Lawrence Hoba/Hillary J. Musarurwa

Deforestation, erosion, and depleted farmland that must produce food for a growing number of families are only a few of the problems facing the people in the region along the Mpufure River in Zimbabwe. Ecologically compatible farming methods, relocation of plots, new and more efficient sources of energy, appropriate technologies, crop diversification, and reforestation are strategies which “Penya Trust” combines with methods of the “Reflect” approach in efforts developed together with rural communities to address these problems and mitigate the effects of climate change.

PENYA – Fighting Climate Change through Knowledge

Who We are and Who We Work With?

The journey to effective youth involvement and participation in development initiatives within communities in which we operate has never been an easy task, and continues to be an uneven and bumpy road. This is mainly because the youth remain a largely contested constituency in developing countries, including Zimbabwe, with various activities and organisations, including political parties, targeting their attention. And yet this journey can be one of the most fulfilling for any development worker, as you find an enthusiastic and active group, willing to walk and work with you during a project’s period, and take over once you have finished implementing and have to leave the area. And this has been the journey that PENYA has traversed so far since 2006, one that is so fulfilling and yet has its challenges.

PENYA means “TO SHINE” in the local indigenous Shona language, and thus our motto says: “making them shine.” It is the organisation’s desire to make children and youth in our community shine regardless of the hardships they face. Thus our main targets are youths, i.e. persons between the ages of 15 and 35 years, and children, mainly orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs). Not only does the leadership of PENYA identify with this group (as they are all youth), it sees great potential in them. Whilst it is undeniable that youth the world over are an important source of energy for anything to move (anyone being in this prime age is eager and anxious to make an impact in society), we are convinced that if this energy is properly harnessed (like a dammed hydro-generation plant) it can bring tremendous positive change in Zimbabwe.

However, over the past years, experience has proven that the youth, due to their vulnerability through not owning any means to economic emancipation, are exposed to exploitation by the rich, powerful and those who are politically strong. They have been used as fronts for crime, political violence and disruptions that have created a bad name for the youth constituency. It is our vision to undo this labelling that has taken place over the past years and paint a different picture of youth in the community. We foresee ourselves activating and mobilising a critical mass of youth who can be catalysts for positive community development. These youth will participate directly and indirectly in our activities as they rebuild their communities whilst identifying ways to sustain their livelihoods.

The word PENYA is, however, an acronym for Practical Empowerment and Networking Youth Association, which gives the impetus to all our programming and activities. Our driving force is: If something doesn’t result in practical empowerment directly or indirectly, then its not worth doing! This has also driven our vision which is “To practically empower children and youth in all aspects of life to ensure total independence.”

To achieve the work with the youth and children, PENYA recognises the indivisibility of the community in which they live, and engages all community members and age groups. We work mainly in rural areas and high density areas, carrying out research and assessments that are used in advocacy and lobbying for policy changes. The main aim is to advocate and ensure the socio-economic empowerment of children and youth through the thematic areas of education, health and hygiene, agriculture and environment, economic empowerment and research and advocacy. Gender and HIV and AIDS issues are mainstreamed in all our programming.

We have also worked, and continue to partner, with various local and international organisations, including the Government of Zimbabwe, local authorities, United Nations agencies, OXFAM, other international NGOs, donors, embassies and various youth networks through cluster activities and coordinated responses mainly in issues of health and advocacy. As a youth-centred non-governmental organisation formed by and run by youth, PENYA is part of a growing network of youth-led initiatives targeting various issues on human rights, governance and development. Coordinated responses have helped us reach a greater audience than we would have with own resources.




Students posing with refuse bins for their school
Source: PENYA Trust


What Does our Work Include

The specific activities that we have undertaken so far in the various communities around Zimbabwe are as follows:

Dzidzo Inokosha (Education is precious)

In this project, orphaned and vulnerable children have been assisted with school fees payments and the supply of educational requirements. Beneficiaries have their fees paid for and also receive packs of stationery, uniforms and food so as to ensure that they continue with their schooling without worrying about their situation at home. Donations of textbooks and sports equipment have also been made to a number of schools. We still continue to mobilise more text and reading books that are forwarded to marginalised schools. Some of the partners we have worked with include Book Aid International.

