Ebenezer: A stone of help in the Matopos

Ebenezer, nestling in the Matopo hills about 70km from Bulawayo, started when a group of Christians felt they should build a dam. The place was a wide, dry expanse of land, with a small trickle of river that did not always have water. There was no money to build the dam, and with the massive brain drain, not much expertise either.

Simanga & S’tha with Simanga’s father.
Simanga & S’tha with Simanga’s father.

The size of the river hardly warranted the expense – it did not look likely to amount to much. It all seemed impossible, expensive and probably futile. But the group went ahead in faith – and through a series of what can only be described as miraculous provision, the dam was built. It was completed in the winter of 2007, was filled by January of 2008.

Over time, the vision became clearer and Ebenezer was born. The vision was a simple one, take rural young people whose local options were extremely limited, and teach them how to farm. Help them to market the crops. From the income they can pay for the costs of their education, and pocket the rest. This is apprenticeship at its best, learning and earning. When they leave they not only have the skills to run a small agri-business but they also have raised some capital.

The first apprentices arrived in 2007. They lived in tents while clearing the land. They baked bricks and built houses. They marked the fields and started planting. It was hard work at a hard time in Zimbabwe – 2007/2008 were probably the worst years the country has gone through in our recent history. It was all too easy then to be utterly discouraged. But as the scriptures say, those who know their God will call on him, and he will answer and show them what to do.

Ebenezer Trust has held three graduation ceremonies, graduating 39 students. Not only did they leave with skills and a new confidence, they also graduated debt-free. All of them managed to pay back the college from the sweat of their brow, and they managed to pocket quite a bit too. One of the young men who started in January 2011 made $1,000 from his first plot of tomatoes. He now has half a hectare of the crop, and is looking forward to buying the equipment he needs to run his own enterprise.

Simanga and her friend Sithabiso, who made over $2,000 each during their time at Ebenezer, are now employed as agricultural mentors in a local irrigation scheme. Justin Thebe used some of the profit he made to build himself a house. He has now moved in, and is running his own farm using a small petrol pump to irrigate from his well.

Last year the young people of Ebenezer produced 181,700kg of tomatoes, 24,150 dried onions, 23,143 bunches of green onions, over 10,000 head of cabbages, as well as butternut, green maize, carrots, broccoli, peas, and garlic. They have also started looking after broiler chickens in groups of six. Each member of the group makes an average of $200 with each batch of 3,000 chickens which take six weeks to grow.

The ripple effect

It’s not just the apprentices who are benefiting; the local community now has access to a wide variety of fresh vegetables which they come to buy, sometimes from miles away. Local businesses buy in bulk to supply their shops in Maphisa and other

areas. There is even a shop in the Western suburbs of Bulawayo selling fresh vegetables.

Local farmers are getting in on the act. Ebenezer holds field days where up to 250 farmers at a time receive training from the apprentices. Recently 100 local farmers signed up to start a 5m x 5m vegetable patch in their homestead under the supervision of the apprentices. A local irrigation scheme at Antelope mine has received six of the graduates who are now training farmers, especially in how to grow tomatoes. There is a good reason for this, a new company is setting up to process tomatoes and needs plenty of local growers. This ensures markets for the farmers so prices won’t fall with increased production, and in turn, the company is assured of a ready supply of the input. And jobs are created for local people.

Ebenezer is not just about farming, it’s about the church impacting the community for good. The three local churches are seeing an increase in numbers. Last year two mobile clinics visited and gave free medical attention. The apprentices proved invaluable interpreting and encouraging local people to attend. An eye clinic has recently decided to visit annually. The benefits go far and wide – one of the lady apprentices has taken a post training single mothers in a project in Bulawayo how to support themselves from agri-business. And Ebenezer is now providing internships for graduates from the University of Zimbabwe.

Post published in: Environment

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