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Umoja Centre for Village Sustainability Story

Umoja Centre Story

A community center dedicated to rural livelihood—and the future of humanity.

Location: Bwabene Village, Nyamira County, Kenya (map it)

The Future Is In the Past

WE ARE MOST happy and fulfilled living in natural settings, participating in meaningful work, and relating to one another as family. Our understanding of development doesn’t really have to get more complicated than that.

But we know that it has and that this seemingly, simpler way of life has been dismissed (attacked, in some cases) in favor of technological, urbanized living with ever increasing levels of complexity that don't appear to have a correlation to the realization of human potential, or sustenance of vibrant community. In fact, evidence suggests the exact opposite.

54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050.
— U.N. Research

With the rapid escalation of environmental, political, and humanitarian crises around the world — and as ancient prophecies have long foretold — it is clear that our current industrial and consumption-based way of life is coming to the end of its due course. It has to. Without a fundamental change in our values, the way we conduct our human affairs, and relate to one another, the necessary planetary resources will not be available to sustain the human race for much longer.

If there is to be a future for humanity, it is going to be found in our past—in terms of cultivating the respect for Mother Nature and human dignity indigenous peoples throughout the world based entire cultures on, as well as undoing the physical and psychological trend of rural-urban migration.

The Umoja (trans. harmony) Centre for Village Sustainability (UCVS) is an experiment being conducted in the interest of humanity's immediate and long-term welfare, with a mission to demonstrate sustainable, rural livelihood and a not-so-new way forward for us all.

Immersed In Nature

   The Umoja site is located five hours to the west of Nairobi in Nyanza Provence.

The Umoja site is located five hours to the west of Nairobi in Nyanza Provence.

Nyamira county in western Kenya is a peaceful and politically stable rural area 300km northwest of Nairobi, home to approximately 600,000 residents who survive, mostly, by subsistence farming and tea sales.

The UCVS is being constructed in a small village in the county called Bwabene, on a sunny plot measuring approximately 150'x75'. The site is both private and centrally located, making it convenient to access for vehicles and residents who, for the most part, get around on foot.

At an altitude of 2,050m above sea level, the village features hilly topography, scenic views, and beautiful tiered farming setups. Owing to its close proximity to Lake Victoria and lush vegetation, Bwabene village sees perennial rainfall and a pleasant, temperate climate that creates near optimal conditions for farming and living.

   Tea and banana trees abound in the village.

Tea and banana trees abound in the village.

   A rainbow beams across the sky, moments before a customary afternoon thunderstorm.

A rainbow beams across the sky, moments before a customary afternoon thunderstorm.

   And a river runs through it.

And a river runs through it.

Due to the area's overall lack of "development" and modernization, Bwabene village maintains a remarkable degree of natural integrity. The air, water, and food are all pure. Noise and pollution, there is not. At night, a deep and profound silence descends upon the village, as the sky reveals a mesmerizing tapestry of bright stars and planets, which feel as though they are within arm's reach.

Design Philosophy

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The overall philosophy of the UCVS is, "simple living, high thinking."

   Draft layout of UCVS compound

Draft layout of UCVS compound

Where thinking becomes "high" — where thoughts dwell on service, sustainability, and abiding peace — material wants become less, and less desired.

With this in mind, the majority of the UCVS structures will be constructed in the traditional style of the village, void of most modern amenities, using only local building supplies.

Thatched mud huts for guests. A wood and clay-tiled community center for workshops and functions. Eco-friendly toilets. A community fire circle, and many varieties of plants, flowers, and trees will be found on the compound.

When each hour of each day is spent in direct contact with the natural elements, while participating in work that nourishes the soul, something curious starts to happen. Love begins to flow. An effortless peace arises, and kindness soon follows.

Cultivating a Feeling

We see the UCVS functioning as a kind of peace pole. At the deepest root, the center is a prayer for world peace, where being takes precedence over doing.

More fundamental than building a collection of structures or launching service initiatives with targeted objectives, we aim to cultivate a presence for personal and collective healing, anchored by the Gandhian concept of swadeshi (local livelihood). Compound flow and usability will be taken into great consideration. Traditional art and handicrafts will adorn the buildings. All that is built and planted will be done so with care and mindfulness of intent.

This, to create a living, breathing space that impacts, subtly, through feeling perhaps without you even noticing. The overall experience for staff, guests, and beneficiaries is intended to be nurturing and transformational.

Self-Reliance

The world over, rural-urban migration rages on. According to recent research, the U.N. estimates that by 2050, five billion people will live in urban centers, or close to 70% of the human population. Why is that?

It's becoming increasingly difficult to subsist alone on farming due to climate change, decreasing plot sizes, and stagnant wages/rising cost of goods. Rural inhabitants, as a result, flee their native places to look for opportunity in cities. Cities, also, carry a certain seductive appeal and symbol of status to poor villagers who believe they will find happiness and riches there.

Can we plant a seed now for the world we want to see tomorrow?

