Welcome to another conversation on The Art of Rooting.
We are just a few short weeks away from the release of my book The Art of Rooting, and as I promised in our very first conversation, I want to introduce many of you to the phenomenal people who have joined me on this "literary hike."
In our first conversation, I introduced you to Ubuntungwa and to Mwape Mwangilwa, a sharp young lady in Zambia who is making quite an impact in her community in Kabwe. I also introduced you to a part of her circle, showing you that it takes a community of brilliant and dedicated people to get things done well and make a difference where you are!
If you are new to our Art of Rooting Conversations' Serie, catch on to all the amazing things Mwape shared with us, subscribe to our blog, contact us if you want to join in the conversations, and do make sure to get yourself a copy of the book, The Art of Rooting.
Below is my conversation with Samson, in purple are my little additions to the conversation...enjoy and do make sure to share your thoughts in the comments!
Please state your full name and the name of your organization:
Samson Phiri one of the co-founders of Ubuntungwa Youth Organization.
How old were you when you decided to start your organization/ How long have you started your organization?
We actually decided to start the organization when I was 22 years old and we have been running it for approximately over 3 years now.
What’s your (educational/ professional) background/ and how did it lead or serve what you are doing now?
My first qualification was an advanced certificate in agricultural marketing but I’m proceeding to pursue my Degree and Masters in business and I look forward to having a doctorate. I enjoyed the aspect of growing my own food organically using fewer chemicals so the knowledge I acquired at school made me understand food systems and structures better.
What made you decide to start your organization or do the work you are doing now?
During my education, I realized that most small-scale, peasant farmers in my community use farming techniques or methods which use high input costs but produce low-quality crop yields thereby affecting the price at which they sell their products. This meant that the small-scale farmers would not be able to grow to the point of moving themselves out of the cycles of poverty because they use a faulty farming method. I understood the fundamental aspects of producing food of high quality by altering different elements in farming techniques. I decided to use my organization to help teach members of my community better and scientifically improved methods that would enable them to grow good quality food while using cheaper methods. Thereby, they can improve their livelihoods and those of subsequent generations
I have been told that you are diligently developing organic fertilizer. Can you explain why organic fertilizer matters?
Thank you for that question, when you look at food, whether it be grain, fruit, or even feed for ruminant animals, fertilizer is a critical element in the production process of whatever you want to produce. It will boost the mineral content of whatever you want to grow. Since fertilizer is a critical element in all food systems, many people capitalize on it and produce their fertilizer at a cost that is unattainable for the average producer. This means that those who can afford to engage in farming are only those who already have money or wealth and therefore can afford the high cost of fertilizer. This means the rich will acquire even more wealth selling to a poorer consumer. Producing organic fertilizer will enable those who would want to grow food to be able to do so cheaply and again produce it at a high quality. It will also be healthier as it has fewer chemicals and consequently, the community will be healthier.
What are some of the services, products, and activities that you offer?
I have been working on researching and working with others on various techniques which can make farming even more affordable. I use this knowledge which I acquire to teach people in my community most especially the youths. We just completed a successful agri-business internship program and I look forward to the next program.
What makes your organization stand out?
At Ubuntungwa, we work directly with those who have the biggest challenge in our society, which are our fellow youths, and engage with them to find tangible, sustainable solutions to the challenges they face.
Who/what influence (d) you the most?
I draw a lot of inspiration from those who took part in the liberation struggle across different societies; from Thomas Jefferson and all those who took part in the American Revolution leading to the Declaration of Independence by Congress to Kwame Nkrumah and his fight to liberate Africa from colonization. All these figures though lived generations apart and continents away, they had one common goal, which was to see the improved well-being of their people. This inspires me to equally do more for my people and be an example in my generation to improve the well-being of my people.
What are some of the challenges that you face and what are things that could be done to assist you?
That is a very broad question N’nako! Lol, nonetheless I’d just have to focus on one which would be the slow rate at which people change or unlearn bad habits they have acquired over time. For example, in my country, everyone eats processed maize starch which is made into what is known locally as nshima. It requires heavy volumes of water to grow and lots of fertilizer. It is tasty but there are other starch options which they can eat and incorporate into their daily diet but they do not want to change their mindset. They want to eat nshima in the morning, nshima at lunch, and nshima at supper. What is the result? Higher levels of malnutrition because the body needs other food nutrients. So changing such mindsets really has been a challenge but we will not give up trying.
What are some of the rewards?
More and more people across all ages are starting to understand the work we do. I was recently approached by a group of senior citizens all above 60 years in my neighborhood who wanted to switch from rearing ordinary layer chickens to the kroiler chicken breeds. Kroilers are better because they are more resistant to diseases, and contain all the characteristics of 3 types of chicken which are; a layer, a broiler, and free- range chickens. This means their profits will be more as the farmer will have 3 breeds of chicken in one. The message is getting across, though it may be slow but we are changing the mindsets of the people.
What keeps you hopeful and motivated?
The feedback from my fellow youths from the efforts we have made thus far. Our work speaks for itself and is highly appreciated, so it definitely keeps me motivated.
Feel free to share a few of your wins.
I think working with you is definitely a win. I never thought or dreamt that I would have a poet and author all the way in Tennessee, America being interested in my work and wanting to share it with her community. It is amazing and I am very humbled.
What are some of your ultimate goals/dreams?
Again, another broad question! Lol! I have so many goals but I think just leaving a good foundation of food systems and structures which the next generation can build upon. In the words of Martin Luther King, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I hope that I can work towards reducing the levels of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition levels of people in my community.
What is your favorite tree, plant, fruit, or flower?
