gaps in traditional systems by incorporating new practices, ideas and resources. PC integrates ecological agriculture, rain-water harvesting, soil and water conservation, small scale irrigation, nutrition gardens, tree nurseries, small livestock, appropriate labour-saving design-technology, alternative energy and nutrients based on locally available resources.
Our projects empower schools and their communities in Konso by giving them an effective process for participatory design of their grounds for productive and sustainable land use. In addition, the project impacts relevant areas of the school curricula, further strengthening the capacity of the schools and their surrounding communities to rehabilitate and sustainably management their environmental resources.
Volunteering is not a Holiday! Our organisation serves three kinds of people: Firstly and foremost, the local community – the decent hardworking folk of Konso, who live a life of constant toil and hardship in the arid basalt hills of Konso in the Great Rift Valley. They built the company by their hands and their sweat, and it is an asset of their community. Secondly, there are the tourists who come to sit around and indulge themselves in a haven of peace and stunning scenery (and empty their pockets to benefit our project and its objectives). Then there are the volunteers, who come to put skills and energy into the project, to help us with what work needs to be done on the ground, be it administrative, labour, skilled trades, training for local people, teaching or whatever the volunteer has to contribute.
Volunteering is not a way to get a cheap holiday. We accommodate you at a cheap rate in order that you contribute to the project’s objectives. We ask a fee of £50 per week to cover your living expenses and help keep the project ticking over (US£25 for long-stay – 3 months or longer). Lastly there are the tourist who come to sit about and enjoy themselves. They contribute by paying more money than the volunteers, so the volunteers must work to make up the difference.
Half Volunteering: Full volunteers are expected to work 8 hours per day, 6 days per week. Alternatively there is a second option of half volunteering under which volunteers work 4 hours per day, but pay £100 per week (£50 for long-stay).
What do Volunteers do? Volunteers can do a number of activities which help to support the project and further its objectives of promoting local community development and empowerment through the furtherance of education and the promotion of Permacutlure. Activities may include the following:
- Teaching English language (or other subjects if you have special skills or experience) to local kids and community members, either one on one, or we could arrange for you to lead classes in the local secondary school
- Giving football training to/playing football with a local youth club
- Assisting with the operation of our on-site farm
- Assisting with our implementation programs in local primary schools
- Assisting with on-going construction and maintenance tasks on the project site
- Developing their own mini-projects: (e.g. solar-cooker construction, wood saving stoves, compost toilet designs etc - developing appropriate technology for the local situation which can be replicated and promoted locally.)
Preparation: Remember life is tough in Konso. That is why we are there. So you should take every precaution to safeguard yourself from potential problems before you come. There are few to no doctors available locally, and clinics are not (really) up to western standards. There are often food shortages in the local community and infrastructure is poor with frequent power cuts and unreliable communications (however, there no violence and you will never be harmed by anyone in Ethiopia).
Appropriate clothing: Social norms in Africa are not the same as in Europe, America or Saudi Arabia. Society is somewhat liberal, but also some-what conservative. Women in particular should dress appropriately, covering the shoulders and the legs to below the knee. You are not expected to cover heads or faces in any place in Ethiopia (except for inside religious buildings), but please do not wear short-shorts! Respecting local custom is critical to our status within the community.
Vaccinations and Travel Insurance: Before coming you should arrange your own travel insurance and make sure that it covers you to undertake all activities such as working on farms, adventure tourism, wilderness trekking, using power tools or any other conceivable activities that you may be doing while in Konso. You should also consult your doctor/physician about what vaccinations you should receive before coming. Yellow fever is present in certain parts of Ethiopia and getting a rabies jab may also be wise. We have a cat on the site and there are mad dogs and foxes in Konso. You would be well advised to bring along whatever medical supplies you may need including emergency first aid materials. Malaria is present in the Konso area, though it is not high risk, you are recommended to bring prophylactics – malarone is best.
What to Bring: We also strongly recommend you to bring the following:
- Cash: We recommend you to bring at least US$200 per month worth of spare cash per month (or travelers cheques) with you, in case you need it for emergencies. Ethiopia is pretty cheap; Budget travel around the country can be done on as little as US$10-20 per day. But if you want to go on tours and things it will cost a lot more.
- Medical Kit: plasters, bandages, iodine, gloves, syringe, painkillers, anti-malarials etc.
- Toiletries: sun cream for the white skins, mosquito repellent, soap etc. but don’t bring lots of unnecessary plastic bottles with you please
- Mosquito Net
- Compass (NSEW type)
- Foot-wear: Sandals, shoes and boots may all come in useful while you are in Ethiopia due to the very large range of climactic conditions that exist
- Sleeping bag: with liner. The liner may be just as useful as the bag
- Clothes: long and short, wet and dry, hot and cold (but not too much cold)
- Stationary: note book, pen, pencil, ruler, coloured pens, compasses, etc.
- Books: Any interesting books you can bring along to share with us will be much appreciated. Other titles or magazines will also come in useful. If you feel generous perhaps you would like to photocopy some material and donate it to the schools.
- Seeds: We have a limited range of species available to us here at the moment, but from what we have got there are some surprising results. Pumpkins, lettuce and carrots grow remarkably well. If you have any seed of different varieties or species you would like to try out, bring them along. You could be providing a new food-source for the local population. And we don’t know what’s really going to thrive till we whack it in the ground! But be a bit discreet about it as there are regulations on taking seeds across borders
- Insurance. Please get your own international travel insurance to cover you for all the activities you will be undertaking at Strawberry Fields – evacuation and repatriation included. Ethiopian insurance companies’ payouts are negligible, so even though we cover you here, a lost an eye would result in a payout of a couple of hundred dollars, so no real compensation.
- Visas: You do not need to inform your Ethiopian embassy that you are coming as a volunteer (especially not is you are in the US!). Since you are coming to an eco-lodge and paying a weekly fee to stay with us you are effectively a tourist. This will make things easier in dealing with the monumental bureaucracy this unfortunate society chooses to burden itself with. So you are a tourist not a volunteer as far as the immigration is concerned. You can get a 6 month tourist visa from your Ethiopian Embassy, or a 3 month visa on arrival in Addis Ababa Bole Airport.
Arrival in Konso: Finding the lodge. We are about 400 meters out of town on the Arba Minch road. The lodge looks like a Konso village. But it is the only one you can clearly see on the way into town, so that is not a village, it’s the lodge. If you are already in town, head west along the main road from the traffic circle going towards Green Hotel. When you reach Green Hotel take a right and go down the hill for about 400 meters. You will see it on your left hand side at the bottom, opposite the road construction camp.
- You will be expected to pay upon arrival in Addis Ababa for the duration of your stay.
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