Yes, charities want to make an impact. But poverty porn is not the way to do it

This blog originally appeared in The Guardian.

Comic Relief was criticised recently by watchdog Radi-Aid for reinforcing white saviour stereotypes. // Photograph: Freddie Claire/Comic Relief/PA

Comic Relief was criticised recently by watchdog Radi-Aid for reinforcing white saviour stereotypes. // Photograph: Freddie Claire/Comic Relief/PA

By Jennifer Lentfer, Director of communications, Thousand Currents

Our job is to tell compelling stories without trivialising people’s lives – and to promote a more nuanced narrative about how to achieve lasting change

Pity, guilt and shame are easy emotional levers to pull, and ones that have become tempting to indulge in as funding is squeezed. We have seen how one well-crafted message can raise awareness of a problem and increase donations in the blink of an eye – from the Kony 2012 film, which became a viral video sensation for Invisible Children, to the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised more than £75m for motor neuron disease research.

But at the other end of the scale, Comic Relief’s fundraising video featuring pop singer Ed Sheeran and the street children of Liberia won the Radi-Aid “most offensive” campaign award in 2017. Run by the Norwegian Students and Academics International Assistance Fund, ( the contest aims to expose and discourage “poverty porn”.

Since Band Aid in 1984, non-profit organisations have faced scrutiny about approaches that raise awareness and money, but do not invite the public to question why poverty exists in the first place. The challenge for our sector is not just to get as many £5 texts as possible, but to transform goodwill into well-thought-out and sustained action. It means finding a balance between telling compelling stories, without trivialising people’s lives, or the long term prospects for social change.



Half a century later, MLK is still right

This blog originally appeared on Thousand Currents.


Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first, that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. And if Nkrumah and the people of the Gold Coast had not stood up persistently, revolting against the system, it would still be a colony of the British Empire. Freedom is never given to anybody. For the oppressor has you in domination because he plans to keep you there, and he never voluntarily gives it up. And that is where the strong resistance comes. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. shared these insights after returning from the celebration of Ghana’s independence in 1957- the first country in Africa to do so – over half a century ago. The struggles for a world liberated from neoliberalism, militarization, imperialism, and white hegemony remain central to our quests for self-determined, free nations and peoples. In parts of the world, militarized states and polices forces continue to suppress people movements; corporations continue to cement their hold on resources and power through extraction, violence, and unjust trade; and in the United States, white nationalists have found a national spokesperson in the form of the President, while the country’s domestic and international policies continue to marginalize and exploit black and brown people.

For people in the United States, these times are an excellent opportunity to examine the covert and overt manifestations of white supremacy that the President, and past administrations, are giving voice to. In the most recent capture of the U.S. federal government by white nationalists, we are seeing the worst attributes of leadership amplified through the voice of a fascist president committed to destroying the democratic ideals that many of us are working towards. In a time when the President of the United States believes and outwardly states that Mexicans are rapists, Muslims are violent, and all Haitians have AIDS, these racist views do not just degrade attitudes and narratives and rally his white nationalist base, they also shape policy. These ideas have and continue to manifest in material changes around aid, disaster relief, immigration policy, criminal justice reform, and public health resources.

If we stand opposed to this president and administration, it is incumbent upon us to support and be in solidarity with struggles being led by  oppressed communities fighting for transformation. Some of the ways we can do this is by demanding protection under a just DACA and TPS, supporting the self determination of the people of Puerto Rico, working to support communities fighting the militarization of the African and Latin American continents, and by demanding the end of corporate power. It also remains important for us to refuse to normalize these incidences, and refuse to comply with the culture of impunity that is characterizing Trump’s tenure. This administration is a failure. We must stand united and strong across our movements and struggles.

At Thousand Currents, we partner with groups around the world that are fighting to create self-determined futures. Their work is rooted in the principles of equality, justice, accountability, and transformation. They hold the complexity of the structural and globalized challenges they face while advancing localized and contextualized solutions. Our partners in South Africa and Zimbabwe hold true that the fight for Black lives in the US is inextricably linked to the fight for Black lives everywhere. Our partners in Guatemala teach us that the fight for the intellectual rights of Indigenous women in Guatemala is the continued resistance against the genocide of native peoples and their cultures across the Americas. While our partners in Rajasthan, India affirm through practice the importance of sourcing local solutions of agricultural practices  to ward off the rise of corporate power. Through their disciplined practice, our partners teach us the importance of maintaining interconnectedness, sharp political analysis, creativity, and solidarity as foundations and pathways towards a just, equitable world.  

