Crew Commentary

The Story Behind Kufunda – an African Learning Community

Bob Leonard - Climate Risk Manager


What follows is a transcript of an interview by my friend Christine Brauitgam of Maaianne Knuth, the founder of the Kufunda village in Zimbabwe. I edited the interview for length and clarity. You can listen to the entire interview here. – Bob Leonard 


Hello this is Christine Brautigam. I was a guest, volunteer, and visiting teacher in the village of Kufunda, 40 minutes outside of Harare in Zimbabwe. I interviewed Maaianne Knuth, the founder of Kufunda. 



“Yes, Kufunda is a learning Village in Zimbabwe. Kufunda actually means learning. We are a community of individuals that are learning our way into a different future. The question that’s at the heart of Kufunda is: How do we create healthy vibrant community? Kufunda is the living answer to that question.


There are three main aspects. The first is really about ‘how do we live in community?’ What we are learning is around participatory process and people each bringing their gifts and their passions and then finding ways of co-creating together out of that.


So healthy community living and healing with the land. How do we grow our food in such a way that we are nourishing the Earth rather than extracting from her? That journey has brought us to permaculture and, more recently, BioDynamic farming as a way of really being good stewards of the land. What we are also discovering is that as we deepen our relationship with the land, we are  deepening our relationship with ourselves and on a journey of becoming more whole.


So Community, Land, and then the third is the Children. Through our work with community we saw that many young people were coming out of the education system wounded, not believing in themselves. So we launched a Waldorf-inspired primary school. For many years we’ve been working with rural communities with Waldorf-inspired preschool and kindergarten setups.


It is already in the children, and if we can nourish it, and nourish them, to just continue to believe in themselves, continue to land fully here with confidence and imagination, then they become a part of the bridge into a different future.


We are a learning village with about 60 people who live here. About 20 adults are working for Kufunda. So we’ve got the school with the teachers and currently 65 children and growing. We’ve got a community team that works with rural community development running workshops for neighbouring villages. We’ve got the Biodynamic team that is learning how to grow and be with the land and working with neighboring local communities to spread this way of working with the land. We started a veggie basket, selling biodynamic vegetables to Harare.



Those are the three aspects of life at Kufunda, that is having an impact on our neighboring communities… I think when people come here, what they see is, it’s almost like we remind them that you can be a Zimbabwean community and not let go of your roots. So many Training Centers, they chop down the forest and then they build their square buildings with their tin roofs. The essence of Kufunda is you see the African village. You see all of these round rondovuls with the thatch roofs, nestled amongst the trees, and with the composting toilets and the wood saving stoves… 



So, when people come they step into the lived experience of ‘how can community be, how else can it be?’ In the journey to the modern world, we’re losing so much. At Kufunda we are saying you don’t have to lose that, and in fact, we have to build on who we are and what we know and then go forward. It seems to be an important part of our work that rural communities from elsewhere can come and visit and learn with us in this little oasis.”


How and when did you start it?


“Ah yes, where did this come from? So, my father was Danish and my mother Zimbabwean and I grew up in both countries. I went to University in Denmark, but my family was, at that point, living here in Zimbabwe. What I was experiencing was a dissonance, something wasn’t adding up. In my experience of Zimbabwe and what I was hearing when I was out, when I was in Denmark and Europe, and also when I was in Zimbabwe here, people’s views on the North; it was like it was all good… sort of a sense of North and West all good, South and Africa all bad. I am putting it in too strong of a polarity, but that was my essential experience… as a generalization both sides were actually, somehow buying into it. So, over a few years, I got a stronger and stronger impulse that I needed to come back here.


So, the inception of Kufunda came on my 30th birthday, I invited people I knew from my work in Denmark and elsewhere to come and celebrate life in Zimbabwe for a week. We had 40 people, friends, fly in from North America, Europe, South Africa, and Australia and then we had a week here. The strongest experience was one night, it was just 24 hours in Mhondoro. This rural Zimbabwean Village and 40 foreigner friends and about two hundred villagers, possibly more, spending an evening and night in celebration with African drums and mbira and dance and traditional food and there was so much joy and community and togetherness!