Y.E.S.S. (Youth economic and skills support)

The project targets mainly out of school youth through life-skills training and access to equipment, machinery and the tools necessary to run projects individually. There is also a great emphasis on helping youth access loans and grants from government, banks and other sources.

Capacity building for community initiatives to mitigate climate change effects

With an understanding that vulnerable groups may not be able to take care of themselves, projects under this category mainly target guardians and care-givers through income-generating activities and sustainable food production to make them independent from hand-outs. There are also projects targeted mainly at reversing environmental degradation through reforestation and land reclamation. The main thrust of these projects is to transfer knowledge and information to community members who become the custodians of the info-data bank for the generations to come. Communities are being trained in environmental protection, climate change and the adoption of energy saving technologies.

WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene)

Working under the theme “catching them young for a healthy nation”, activities under WASH are targeted mainly at school children. Activities include sanitation and hygiene promotion in schools, borehole and sanitation facilities rehabilitation and participatory hygiene education for care-givers and children who are HIV positive and living with AIDS. In 2010, non-food items were distributed in Mabvuku/ Tafara, a high density area in Harare, to over 22,000 households as part of a campaign towards prevention of cholera and typhoid.

Taurai/ Talk about HIV/AIDS

The concept behind Taurai (which means talk/discuss) HIV/AIDS is to encourage dialogue around HIV/AIDS issues in churches and schools. There has been a noticeable silence in churches, and the activities therefore revolve around encouraging openness about one’s status as well as carrying out awareness and prevention campaigns. Psychosocial support is also offered to affected and infected youth and children.

How We Do it – Our Approach

However, practical empowerment is not possible where the development worker comes into a community with solutions for problems, both real and imaginary, that they had already developed somewhere in an office. The outcome is usually that the solutions are partial and impractical and, in the worst case, create more problems than they solve. This has always been the argument by many against aid in Africa and the developing world, that development organisations leave more damage than positive impacts. At PENYA, the thrust has always been to use participatory approaches right from problem identification through to programme evaluation. This is why we where very excited when we engaged with dvv International to work around the introduction and scaling up of the use of a participatory based technique called Reflect (Regenerated Freirean Literacy Through Empowering Community Techniques) in Zimbabwe.

Whilst the approach is relatively new it has resulted in greater participation from members of the community, including those whose voices had been silenced by their own illiteracy, and also resulted in a greater awareness of rights. Reflect is, however, not limited to these two issues, and PENYA is working with community circles through facilitators it has trained to identify those issues that are peculiar to their own existence. Thus communities are increasingly being more involved in creating solutions that work for them.

Still, this does not necessarily guarantee any buy-in from the communities. Zimbabwe remains a highly polarised nation where political allegiance can take precedence over the benefits of any development work. The major problem is that politics have enough power to sway the masses against reason. Thus, sometimes you find youth and other community members who have been brain-washed and will not give you a chance to enter into an area, even when your coming in will benefit them more than any politician will ever.

As a development organisation, you have to go through intense bureaucratic registration procedures for you to be allowed to work in any area in Zimbabwe. This had been our major drawback – getting the authority to operate within certain areas (more so those that have great potential to sway votes in favour of certain politicians). Even then, when you have secured the necessary government documents, you have to satisfy relevant and irrelevant authorities that your programming is not going to affect their political fiefdoms. Thus any talk that borders around issues of democracy, good governance and human rights can sometimes find you at loggerheads with political authorities.