While money is easier to come by in urban environments, there is a steep trade off for it. Many times, "uneducated" villagers arrive to find they can only earn enough to live in a slum, which are prone to severe sanitation and security challenges not commonly found in villages. The paradigm of a city is one of hyper independence, where survival is your business alone. Being so, you can find a tragic breaking down of community and wide gap of separation between people, who become known as consumers. Further, materialism and "wanting" take hold when the senses become inundated with advertisements, logos, and constant sources of entertainment and distraction vying for your attention. 

Humanity. That's the trade off. The further we drift physically and figuratively from nature and the life that it engenders, the more of it gets lost. 

An Experiment

There are scientists and a Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist who argue that the Earth has entered into its 6th Mass Extinction based on the fact that species are disappearing at 100x the normal rate. Staggering levels of pollution and destruction of natural habitats for urbanization and industrial purposes is to blame, and behind that an entire insane human psychology and mindset. Who, in their right mind, destroys the same environment that sustains life on the planet?

While there is likely no stopping the rural-urban migration trend and psychology without a massive upheaval, we wonder, can we keep a small flame of hope alive? Can we plant a seed now for the world we want to see tomorrow?

Can UCVS fully sustain itself without the need for outside support? Can we grow enough food to feed our residents and guests? Can we demonstrate the value of the village life, i.e., the life of love and community? Can we support those in desperate states of poverty find greater sustainability? Through the intensity of our daily practices, can we inspire others to be and light their own candles?

Given the state of world affairs and threats to our species, we believe it's worth finding out.

Service

Community service and development projects will account for the majority of the center's day-to-day activity.

Due mainly to poverty, HIV/AIDS, and the inability to travel to a hospital or afford medical care when sick, the area surrounding Bwabene village is home to an unusually high — numbering in the thousands — population of orphans. Though these children have been adopted by guardian families, it's not uncommon for them to be malnourished, unloved, and not attending school.

Post-launch, the UCVS will immediately start to offer a free after school program for some of the neediest orphan children in the area.

Our program will offer the children a beautiful compound to play in, where they will receive love, support, and values-based education from caring local and international volunteers. In addition, they will be served a daily dinner to ensure that each is receiving at least one nutritious meal per day (which is not always guaranteed given the extreme level of poverty some families live in).

   Artist's rendering of the planned dinner program.

Artist's rendering of the planned dinner program.

Looking to the future, we see the UCVS becoming an incubator of a number of holistic community development and “gift economy” projects that create employment, solve local challenges, and transform the handout mentality prevalent in the country.

For example, we could facilitate the launch of a free ambulance system to address the issue of residents not being able to get to a hospital when sick. Resource sharing schemes (e.g., shared farms and farming equipment) could be introduced. A community library can be built, a fitness center, and so much more.

Primarily, our focus is to preserve the village life through projects and activities that connect people together in a joyful, meaningful way.

Volunteerism

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.
— Rabindranath Tagore
   Sehba giving a friendship bracelet.

Sehba giving a friendship bracelet.

We are specifically designing the UCVS to be a destination for international volunteers.

A poverty of spirit has emerged in the developed world where, even in the midst of material abundance, people often feel disconnected from one another and a larger purpose beyond career and retirement. Younger generations, especially, are seeking solutions.

Ironically, people in the so called developing world who struggle to earn $1/day, often possess a humbling sense of humanity and generosity rooted in their traditions and strong family and communal bonds.

The contrast creates a dynamic opportunity for powerful connections we want to enable. Volunteers can share their valuable skills and mobilize resources. Community members can share their traditions, love, and humanity. In this mutual exchange of giving and receiving, lives can change in extraordinary ways.

Are you interested in traveling to Kenya to volunteer as we build the center? Drop a line and let's talk.

Donate

We are now accepting (and requesting) donations to raise the ~$60,000 needed to launch the Umoja Centre. To see an itemized breakdown of the launch budget, you can click here to view it online.

Donations of any size are welcome, though I recommend a minimum donation of $500-$1,000 due to the relatively sizable amount we are trying to raise. You can securely donate online via PayPal by clicking the button below. If you'd prefer to mail a check or donate through a registered 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in the United States, kindly write me a note by clicking here and I will personally respond with instructions.

If you are unable to contribute financially but are inspired to give in some other way, you could share about our project and goal to your friends, family, and online social networks. If you can facilitate an introduction to a potential donor or granting organization, that also would be welcome and appreciated.

Photo Gallery

Preliminary work to the center began in February, 2017. Browse the photo gallery below to see the progress, as we gradually launch the UCVS.

Special Thanks

Thanks to Fabiana Alcojor, Tommaso Bazzechi, Roberto Gerosa, and Paola Narracci, otherwise known as 4People, who visited the village on multiple occasions and created an initial working design of the compound, which has since changed due to changing the location of the site.

Thanks, also, to Lívia Damé, M.Sc., an architect from Brazil.

Last but not least, thanks to Elijah Pearce of Studio Pearce, an architect from Santa Barbara, CA, for the digital renderings of the center you see on this page.

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