Alumni Sarah Lang and Robin Heathcote wasted no time in putting their degrees to good use in Zimbabwe.
Degrees in environmental geoscience and sustainable development combined with an alumni-funded grant led Sarah and Robin to PORET, a grassroots non-governmental organisation based in Chimanimani District, Zimbabwe.
Sarah’s studies previously led her to Zimbabwe to conduct research for her thesis. She explored the efficacy of permaculture (a holistic design system) as a solution for improving quality of life and restoring ecologies in communities living in challenging environments. It turned out to be a greatly constructive experience which deepened her passion for permaculture and eventually inspired the creation of the pair’s current project.
The water and food security project focuses on building holistic foundations to support biophysical and social sustainability in a drought stricken region of Zimbabwe. Through supplying infrastructure that harvests water and facilitating workshops which demonstrate permaculture solutions, they aim to help communities become secure in their basic needs of food and water.
The Chimanimani area is currently vulnerable to a changing climate where seasonal rains are becoming increasingly unreliable, so the project aims to use permaculture as a method to reverse the current environmental degradation from mining, deforestation and monoculture farming which are reducing the area’s capacity to adapt to climate change and support life.
They are working with a Zimbabwean named Julious Piti, who has had previous celebrated success in extending permaculture to smallholder farming communities and creating water and food security in the mountains of Chikukwa, described as,
one of the best development projects in Africa by Terry Leahy, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Newcastle (Australia).
The project is grounded in the combination of inspiration and knowledge gained by Sarah and I from our studies in both the social and physical sciences with that of the practical knowledge and experience of a Zimbabwean living amongst communities struggling to meet their basic needs.
The alumni duo chose Edinburgh due to its worldwide reputation and the beauty of the location. Robin credits his degree in geosciences for allowing him to explore a variety of systems such as geochemistry, hydrogeology and marine environments that impact and are impacted by life on earth. The course offered a number of field trips, giving him the chance to witness natural interactions and measure the impacts of human land use practices.
The project also had roots in the alumni community as the pair received an Innovative Initiative Grant in 2013 which funded their visit to Zimbabwe in April 2014. This meant they could gather the resources necessary to create their website, draw up a funding proposal and launch a crowdfunding campaign.