A community center dedicated to village livelihood—
and the future of humanity.
Location: Kisii Area, Kenya
WE ARE MOST happy and fulfilled living in natural settings, participating in meaningful work, and relating to one another as family. Our understanding of development doesn’t really have to get more complicated than this.
But we know that it has and that this seemingly, simpler way of life has been dismissed (attacked, in some cases) in favor of technological, urbanized living with ever increasing levels of complexity that don't appear to have a correlation with the realization of human potential, or sustenance of vibrant community. In fact, evidence suggests the contrary.
With the rapid escalation of environmental, political, and humanitarian crises around the world — and as ancient prophecies have long foretold — it is clear that our current industrial and consumption-based way of life is coming to the end of its due course. It has to. Without a fundamental change in our values, the way we conduct our human affairs and relate to one another, the planetary resources needed to sustain the human race resources will not be available for much longer.
If there is to be a future for humanity, it is going to be found in our past—in terms of cultivating the respect for Mother Nature and human dignity indigenous peoples throughout the world based entire cultures on, as well as undoing the physical and psychological trend of rural-urban migration.
The Umoja — a Kiswahili word for harmony — Centre is an experiment being conducted in the interest of humanity's immediate and long-term welfare, with a mission to demonstrate sustainable, rural livelihood and a not-so-new way forward for us all.
Immersed in nature
Nyamira county in western Kenya is a peaceful and politically stable rural area 300km northwest of Nairobi near the Ugandan and Tanzanian borders. It is home to approximately 600,000 residents who survive, mostly, on subsistence farming and tea sales.
The Umoja Centre (UC) is being constructed in a small village called Bwabene in this area, on a sunny plot measuring approximately 150'x75'. The site is both private and centrally located, making it convenient to access for vehicles and residents who, for the most part, get around on foot.
At an altitude of 2,050m above sea level, the village features hilly topography, scenic views, and beautiful tiered farming setups. Owing to its close proximity to Lake Victoria and lush vegetation, Bwabene village sees perennial rainfall and a pleasant, temperate climate that creates near optimal conditions for farming and living.
Due to the area's overall lack of "development" and modernization, Bwabene maintains a remarkable degree of natural integrity. The air, water, and food are all pure. Noise and pollution, there is not. At night, a deep and profound silence descends upon the village, while a mesmerizing tapestry of bright stars and planets, appearing as if within arm’s reach, blankets the sky.
The overall philosophy of the UC is, "simple living, high thinking."
Where thinking becomes "high" — where thoughts dwell on service, community, and realizing abiding peace (as examples) — material wants become less, and less desired.
With this in mind, the majority of the compound’s structures will be constructed in the traditional style of the village, void of most modern amenities, using only local building supplies. As much as possible, plastic and concrete will not be employed during construction.
Our initial design calls for thatched mud huts, a wood and clay-tiled community center, eco-friendly toilets, as well as the plantation of a diverse variety of indigenous trees and plants.
When each hour of each day is spent in direct contact with the natural elements, while participating in meaningful work that nourishes the soul, something curious starts to happen—love begins to flow; an effortless peace arises; and, kindness soon follows.
Cultivating a presence
At the most basic level, the center is simply a call for world peace and increased understanding and kindness among people. As such, we see the UC functioning as a kind of peace pole, where being takes precedence over doing.
More than building a collection of structures or launching targeted service initiatives, we aim to facilitate personal and collective harmony (Umoja) through the timeless and urgent Gandhian concept of swadeshi, or local livelihood.
Compound flow and usability will be taken into careful consideration. Traditional art and handicrafts will decorate the buildings. All that is built and planted will be done so with great care and mindfulness of intent.
This, to create a living, breathing space that impacts, subtly, through feeling. The overall experience for staff, guests, and beneficiaries is intended to be nurturing and deeply transformational.
We are specifically designing the UC to be a destination for international volunteers.
A poverty of spirit has emerged in the developed world where, even in the midst of material abundance, people often feel disconnected from one another and a larger purpose beyond career and retirement. Younger generations, especially, are seeking solutions.
Ironically, people in the so called developing world who struggle to earn $1/day, often possess a humbling sense of humanity and generosity rooted in their traditions and strong family and communal bonds.