Even as the tainted ink of emboldened white supremacists dry on executive orders and bills and engulf our national conversations, let’s heed Martin Luther King’s words and remind ourselves of what side of the arc of justice that we want to be on. This president uses his words and policies as weapons for division and destruction. White nationalists when we become insular, when we shut the world out, and when we address problems in isolation. They win when we fall prey to their distraction tactics, lose sight of the big picture, and remain entrapped in cycles of despair and outrage without action. They win when we close our borders, our minds, and our hearts. We must remain vigilant and focused. Our outrage is important, children are watching. Denouncements are necessary, the world is listening. Action is demanded of us, our freedom is at stake.

Joy IS the work

A message from Rajasvini Bhansali
Thousand Currents Executive Director since 2010


I was reading The Wisdom of No Escape last week by Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun and teacher, and I was reflecting on the idea that humans are not entitled to be happy at all times. Even if we tried, how could we be, given our global challenges?

Rather, I was reminded that our role as humans is to cultivate the conditions for joy. This means doing the work of grieving, working through differences, letting go of resentments, becoming more authentic, more interconnected, and more interdependent with each other.  

Every day at Thousand Currents, I see our partners, staff, board, Young Professionals Group, and our broader community working to do just that; they create the conditions that allow for greater hope, unity, resilience, and a lifetime of commitment in this work.

I also value when anger, fear, conflict, and disappointment arrive as well - these experiences are our teachers and an opportunity for us to grow as individuals and as a community.  

In fact, our partners teach us that joy is necessary to sustain our work. They show us where joy is in building movements, in struggle, in weaving community if we embrace each moment.

Joy is not an outcome, but is, in itself, a practice we can cultivate indeed.


Be brave. Be inspired. Be in global solidarity with Thousand Currents partners around the world.

Give with joy to Thousand Currents today!

Why our work (and our joy) still matters, 5 years later


We launched Africans in the Diaspora(AiD) in 2012 to challenge the prevailing paradigm of global development that viewed Africans through the gaze of “need.” It was time to stop promoting outsiders’ projects over people-centered solutions.

By launching AiD, we aimed to build on the legacy of diaspora organizing - connecting resources and skills from outside the continent with grassroots organizations in Africa.

In these five years, we have learned the significant role that diasporans play in re-shifting narratives about Africa. With your vision, ingenuity, leadership, and support, we have mobilized hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources to support partnerships with 14 organizations in six countries across Africa. Together, we have contributed to the important and growing crescendo of Africans daring to reclaim theglobal development and philanthropy space and place Africans’ re-imagined strategies at the center.

Our role and our voice is still needed. That is why we partnered with Thousand Currents (formerly IDEX) to support strategic diaspora philanthropy in 2014. And that’s why in early 2017, we formally merged to become a program of Thousand Currents, one of the few institutions to fully engage diasporans in strategy-setting and decision-making.


Today, as part of Thousand Currents, we continue to facilitate bridges between diaspora African communities and grassroots groups and movements in Africa. Our partners on the continent are protecting native seeds, advancing the right to land and sustainable food systems, and building community power to fight toxic policiesPlease visit this page to learn more about our partner organizations and their important and urgent work at the nexus of climate and economic justice, food sovereignty, and human rights.

Thousand Currents is committed to solidarity, self-determination, and transformative social change, and I am truly excited about what the future holds for AiD. We look forward to sharing more with you over the coming months.

For now, we ask you to follow us and renew your contribution to AiD through Thousand Currents’ “It Takes Joy” fundraising campaign. It is inspired by an important lesson we have learned from our partners: amidst struggle and turbulence, there is always joy to be cultivated and found.

It takes joy to sustain AiD’s work. Our joy is weaving the African diaspora community together to fund, connect, and walk alongside grassroots groups transforming our world for the better.

Will you give with joy this year?

In solidarity and gratitude,

Solomé Lemma
AiD co-founder and Thousand Currents' Deputy Director

P.S. Check out our updated website, and follow us on Facebook. Stay tuned for more to come in 2018!.

Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda: African-centered, self-determined, and people powered

By Luam Kidane, Africa Regional Director

This article originally appeared on Thousand Currents.

One of our new catalyst partners, Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda, is a vibrant rural community movement that mobilises for rights, democracy, land reform, and sustainable rural development located in Keiskammahoek, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Started in 2002, Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda was formed by community members as an organization to help propel the work and vision of the community forward.  Starting with the name, Ntaba kaNdoda is a nod to a historically significant mountain while the name Ntinga means “to soar” in Zulu. It is clear that Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda is the creation of a community that is committed to maintaining its Indigenous knowledges and that seeks to to mobilise and catalyse people power to transform the lived realities of the member villages. Their goal: self-determined communities based on principles of justice and imagination.


Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda is a community-driven and sustained effort that strives to build and nurture collective community solidarity, critical consciousness, and democratic practices through five main programmes:

  • Community heritage, arts and culture
  • The solidarity economy alternative for sustainable livelihoods and development
  • Quality public education
  • Ntingani Lootcha (activating youth leadership)
  • Rights-based participatory democracy

The work of Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda reaches 42 villages in Keiskammahoek, approximately 400,000 people. The coordinating headquarters of the organization is on a 4-hectare site that the Rabula community gifted to Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda. When I visited Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda in November 2016, the members and staff of Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda had built a rondavel where community meetings and workshops were held and they were doing their administrative work out of two rented rooms at a neighbouring house that they were using as their office space.

As I learned more about the organization and the surrounding communities, community members and staff showed me their future plans for a multi-purpose centre on the Rabula site. The plans included a learning agroecology farm and centre, an early childhood development centre, a recreational and learning centre for the elderly, a heritage museum, sports facilities, meeting rooms and offices, a community hall and a roadside farm stall. These plans reflected the mandate that Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda has been given by the community members: to build spaces where the community can have somewhere to come together, vision, and build with one another. The desire to build this multi-purpose centre was propelled by community self-determination.

The idea of a community mandate is what is important about the work of Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda. The General Assembly, the highest decision making body of the organization, is held annually. In addition to the General Assembly, there are Village Assemblies through which community members participate in creating the working mandate for Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda’s work based on what was agreed upon at the General Assembly.

Nestled in the mountain of Ntaba kaNdoda, a site of African resistance to colonialism, Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda ensures that the lessons of African freedom fighters continue to be explored through an annual heritage festival. Past festivals have included a visit to the grave of Maqoma, an anti-colonial resistance strategist, leader and military commander, musical performances, poetry and book readings, Indigenous dances and games, as well as izidlo zikaNtu cuisine.   

In 2012, Keiskammahoek community members did a traditional cleansing of the site given the violence committed during the apartheid era of the Ciskeian homeland and preparation for the reconstruction of the Maqoma Memorial at Ntaba kaNdoda. Ntaba kaNdoda is currently working with the Amathole District Municipality for the resuscitation and official declaration of Ntaba kaNdoda as a South African heritage site. Such a declaration is believed to be a key step in the development of the Keiskammahoek Heritage Route. In addition to Ntaba kaNdoda, the route will include other historical sites as well including: King Ngqika’s grave, the site of the Burnshill Wagon Battle, Fort Cox, Sandile Dam, Booma Pass, Princess Ntsusa’s grave, Dyirha’s cliff, Mount Hoho, Khoi sites, German graves, rock art sites and local forests.

The work that Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda is visioning and building in Keiskammahoek is creative, African centred, imaginative, and exciting. At a time when the onslaught of state collusion with corporate power, industrialized agriculture, climate change, land grabs, and economic injustice continue to rise in Africa, the communities of Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda are doing important propositional work. The communities of Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda are exploring pathways of building community through self-determination and balance with the earth. And along the way, they are learning and inviting African communities to join their exploration of agroecology, solidarity economics, and youth-centered leadership development.   

ntinga ntinga.png

“The seashore belongs to the people of South Africa”

This story originally appeared on Thousand Currents.



On Saturday, July 8th, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and KwaZulu-Natal Subsistence Fisherfolk (KZNSFF) organized a fishing walk on the Durban Beachfront Promenade to bring awareness to what fisherfolk are facing in their city. 