A Close Look at Our Program

Having given you an insight into our organisational work, it would be appropriate to get closer to our work by sharing our experiences in carrying out a project to fight climate change within the community. We set out to commit the community to fighting climate change and building its capacity to mitigate and adapt to its effects whilst at the same time addressing the challenge of food insecurity. Whilst we may not directly point it out, it’s our hope that from this case study you will be able to identify what we wanted to achieve, what problems we needed to overcome, what framework conditions influenced our work, how we went about working, what changes we were able to achieve and how these changes affected the community.

We hope you will be inspired to scale up such community work with youth in your own fields of action.

Project Summary

This project was for the improvement of environmental protection initiatives being undertaken by PENYA Trust in collaboration with the youth and other stakeholders from three villages of Ward 4 of Chegutu rural district, with plans to expand to two other villages in the ward as well as three others in Goromonzi District (after securing additional funding). The project carried activities covering the following thematic areas:

Biodiversity – this was the major thematic area but the others of land degradation and climate changes were incorporated during programming as they can be mainstreamed in the capacity building of the community’s initiatives in environmental protection.

Information dissemination and policy advocacy at local levels was mainstreamed into all activities as it is integral to ensuring that the community and its stakeholders are well appraised on environmental protection issues.

Over a projected twelve month project tenure period, the following activities were undertaken:

  • Enhancement of local capacities to appropriately and effectively manage and respond to environmental challenges and food security threats through training, information, education and communication material and workshops.

  • Setting up of gardens for sustainable utilization of natural resources and biodiversity management by communities (relocation of stream bank gardens).

  • Adoption of alternative forms of energy through biogas or wood-saving stoves.

  • Establishment of woodlots and orchard gardens and planting of vertiver grass to curb soil erosion.




Fighting erosion through the planting of vertiver grass
Source: PENYA Trust


Community Background

The community we worked with is from Chegutu Rural District’s Ward 4. The villages covered are Chinengundu, Chipashu and Churu. We also worked with Chipashu Primary School, where we set up an Environmental Club for the school pupils there.

The youth in the area had done little in protecting their environment, mainly due to lack of knowledge as well as having little or no impetus to make their own initiatives for a positive change in their community. Those doing something were doing it on a very small scale. This project aimed at training the youth in life skills that would propel them as agents for positive social change. The youth were motivated and activated to be environmental protectionists in their communities and thus ensure sustainable agricultural practices that safeguard their livelihoods. Other interventions such as income generating clubs were promoted to allow for community participation, best practice learning, thereby ensuring project ownership and sustainability. The project was characterized by active community participation, involvement of vulnerable households that are affected by HIV/AIDS, housing/supporting orphans, and there was promotion of local skills and indigenous knowledge systems as well as capacity building of youth to provide home grown solutions.

The Community’s Capacity Profile

The community is made up of a population of various skills and abilities. Given the high rate of unemployment in the country there is a large number of youth who have finished their studies but have no form of employment that is found in these villages. The community therefore has an abundance of active members that can be used to influence community change. Given the right impetus, the youth in this area can be the drivers of the environmental change needed.

The Problem: What Needed to Be Addressed!

The villages in Ward 4 face a myriad of challenges. Chief amongst them are deforestation (the indiscriminate cutting down of trees), land degradation through stream-bank cultivation, and gullies due to loss of surface cover. This area is prone to soil erosion, soil infertility, deforestation and over-harvesting of wood for fuel and medicines. The once dense forest around the banks of the nearby Mupfure River is now sparsely populated thus increasing the risk of siltation. The lack of education and awareness programs and land use planning can be cited as contributing to the accelerated degradation.

As the number of households living in the area increase (due to more births) and the land available both for residential and farming purposes becomes less, more families have to share the little farming space available. This has disturbed natural ecosystems, thus reduces biodiversity, and changes the habitats of certain species. The ward and its environs have experienced a reduction in crop and livestock diversity which increased food insecurity

Households still rely heavily on wood fuel, and due to the lack of capacity and knowledge to adapt to biogas technology and wood-saving stoves, the use of alternative sources of energy is still limited in this ward. Agricultural development is therefore at risk because of unsustainable practices, accelerated soil erosion, soil degradation and a general decrease in land productivity. The result is decreasing self sufficiency for most food produce, so there is a desperate need to focus on the conservation, efficient use and effective management of the available land and water resources.

