Farming for change
Every life matters, every story is worth telling – the best ones are when God tells His story through us. Stories of Hope is a collection of inspiring stories of ordinary people whose lives have been impacted through the work and care of ministry partners of the Mergon Foundation.
This is Sinethemba Beja’s Story of Hope.
‘If we reduce human beings to being simply physical – as Western thought is prone to do – our poverty alleviation efforts will tend to focus on material solutions. But if we remember that humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in their design.’ – Steve Corbett (Author: When Helping Hurts)
In an area like Zithulele in the Eastern Cape where only 25% of youth attend an educational institution, only 5% have completed matric and a staggering 70% of youth are unemployed, many young people are hopeless and unsure of how to navigate these difficult life circumstances.
Sinethemba Beja was one such young person who didn’t manage to finish her final year of high school. Though thankful for a job as a switchboard operator at Zithulele Hospital, she never truly felt fulfilled in her work. Dreaming and brainstorming with a colleague that shared her passion and desire to do something more purposeful led Sinethemba to consult her mentor about an idea.
‘Initially we wanted to do something for the patients because the hospital couldn’t afford to buy proper food for them. We wanted to start a farming project but neither of us knew anything about agriculture,’ Sinethemba recalls.
Her mentor, a doctor at the hospital, suggested that she finds out more about the ‘Farming God’s Way’ course, as a possible way of serving both the hospital and the community. Farming God’s Way is a method of farming that uses biblical agricultural principles as a solution to the food security and poverty crisis in Africa. Sinethemba agreed to attend the course and with her newly acquired knowledge, she set out to realise her dream.
‘After the course I was so motivated to come and start the project in the community. We started our first garden at a school with the slogan “plant a seed today, plant a hope for tomorrow”,’ explains Sinethemba.
Unfortunately, circumstances and shame brought things to a halt when Sinethemba fell pregnant. ‘I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I was a Christian, sharing the gospel and now I was pregnant. I felt hopeless and decided to leave Zithulele and go back home to my mother,’ she says.
While she was away her mentor’s husband, Ruan Cilliers, founded an organisation called Sihamba Sonke with the goal of breaking the cycle of hopelessness in the community of Zithulele by building a culture where young people have the courage to rise above their circumstances and start a restoration movement to live value-driven and purposeful lives.
One day Sinethemba received a phone call from Ruan who was looking for someone to help with Sihamba Sonke’s agricultural programme, Foundations for Farming. Of course, he knew exactly who he wanted for the job…
Subsistence farming still plays a massive role in South Africa’s rural communities, especially in the area where Sihamba Sonke operates, the former Transkei. Foundations for Farming inspires subsistence farmers to increase their yield with cost-effective, alternative farming principles. These same principles can be applied in all spheres of life, teaching relevant life values. They provide farmers with training and support that enables them to be fruitful with what they have and impact other areas of their lives.
With her Farming God’s Way knowledge, an open invitation to come and join the community again – despite her circumstances – and an excitement in her heart about what was possible through a project such as this, Sinethemba gathered all her confidence and made her way back to Zithulele.
‘I came to Sihamba Sonke as broken as I was, not feeling worthy. I felt like I disappointed God, myself and everyone else in my life. On top of that, I didn’t have the right qualifications and didn’t feel like I had anything to offer. Sihamba Sonke gave me an opportunity to work but it wasn’t just a job, it built me as a person… It built my confidence as a woman and helped me in my spiritual life,’ she shares.
In addition to Foundations for Farming, Sihamba Sonke offers a chess-, computer-, skills- and internship programme. Each of these community programmes are grounded in long-term mentorship, employability skills and character development. The youth that take part in these programmes not only have fun, but they grow into young leaders that have a positive influence while restoring broken relationships in all areas of their lives and community.
Sihamba Sonke believes that the strength behind their community programmes is a three-step process running in the background to ensure the programmes are locally run by trained, value-driven and purposeful leaders:
Step 1: Young leaders join the skills year programme and grow in employability skills.
Step 2: Young leaders join the year-long internship programme, where they guide and coach local unemployed youth to drive a community programme and thereby gain work experience.
Step 3: Over the two years these young leaders are enabled to purposefully integrate into the workforce, or are full-time employed to facilitate one of Sihamba Sonke’s community programmes. They then become the change themselves as they are enabled to live, share and teach the life values and skills embedded in them, impacting any environment they enter.
This approach allows newly developed leaders to leverage local knowledge and relationships to help design programmes to work best, given this rural context. It also leads to sustainable change as the transformation is led by local community members.
Sinethemba is now the manager for Sihamba Sonke’s agricultural programme and she is using her life lessons and wisdom to impact the lives of the young girls that she mentors. ‘Sihamba Sonke was really a platform where I started to find my purpose,’ she concludes.
Find out more about Sihamba Sonke here: https://www.sihambasonke.org
Stories of Hope is brought to you by the Mergon Foundation, a resource partner to ministries who expand God’s Kingdom and bring hope and restoration to communities across Africa and the Middle East.
Listen to Sinethemba’s story here.