Thousand Currents is currently supporting a joint project by SDCEA in South Africa and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in Nigeria, called Fish Not Oil. Below is media statement from the day of the walk. It demonstrates how fisherfolk are resisting the intersections of state-sanctioned repression through the guise of security, climate change, food sovereignty, and the inequality of resource distribution.


Media statement by the KwaZulu-Natal Subsistence Fisher Folk, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, and all groups that have contributed to today’s event


Why are we here today?

The recent rush by oil and gas corporations to explore, mine and drill is of alarm to every person living on our coastline. These same corporations have a track record of spills and harmful operations that have destroyed the oceans, marine life, biodiversity, tourism and sustainable jobs in the Gulf of Mexico, Antarctica, North and South Poles, Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Niger Delta and many other sensitive areas of the Amazon. The most notorious is ExxonMobil, whose most recent boss is now the United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. It was recently revealed that Exxon knew about climate change from the late 1970s and Tillerson was involved in a cover-up with catastrophic consequences.

Can we trust this firm to drill for oil just a few kilometres offshore from Durban?

These companies are now launching an all-out frontal attack to get exploratory rights to search for oil and gas near our sensitive Indian Ocean shoreline. This kind of oil and gas exploitation is a Resource Curse. It has not benefitted any of the poor on the African continent. Instead, it has meant increased poverty for the masses and destroyed environments, while a few individuals of the ruling elite, both globally and locally, end up monopolising the profits. Wherever exploratory rights have been granted for mining or seismic testing, this ultimately leads to violence against communities, workers and environments. We witnessed this recently on our Indian Ocean coast with the death in March 2016 of activist Bazooka Rhadebe, whose Amadiba Crisis Committee opposes sand mining by an Australian multinational corporation.

Subsistence fishermen are defined as “fishermen who regularly catch fish for personal and household consumption and engage from time to time in the local sale or barter of excess catch”. The KwaZulu-Natal Fisher Folk and other beach and harbour users have used the entire coastline for hundreds of years. Together with fishermen, boat users, surfers, bathers, tourism operators and all nature lovers want our coastline to remain a site of beauty.

Since 2003, black fisherfolk have experienced harassment and oppression. One example is Metro Rail’s cancellation of the passenger train that carries hundreds of subsistence fisherfolk to the West Station on the Bluff. After a protracted protest, the train was reinstated. Despite this victory, in 2016 fisherfolk experienced Transnet freight rail deliberately stalling the passenger train because they were supposedly unable to repair a collapsed bank. The service is vital for poor subsistence fisherfolk as it is their only means of transport to the poor man’s fishing ground in the harbour where, at the South Pier, they can access deep water large game fish species that otherwise can only be caught by boat.

Following the 911 attacks, government and Transnet took a decision to deny access to subsistence fisherfolk in the Durban harbour in 2004 whilst allowing access to the expensive fishing boats and trawlers in these same fishing grounds. Durban’s municipal government and Transnet used the international ship and port security (ISPS) code to refuse entry to the mainly black fisherfolk, deeming them as potential terrorists and thus criminalising poor people trying to eke out a livelihood. Fisherfolk had to turn to the port regulator to be recognised as port users, thereby forcing the municipality and Transnet to provide access to traditional fishing grounds.

Legitimate fisherfolk who possess fishing licences have been enduring constant harassment, fines and, in some instances, arrest, and are forced to appear in the courts of Durban, only to find that the cases are withdrawn. Other instances of harassment by port security have included fisherfolk having their catches taken from them and their fishing equipment either thrown into the sea or confiscated. These challenges have emanated since fishermen began empowering and educating themselves about human rights injustices. Fishermen have worked together with Ezemvelo Wildlife to develop a mentoring booklet to ensure that endangered fish species are protected and that all policies can be adhered to by all fishermen.

Subsistence fisher folk pay millions of rands, which go into the state treasury, through the purchasing of fishing licences at the post office and yet there is no benefit: no facilities or services in return for their contribution.