The Solution

The project proposed several initiatives that would reduce vulnerability. There was need to disseminate information on best environmental protection practices. More information was shared through training on renewable energy, coordinated efforts, facilitating the procurement and adaptation of technologies, and promoting the development of new energy technologies by providing resources. We encouraged the households to grow traditional crops and small grains as well as adopt conservation methods that helped to boost biodiversity. The conservation of ecosystems is likely to create carbon sinks that will reduce the level of carbon emissions and the effects of climate change. The community was thus encouraged to grow natural/ traditional trees and other grass cultivars that will improve natural habitats. To enhance food security and help those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS to improve their livelihoods and boost their immune systems, growing traditional herbs and crops in the communal gardens was encouraged.

Establishment of wood lots and planting of vetiver grass on the homesteads and other vulnerable and exposed areas will minimize surface run off and soil erosion. It will also prevent the formation of gullies and ultimately desertification. The proposed biogas and wood-saving stoves are technology that is important in the reduction in the cutting down of trees for energy purposes and has the advantage of increasing efficiency in the use of wood fuel and other natural sources by households. This will help to promote the regeneration of vegetation, in particular, trees, thus enhancing biodiversity and natural habitats.

Links to National Initiatives and Goals

Zimbabwe has undertaken several initiatives that are aimed at addressing the environmental challenges faced in the country. These include The National Environment Policy (NEP), National Drought Management Policy, The Renewable Energy Technologies (RET) policy and the Water Resource Management Strategy. This project aligns itself to such strategies and initiatives and is guided by the policies in terms of projected achievements and methodologies. The project will also help the country in achieving the targets set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 1 and 7.




Handover of reference books
Source: PENYA Trust


Activities and Intended Results

The project aimed at building local capacities to appropriately and effectively manage and respond to environmental challenges and food security threats through training and workshops. This goal was achieved with the help of community mobilisation rallies, awareness building with village leaders and the training of selected Village Environment Protection Promoters. These actions resulted in a well informed and capacitated community that is able to solve environmental and food insecurity challenges in its environment.

Specifically, the project focused on the increase of the supply of household water through windmill driven pumps and water harvesting techniques, as well as the increase of water supply for gardening activities. Participants of the project learned to build cisterns and water ponds and to make use of earth banks, bench and contour stone terraces. Water pumps were set up at strategic points. As a consequence, households enjoyed increased water supply and improved food security and community livelihoods.

Another goal of the project was to introduce sustainable agriculture techniques and to control land degradation as an environmental measure against stream bank cultivation. Gardens were relocated to safer and more appropriate sites, woodlots, hedges and orchards were established. Participants learned about conservation farming techniques such as zero tillage, rotational cropping, progressive retention of crop residue, composting and integrated pest management. The planting of trees and vertiver grass and the cultivation of nurseries for seedlings was encouraged in order to control soil erosion, whilst the demand for fuel wood was reduced by equipping households with energy efficient stoves.

Implementation Plan

The project had two crucial phases, the phase for sharing information and building of awareness and the practical action phase. The first phase started within the first month of funding and was very short, spanning over a month. This phase involved the training of Village Environment Protection Promoters (VEPPs), community meetings with leaders and other stakeholders as well as awareness campaigns with other members of the community. The second phase in which the beneficiaries put into practise what they were taught and were enabled to indicate an understanding of the knowledge they acquired ran for the remaining period of the project tenure. This project is now entering its home-stretch and is expected to come to an end within the next two months (by February 2011).