The contrast creates a dynamic opportunity for powerful connections we want to enable. Volunteers can share their valuable skills and mobilize resources. Community members can share their traditions, love, and humanity. In this mutual exchange of giving and receiving, lives can change in extraordinary ways.
Are you interested in traveling to Kenya to volunteer as we build the center? Drop a line and let's talk.
The world over, rural-urban migration rages on. According to recent research, the U.N. estimates that by 2050, five billion people will live in urban centers, which is close to 70% of the human population. Why is that?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to subsist alone on farming due to climate change, decreasing plot sizes from overpopulation, as well as stagnant wages/rising cost of goods. Rural inhabitants, as a result, flee their native places to look for opportunity in cities, which also carry a certain seductive appeal and symbol of status.
While money is easier to come by in urban environments, there is a steep trade off for it. Many times, “uneducated" farmers arrive to find they can only earn enough to live in a slum, which are prone to severe sanitation and security challenges not commonly found in villages. Given the hyper-independent nature of urban life, you frequently find a tragic breaking down of community and a wide gap of separation between people, who become known as consumers. Further, materialism and "wanting" take hold when the senses become inundated with advertisements, logos, and constant sources of entertainment and distraction vying for attention.
Humanity. That's the trade off. The further we drift physically and figuratively from nature and the simple village life, the more of it gets lost.
What will you do today,
that will matter tomorrow?
There are scientists and a Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist who argue that the Earth has entered into its 6th Mass Extinction based on the observation and fact that planetary species are disappearing at 100x the normal rate. Staggering levels of pollution and destruction of natural habitats for urbanization and industrial purposes is to blame and, beyond that, an entire insane human psychology and mindset. Who, in their right mind, destroys the same environment that sustains life?
While there is likely no stopping the rural-urban migration trend and psychology without catastrophic upheaval, we wonder if a small flame of hope can be kept alive? Can we plant a seed now for the world we want to see tomorrow?
Can the UC sustain itself, post-launch, without the need for regular financial support? Can we sustainably grow enough food to feed our residents and guests? Through example, can we demonstrate the value of the village life? Can we help those in desperate states of poverty find ways to get back on their feet, without having to travel to an urban center? And, through the intensity of our work, can we inspire others to be and light their own candles?
Given the state of world affairs and threats to our species, we believe it's worth finding out.
Community service and development projects will account for the majority of the center's day-to-day activity.
Mainly due to poverty, HIV/AIDS, and the inability to travel to a hospital or afford medical care when sick, the area surrounding Bwabene village is home to an unusually high — numbering in the thousands — population of orphans. Though these children have been adopted by guardian families, it's not uncommon for them to be malnourished, unloved, and not attending school.
Post-launch and with more than a helping of inspiration taken from our Malezi Centre in Nairobi, the plan is to immediately launch a free afternoon care program for some of the neediest orphan children in the village.
This would offer a beautiful environment for the kids to play in, love and care from local and international volunteers, and a teacher would be hired to teach basic school lessons. Additionally, a free dinner would be served to ensure that each child is receiving at least one nutritious meal per day.
Looking to the future, we see the center becoming an incubator of a number of community development and “gift economy” projects that create employment, solve local challenges, and transform the dependency-based “handout mentality” prevalent in the country.
For example, we could facilitate the launch of a free ambulance system to address the issue of residents not being able to get to a hospital when sick. Resource sharing schemes (e.g., shared farms and farming equipment) could be introduced. A community library can be built, a fitness center, and so much more.
Primarily, our focus is to preserve the village life through projects and activities that connect people together in a joyful, meaningful way.
We are now accepting (and requesting) donations to raise the ~$70,000 needed to launch the Umoja Centre. You can make a secure donate online now by clicking the button above.
To see an itemized breakdown of all the launch costs, click here to view the budget.
Donations of any size are welcome. However, a minimum donation of $500-$1,000 is recommended due to the relatively sizable amount we are trying to raise by the end of the year.
If you’d like to mail a check or donate via a bank transfer, kindly drop a line and you will be sent instructions for how to do so.
If you are unable to contribute financially but are inspired to give in some other way, you could share about our project and goal to your friends, family, and online social networks. If you can facilitate an introduction to a potential donor or granting organization, that also would be welcome and appreciated.