Before the World Cup, in 2009, thousands of subsistence fisherfolk who catch sardines and shad as home delicacies were deprived of that opportunity because they were removed from the Durban beachfront on the Golden Mile up to the casino. Without consultation, the eThekwini Municipality signed an agreement with the World Cup organising committee to remove all traders and subsistence fishermen from beachfront and its piers. As fisherfolk were removed, big developments were proposed for some areas of the beachfront. Vetch’s Pier, North Pier and other sections of the coastline are earmarked for development for elite tourists.

The seashore belongs to the people of South Africa. Leasing areas for oil exploration and forcing Durban residents off the coast simply because they fish are against the South African Constitution that assures equality of access to everyone in South Africa.

At previous international events in Durban we have heard municipal government and Transnet officials vowing that no fishing will be allowed on the Durban Beachfront and the Durban harbour. These international events block only the poor and residents, but allow other water sports and expensive shopping brands access to our prestigious beachfront.

In recent news, Ezemvelo Wildlife has been making headlines for the wrong reasons: its staff include dubious appointees. We need a strong Ezemvelo with experienced leaders at the helm. Ezemvelo has a crucial role in our society and have been at the forefront of conservation in KwaZulu-Natal, halting poaching and protecting animals and marine life. Without that strong oversight and enforcement we will not have many of the species we still have today in the province. Although at times they seemed to be harsh and have treated subsistence fisher folk with distaste, we feel that they have been the strongest enforcement bodies in the province, watching our coastline, parks and beaches. Without that oversight we would leave nothing for the present and future generations to view, enjoy or eat.

What we calling for on this day

Government must stop the corporations’ seismic testing and oil and gas exploration on our coastline. If this testing is successful, our national commitments to cut fossil fuel consumption will make oil and gas finds useless as they are ‘unburnable carbon’, given the global urgency of reducing emissions.

Meaningful public hearings must be conducted with all interested and affected parties, including all communities along our entire coastline, to determine whether oil and gas drilling should be allowed. These hearings must also investigate evidence of the oil companies’ history of destruction and impacts on society where they were granted licences, and their contribution to climate change.

We also demand the opening all traditional fishing grounds in Durban, in the Port and on our coastline. The right to fish at South Pier has been a victory for KZN subsistence fisherfolk. However, we need access to the North fishing areas and Grunter Gully re-opened.

eThekwini Parks and Recreational officials must recognise us as ocean users and give us access to the piers on the beachfront and along the coast within their jurisdiction.

Fishing rights allocated to Japanese and Chinese fishing trawlers should be rescinded so that fishing rights and quotas are distributed equally to all South African fisherfolk.

Licensing financial records must be made available and accessible to fishing groups, individuals and organisations.

A policy for subsistence fishermen must be developed that takes their indigent status into account.

A moratorium must be enacted through policy and legislation on chemicals, toxic waste, and brine dumped in the harbour, ocean, rivers and streams. The depletion of fish stocks is partly due to pollution. We call on our government to hold a waste imbizo to discuss solutions to this dumping problem.

Our Victories

The South Pier was opened in 2014 by the then Harbour Master Dennis Mqadi, the port manager Moshe Motlohi and Ports CEO Richard Vallihu. Transnet has finally recognised KZN subsistence fisher folk as a major port user and stakeholder in Durban.

We applaud Transnet’s agreement to open fishing access at the Lucky Dip, which is located opposite the sand pumping station on the North Pier. Transnet management have agreed to provide facilities such the installation of toilets, wash basins, bins and bait boards at Lucky Dip. A proposal by Transnet to jointly hold a fishing competition at Lucky Dip in September with KZNSFF has been welcomed.

Transnet management has agreed to put aside a budget to ensure the North Pier is secure and to fish and will be opened to allow those subsistence fisherfolk with Transnet permits to fish.

A ferry will also be provided by Transnet to take KZN subsistence fisherfolk from the North to the South Pier.

Transnet has agreed to deal with the issues of harassment by Transnet security and SAPS police as long as fishermen comply with all legal status.

EThekwini Municipality has agreed to facilitation by the Durban University of Technology’s Urban Futures Centre to discuss the opening and maintenance of beachfront piers for fisherfolk.

Transnet’s withdrawal of the criminal case of trespassing against the KZN subsistence fisherfolk is a victory for the KZN subsistence fisherfolk.

Way forward

We need the national Department of Minerals and Energy as well as the Petroleum Association of South Africa to place a permanent a moratorium on the granting of any oil and gas exploratory licences. Public hearings must be held as a matter of urgency.