I think, initially, some of my friends were quite scared, like whoa, and for most of them it was a deeply moving experience. Several of them said ‘it was life-changing.’ …and I still can’t explain/understand, how is a night in an African Community life-changing? But it was something about this picture we have of Africa ‘the basket case’ to suddenly having this experience of what true community can be! Like real togetherness, a real, yes, soul connection; the songs, the celebration…


So, Kufunda came out of this impulse to acknowledge and appreciate and celebrate what we have and then building on that to move towards where we want to go. 


I went back home and wrapped up my life in Denmark and came back a few months later and again went out to communities, and Mondhoro was the first… and asked: “What do you have that you can celebrate and that you appreciate?” and realized it was really such an unusual question for them. Normally they would be asked: What do you need?


That was where the clarity that Kufunda isn’t simply an initiative that goes out and meets people in community. Kufunda is an initiative that builds something here that is our own learning, our way in to the answer to those questions. A place where people can come and be away from their everyday, be in a different, almost like a cocoon, a place to be nestled in a place and process where they could develop their dreams, their initiatives and then go home and get to work on them.


Yes, so that was the impulse and that is the journey. We already had a little bit of Waldorf coming in, but it was like; school! We need to build a school. Then it was a long winding path but eventually here it is the school growing and it is beautiful. 




The children, the school, is at the heart of Kufunda. It is interesting, we started with community, and the first community workshops we ran, out of that appreciative inquiry that we would do in every community workshop. We would ask: What is your dream? Every time the children were brought up.

So many of the women would always bring in the children, whether it was the AIDS orphans or the local children, always came in. So the guidance to work with the children came in right from the beginning from the community women.
So we began, and initially we saw how they worked with the children was this archaic British, like little military school! It was terrible. So, we were like, we’ve got to find something else! Then we met someone who knew about Waldorf and then Waldorf came in and we were like, ‘Oh my god, this is so resonate with the ethos of Kufunda!’ 

Once the school was happening at Kufunda it’s like everyday, because they come to school every day, the school was a heartbeat that came to life! …and the parents are working at Kufunda, and the children are going to school there… it’s like it’s brought another aliveness, yeah.


It was so wonderful and to feel the energy and the confidence of the children! This is what the parents have seen, they have older siblings who have gone to the government schools… No offense to go to schools but if you don’t fit into the box then you gradually gradually have your confidence eroded…



So, for the parents to see their children shine, and glow, and PROUDLY come forth… and to actually love school. I think the school and the children are also kindling a sense of hope in the parents, in a sense of belief in the future but also in themselves as Zimbabweans!


For the biodynamic farming, I would dream that, again, we could be a center for Zimbabwe, maybe even the region, around biodynamics.



Biodynamic farming came out of anthroposophy, which is also where Waldorf comes from, and came through Rudolf Steiner. So we work with the land in a very careful way… with permaculture we’re mimicking the intelligence of nature which is amazing and wonderful! With biodynamic farming, my experience is, we take one step further, where human beings are then working with what’s in nature to create preparations, to strengthen the vitality of the soil and the plants. We are bringing in, yeah, vitality and elements from the cosmos, as well as from the Earth.


It is a healing agriculture. It really is a healing agriculture and I wish we could spread that here in service of this beautiful land and also in service of the people, because my experience is, you know, we are what we eat.


When I’m eating food that is really alive, not just organic, but really alive!, something more becomes possible for me and so that is what our children, our people, need to be eating.


We’ve been doing work with women and women’s empowerment, and more recently now also beginning to host circles for men. That part of the question, ‘What does it take to create healthy vibrant community?’ is human beings who believe in themselves and who are ready and willing to serve. The gender dynamic, in this country… there is a lot that needs to be worked through… so that working with the children and with the youth, but also with those young girls and older women actually believing in themselves and believing that their voices, are not the same, but at least of equal value as the men. Then for the men, to be like ‘what does it mean to be a man today?’ I think men are actually quite threatened in Zimbabwe by the women slowly finding their way. So, something about realizing we can’t just work at the level of community, but the level of gender, yes, gender work is also important! That is maybe a strange place to end, but that just came through as something key that I hadn’t spoken.


Because we come from a history where everything has been separated when we try to bring it together too quickly, it doesn’t work, it’s not real. So there is that need for women, not with anger… (actually in the first years of our woman’s work, I was angry!) but to do this, not with anger.