I love everything in nature! I love eating mangoes as I watch all the beautiful white Forget-me-not flowers blossom and soak in the scent of the earth after the first summer's rain falls to the ground, nourishing all living plants in the ecosystem.
How do you take care of yourself mentally? What are things that you do daily, or regularly to maintain your mental health?
I love to do martial arts and boxing. It gives me an excuse to imagine that I am hitting those who have angered me that day.
How is your connection to nature important to your well-being? How do you connect with nature?
Nature is amazing, I connect with nature by just being there and enjoying whatever nature has to offer in that season, if it’s a sunny summer’s day, I’ll go for a swim if it’s the harsh winter I go for a jog. So long I am in co-existence with nature.
I love that Samson used the word Co-Existence because over a month ago my friend, artist, and photographer Tanqueray Harper, invited me to participate in an art exhibit that she curated and I got the honor of also being the Artist Speaker that evening. The title of her show was Co-Existing.
With the glasses is artist and photographer Tanqueray Harper. The sheer fabrics that you see hanging on the top right corner are some of her eco-photography printed on fabrics. (This is really cool in real life). In the middle photo on the left is poet Ariel Barnes, one of the performing poets of the night, admiring Harper's eco-photography.
The beautiful nature model is dancer Oninye Nafree who performed a moving piece that left some of us in tears. In the bottom left corner are poet, Arche Twitty and artist Novek! Yes I will have to tell you a whole lot more about those amazing people, follow the blog because there is plenty of dope things I intend to share...back to Zambia...
What made you decide to work with me?
Who wouldn’t want to work with you? You are really creative and have a strong connection with nature which you are to articulate in a beautiful way. I keep learning from you and hope to be able to express myself the way you do one day.
Can you guys spot me in this shot? I was not physically there in person but Mwape found a way to "keep me in the frame."
What wisdom would you like to pass on or what call for action would you like to raise while people have the chance to read your words here?
There is so much we can learn as each day comes. Technology has made it easier but we should not allow technology to take control of us. Once in a while, we should stay off social media and just get connected with our environment. We should enjoy the moment of living and existing.
What does the word “roots” mean to you?
Being a Christian, I believe in creation and that God created man from the earth, roots mean going back to my origin, going back to where I came from. Roots to me is about learning about how to connect with where I came from, the earth, and understanding how protecting and providing for the earth will help me learn how to equally take care of myself better. Because I came from earth and the earth I know that I shall return to and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the earth to reject me and tell God that I abandoned it whilst I had life within me.
What does “rooting” evoke in you?
Rooting evokes going beyond thinking but actually taking a deliberate effort to learn more about the environment, and the ecosystems and co-existing together in perfect harmony with the environment and with my brothers and sisters in that moment of time. Again to quote Martin Luther King Jr, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
The last two questions mean a lot to me because they inspire the title and the recurring theme in what is now my 8th book. It is fascinating to me how the word "root" can mean so much to so many of us but the answers are always as unique as the person I ask my questions to.
You can learn a whole lot more about Ubuntungwa's work on their facebook page.
Let them know how you heard about them, this is the Art of Rooting, encouragements matter!
Encouragement matters and leaders who support environmental efforts in their communities matter too.
Below are names and faces you may recognize from our previous conversation.
Nathan and Mwape (left and middle) with the Mayor of Kabwe, Mr. Patrick Chishala. On the right corner, wearing a yellow vest, is Timothy Kamuzu Phiri co-founder of Mizu-Eco Care, next to him holding the baseball cap is the Minister of Green Economy & Environment, Hon.Eng.Collings Mzovu, MP. Other honorable leaders stand with them.
Mayor Chishala graciously sent me an encouraging message upon reading our previous conversation with Mwape. It means a lot! It means a lot to have people rooting for you.
It means a lot to see that we can all live different lives in different places and still feel connected by our passion and commitment to making the world better. Ubuntungwa, Mizu Eco-Care, and the leaders and people supporting them are inspiring to me.
Sammie, thank you so much for being willing to contribute your time and your knowledge so generously to this project! – N’nako Kandé
(Mwape Mwangilwa, Samson Phiri, Nathan Mwape)
How did you enjoy this conversation?
Inspiring, isn't it?! Isn't he brilliant?!
Doesn't it make you proud to see young people playing an active role in solving environmental issues (please read the first conversation with Mwape if that's your first time here and get a copy of the Art of Rooting)
Now that you know two of Ubuntungwa's phenomenal people I can't wait for you to meet other amazing people "during our hike" (in the book).
What did you like the most about our conversation with Samson? And you what do the word roots mean to you and evoke in you?
You can also enjoy our Art Therapy Experience by ordering the Art of Rooting: Art Therapy Experience, coloring, and activity book.
If you are in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area, you can get a signed copy at the Chattanooga Audubon Society while you enjoy a hike at the Audubon Acres.
Because we love learning and taking notes or journaling around here, I invite you to also shop some of our NakBook, they may come in handy for any cool ideas you may get from our Nakivoire conversations and blog series.
THANK YOU! MERCI BEAUCOUP
Talk to you on our next conversation or through our hike ( the book, the Art of Rooting) but remember to share your thoughts!
** Special Notes:
Tanqueray Harper is the photographer who shot my book cover for The Art of Rooting and you will be able to admire more of her amazing work in the book. It was an amazing experience to be her subject in my natural environment ( our photoshoot took place at the historical Trail of Tears at the Audubon Acres/Chattanooga Audubon Society. I really can't wait for you to read this book!)
You can learn more about
Facebook Chattanooga Audubon Society
Fun fact: Mizu means root! How cool that I would title my 8th book The Art of Rooting (while in the USA) and find myself learning about Mizu Eco-Care (all the way in Zambia).
Ubuntungwa Youth Organization Facebook: Ubuntungwa
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