The eThekwini Municipality, government, Transnet and all the departments which have the responsibility for protecting our ocean must work together with civil society to ensure our marine stocks and waters are protected and always available.

To end the dumping of harmful chemicals, there must be an urgent imbizo.

We want to build an inclusive society and this must include access, protection and responsible use of our marine and animal resources. No effort must be spared to ensure the present and future generations also enjoy the fruits of our efforts.

“Globalise the struggle! Globalise hope!”



By Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, and chairperson of Thousand Currents partner, the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF).*

There is an African proverb that says:

“If you want to go fast, go alone, but you won’t go far. If you want to go far, go with others.”

I believe that the struggle for Food Sovereignty is captured in the latter part of the proverb. Food Sovereignty is a lasting global solution for how we should relate with nature and people as we feed ourselves.

It is a struggle that requires alliances for fully recognizing and realizing peasants’ rights, and achieving social, economic and ecological equity and equality. This can only be done through collectiveness, in alliance across movements, regions, cultures and genders to ensure global solidarity and effect real change.

To build and realise Food Sovereignty, it is imperative to work and engage with others — peasants, indigenous people, fisherfolk, women, men, progressive researchers, consumers, etc. — to rethink ways and means of farming and mobilisation. By sharing ideas and generating knowledge, we are able to shape a society based on justice and solidarity, build healthy, inclusive communities, and improve social integration and cohesion. La Via Campesina recognizes the importance of alliances and we have joined hands with other social movements and organizations to push for Food Sovereignty in many national and international spaces. As a result, Food Sovereignty is included in some policies, enshrined in constitutions by some countries, while in others, debates continue on what to adopt.

Today, Food Sovereignty is a living concept because of continuing alliance work. It is the struggle for local food systems based on agroecology; access to  local markets; access to and control over productive resources such as land, water, seeds, etc; recognition of peasant rights; and resistance to industrial agriculture, Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Transnational Corporations (TNCs).

*This article first appeared in the most recent Nyeleni newsletter, which marked the tenth anniversary of the historic International Forum on Food Sovereignty that was held Mali in 2007.

Unearthing Community Wisdom: Patience, Perseverance, And Partnerships

Sharing an excerpt from the book Smart Risks: How small grants are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Chapter 7 was authored by Thousand Currents’ Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, Rajiv Khanna.


In this new volume of 30 essays, 22 authors (including Thousand Currents’ executive director Rajasvini Bhansali and board member Sasha Rabsey) explore how responsive grantmaking, focused on grassroots wisdom and close connections, can make a lasting impact in the Global South.

To learn more (including how to purchase), see:


From Chapter 7: Unearthing community wisdom: Patience, perseverance, and partnerships

By Rajiv Khanna

It had been almost 15 years. The people of Chhaperiya village in the Indian state of Rajasthan were still working out how to manage a village-owned common pastureland. It seemed the process of building community unity had much in common with the region’s terrain – undulating, rocky, harsh, and cumbersome.


No binders necessary


This post originally appeared on Thousand Currents.

By Katherine Zavala and Rajasvini Bhansali

“Here they are,” her energy frantic as we arrived and sat down in the room she had prepared for our visit.

Before us were 12 large binders, stacked upon the table before us.

“Prudence, what are all these?” we wondered aloud sheepishly, this being the first time we were visiting her office.


“Don’t you want to see these?” she said.

“What are they?” we asked again.

“The records from our activities, the participant sign-in’s, the home visits,” she seemed surprised.

This was our first visit to Positive Women’s Network (PWN) in Johannesburg. What we had heard from colleagues back in San Francisco was that it was difficult to communicate with Prudence. But clearly, documentation inside the organization was not a problem.

“We are here because we want to get to know you, to learn about PWN’s work,” we replied. “We don’t need to check these binders.”

“Oh,” Prudence said, somewhat taken aback. “Donors always want to see them.”

We were there as donors indeed, but we were not there as auditors.

We were also not in a hurry, coming in and out on a half day site visit. We explained again (as we had in correspondence prior) that we were there to understand and support the organization’s work. “Policing” wasn’t part of our agenda.

Eventually, she believed us, after the fatigue of servicing so many international donors subsided, and as the trust was built with us over the next two days.

