As COVID-19 became more real to us in Zimbabwe in March 2020, our community of Conveners and thought partners in Gateway Zimbabwe leaned into the Goethean nature observation practice as a sensemaking tool. Thanks to integrative thinker Johann Wolfgang, this inquiry tool allows us to see emerging phenomena through careful, precise and direct observation of plants and the natural world. Over the past two years we’ve been learning about nature observation as a way to notice and make sense of social change; in our case transmuting observation of nature to the process of reweaving the social fabric of Zimbabwe. Amidst the uncertainty of this particular season, we embarked on a dedicated and collective practice of noticing “what is” and “what is emerging” as COVID-19 raged through the world. In Gateway Zimbabwe, this journey has simultaneously been a way of channelling and processing our own uncertainty, while locating the observations in a broader national and global sense.
Ten weeks later, our deep dive into nature observation has left us sitting with an initial set of poignant imagery around the polarities and tug-of-war at play between the new and the old. Within communities, we are involved with, in the national landscape of Zimbabwe and all across the globe, where evolving the systems are being questioned and challenged.
Gateway Zimbabwe is a curious initiative, co-created by three very distinct organizations working in very interconnected domains: rights, social, cultural and ecological. These lenses, complemented by perspectives from thought partners in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the US, have illuminated incredible richness about what this season of potential metamorphosis can offer. What is possible if we are able to remain fully awake to the extremes society and individuals are going through, to the pulling from all sides of systems (social, economic, political, cultural) becoming undone to become more whole and inclusive. As part of our observations, we noticed many extremes. The tenderness of families becoming more intimate during Lockdown. Communities from across our fellowship program in Zimbabwe returning to the land to find sustenance and boost their immune systems by building community gardens. And at the same time, we were aware of the turbulent reality of the daily wage earners struggling between the threat of death and the threat of starvation. The violent (and sometimes deadly) response in enforcing measures that were intended to preserve life. And the self-focused preservation of personal rights at the expense of others, despite a call for community accountability.
In Gateway Zimbabwe, we know that new ways are possible. And so, we follow our instincts and search for pathways through the cycle of polarities that seems to pull across our society. Whether we are using participatory circle practices or deep democracy dialogical practices to bring community leaders together in generative & inclusive ways; whether we are composting and drawing lessons from how working with the land is akin to the work of tending diligently & thoughtfully to our communities. Our quest is the same: to notice the multiple gateways for the new that becomes possible in each moment and each movement. The choice to remain on a journey of searching, learning and inquiring is just as important as arriving at a destination or a particular eureka moment. We know that this journey is going to be a long one and is not finite. And yet, even in this short space of time, there is a notable observation which has reminded us of some essence of humanity.
Community, community, community. We’ve been struck again by how community building has to be at the centre of everything we do. As terms like social distancing, community infections and community immunity became more normalized, we were drawn more to the POWER OF COMMUNITY. Whether we are working for greater democracy, catalyzing local economies, building ecologically friendly latrines, or working with communities to grow sorghum. Without the process of letting people vision together and co-create the journey together as a community, these efforts are watered down in their potential to reweave the social fabric of society.
During this COVID-19 lockdown period in Zimbabwe, we’ve seen this deep community building across our Gateway fellowship: as they notice important lessons from the compost pile, as our Chiadzwa cohort keeps dialogue alive despite our physical distancing, and as our Epworth cohort looks to community buying as a way to survive & develop a sustainable and self-determined micro-economy.