Project Characteristics

Ensuring active community participation: Active community participation was well achieved through community involvement in all stages of the project life cycle. The project members were responsible for electing their own leadership and drew up a constitution to govern their activities. The project members were also responsible for internal monitoring and evaluation of project activities.

Capacity building: First and foremost the capacity of the project members was built through knowledge sharing and training on environmental issues. Members’ capacity to initiate and manage development projects was enhanced through training and workshops on other skills such as minutes writing, writing of reports, community financial administration and communication skills. The introduction of the Reflect method during the project tenure was also helpful in the capacity building.

Sustainable livelihoods: This project offers alternative means of livelihood to the youth. The gardens and orchards put under sustainable conservation agriculture will provide the participants with sufficient vegetables, fruits and other crops throughout the year. Water harvesting will provide ready cash for the households through the sale of agricultural produce as well as of seedlings grown in nurseries run by the youth, while those who have acquired the skills to construct energy efficient stoves and windmills have ready employment servicing the needy households as well as making similar structures for other villages.

Gender Issues: To enhance gender equality, each village forwarded 2 youth (one male and one female) to be trained as Village Environmental Protection Promoters. It is important to note that female participation in developmental projects in rural areas is minimal. To address this challenge the project was deliberately composed of 60 % female beneficiaries. The young women/girls identified as direct beneficiaries from the targeted 100 households were part of the leadership, and they have participated intensively in the decision-making process in the project. Since women do almost all the cooking in the households, they were also selected for training on the construction of the stoves and their optimum use.

Awareness of Global Environment: Community members met every 3 months in order to share information on various issues and developments concerning the environment. PENYA assisted by carrying out research and the sourcing for information that was handed down to the Village Environment Protection Promoters (VEPPs) to use at such meetings. The same meetings were used to identify any underlying problems affecting the community as well as identify any deviation from the set project targets. Through workshops, meetings and exchange visits, the project allowed for the creation of environmental awareness. The beneficieries were also trained by expert agriculturists and environmentalists on various activities such as sustainable land management practices, agro forestry, or water harvesting. These trainings equipped the community with skills relevant to managing and overcoming their challenges.

Innovative Financial Mechanisms: The household income is expected to be derieved from the sale of the vegetables, herbs and fruits. The participants of the project were trained in financial management skills to ensure a viable management of any income-generating activities they will undertake.




Distribution of seed packs for conservation farming
Source: PENYA Trust


Project Impact

On the Environment: The project contributed towards protection of woodlands and the efficient and sustainable use of natural resources which are currently under threat. It also promoted wind energy technology which is renewable, non pollutant to land and air resources and thus environmentally friendly. Other significant positive impacts on the environment included mitigating climate change, developing community adaptation strategies to climate changes, promoting increases in biomass production, saving biodiversity, and combating soil erosion and deforestation.

Policy Influence: The project improved local policies governing the use and management of natural resources through the sensitization of local leaders on the crucial role they can play in making policy changes within their community. They were encouraged to consult and come up with local community by laws that will enhance environmental protection and promote sustainable use of natural resources. The project managed to strengthen the national policy on community management of natural resources, which emphasizes community ownership and benefit through natural resources management.

Possibility of Replication: The project started off with only 100 households from the 3 villages. Lessons learnt will be used to replicate the initiatives, firstly in all the other villages in this ward and then in other wards within the other districts in which PENYA operates.

Sustainability: Communities enjoyed direct benefits from this project in the form of enhanced livelihoods and improved nutritional diet. The beneficiaries will continue to work towards economic sustainability by running the orchards, herb and vegetable gardens as viable enterprises. Because of its participatory methodology, there will be enhanced community ownership, and thus the project can be sustained through replicity (with those not initially identified as beneficiaries learning from others). Due to the community commitment at the village level, good environmental protection initiatives will be made sustainable through the involvement of everyone. The youths will also use the skills gained to sustain their livelihoods and thus generate their own income.



Distribution of non food items to the community
Source: PENYA Trust




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