Here is an excerpt from our site visit report from 7 April 2009:

Today we went out to visit support group members and PWN’s work in the township of Wattville, an hour away from central Johannesburg. Currently in Wattville there are 100-150 families that belong to PWN, making it the largest support group. Prudence grew up several years [of her childhood] in Wattville. Her grandmother’s older sister’s family still lives there (nephew and cousin). As we entered the township, Prudence showed us the school she went to and the corner where she used to sell vegetables.

Meeting family members and sharing childhood memories – this is how relationships get built. In that time with Prudence, we also got to see her magic in action, working with the community. We joined a church youth group that PWN supported that was in session, where the kids were having conversations about the realities of their lives in the face of HIV. Topics went from “What you think about guys having multiple girlfriends?” to “Do you know how to prevent yourself from getting HIV?”


Thousand Currents Regional Program Director, Katherine Zavala meeting with Prudence’s family in South Africa

Prudence got very excited when one of the young women asked if there was a female condom. Prudence had a sample in her bag and sprung out of her chair to give the kids an impromptu demonstration of how to use it. It was amazing to see Prudence clearly instructing the youth, step-by-step, how to use the female condom, all the while encouraging them to pass it around and touch and feel it – a lesson they would not soon forget.

Prudence shared more of her struggles as the head of an organization over meals and in car rides. It started with the stories she told of other funders’ visits, laughing while chiding the rude and offensive behavior of their staff. She talked of their obsession with quantitative indicators, of exact numbers of how many people were served. She talked of their misrepresentations to the community, raising expectations that PWN wasn’t always able to fulfill. She talked of one donor’s arrival into the townships with armed guards, an egregious display of mistrust, racism, and privilege she never allowed to happen again.

Prudence also revealed that the financial management of PWN was weighing heavily on her. In conversation, we came to find out that she had never before created an organizational budget for PWN.

“I’m just always managing all of the grant budgets,” she explained, and as a result, it was very hard to manage and anticipate organizational needs. This also left PWN very vulnerable if a donor were to pull out.

While she was entirely capable of doing this, she had never been supported to do so. Prudence founded PWN with her gifts of community organizing, public speaking, and fighting the good fight, not on budget development. So we sat with her on the 3rd day of our site visit and together, we created PWN’s first organizational budget. This experience ignited our commitment to creating Thousand Currents’ brand of “capacity building,” i.e. support that fulfills partner-identified needs to strengthen their organizations.

Today, Thousand Currents site visits continue to focus on relationship building and shared learning. We continue to make time to eat together, to listen to each other’s stories.

It’s the difference between a fly-by visitor and a true partner. We arrive to be fully present, to listen, and then collaborate to help you grow and develop over time.

Thousand Currents Regional Program Director, Katherine Zavala meeting with Prudence’s family in South Africa

Thousand Currents Regional Program Director, Katherine Zavala meeting with Prudence’s family in South Africa

A Declaration from Lekil Kuxlejal-Ich’el Ta Muk’: An International Agroecology Gathering

This past August, food sovereignty practitioners and advocates from 11 countries including Zimbabwe, Mexico, South Africa, Guatemala, USA, Nepal, India, Brazil, Peru, Honduras and Haiti came together in Chiapas, Mexico to exchange their knowledge, practice and experiences at an agroecology learning exchange organized and hosted by Thousand Currents senior partner Desarrollo Económico y Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas – D.E.S.M.I.  (Social Economic Development of Indigenous Mexicans). The exchange was calle “ekil Kuxlejal-Ich’l Ta K’ (Buen Vivir with respect),” inviting more than 120 indigenous and peasant farmers, movement leaders, indigenous youth, feminists and academic activists to share strategies and offer their commitment of solidarity to one another. The following is a declaration they built together t this international gathering.


Final Declaration – Lekil Kuxlejal-Ich’el Ta Muk’

We are and will continue to organize ourselves as communities of Buen Vivir!

 From near and far, our steps were found in these Mayan lands of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico; we have been walking from our lands and from our different nations to live and build together the nation of Buen Vivir!

We set out from our native and indigenous communities from Asia: Nepal, India; from the Americas: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Peru, USA, Brazil and from Africa: South Africa and Zimbabwe.