Last fall, groups of bikers from Mennonite Church Canada congregations across the country gathered in numerous communities to participate in a ride to raise funds for charity. Specifically, there were 8 teams, and they raised nearly $20,000 to support the construction of a new park in a rough neighborhood in Gaborone, Botswana. Calgary, Langley, Niagara, Saskatoon, Surrey, Waterloo, and Winnipeg were all represented, and all connected themselves to the community of Bontleng (“place of beauty”) through their own beautiful acts of service. So, what’s happening with that park that so many good people risked getting those awkward splash marks up the middles of their backs to support? We’re glad you asked.
Before we begin, however – sometimes the best antidote to reading a boring article is, of course, coloring. I know that I didn’t have to tell you that.
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Please find a link at the bottom of the page which will allow you to find the drawing which is featured for this article. It was drawn by one of the youth local to Bontleng, to give a visual of how the park is roughly going to be laid out. Our request is this: print off a few copies of the drawing (printed in black and white) and ask your children, or some children from your congregation, to color one in. Then, either scan them and send them to our email address (email@example.com), or mail them to us in Botswana (PO Box 33, Gaborone, Botswana), so that we can make use of them and encourage the local team. And if you want to color one in yourself, who are we to judge? Actually, it would be pretty cool.
Swift, Slim, Sbu, Wame, Fox. Not just an awesome collection of names, these 5 young Batswana, along with a number of others, have been working hard behind the scenes here in Gaborone to make this project happen. From messaging politicians and filling out forms, to asking for in-kind donations, to putting together large proposals to major corporations, to hashing out details with architects, to putting together programs for the local sports radio show, to dreaming up plans and then spending lots and lots of hours in combis and taxis and offices to make them happen, our team has been putting together all of the details of this project. The group came together, all of us having been given a similar vision for showing the love of Jesus in our communities by resourcing people who haven’t been blessed with much in the way of facilities, and we’ve all been encouraged to work together. If you haven’t seen it, check out this link to see a short video describing the site, and the shared dreams for its development.
We’ve wanted to create something that is locally produced, locally sustainable, and replicable. So we’ve been knocking on a lot of doors here in Gaborone for support, and have been working on a park that makes the most of what’s available where we live, and addresses the issues specific to our context.
We find that we have sunshine. A lot of sunshine. So solar energy is a natural fit.
As our proposed park is located next to a number of bars, we also have a lot of cans and bottles.
Bontleng is also full of creative people, many of whom are not currently employed, and who have a desire for knowledge.
We don’t have a lot of water (we’ve had a few years of drought, and our cities’ main water supply, the Gaborone Dam, is empty).
There are a lot of children who play among broken glass and in storm ditches that crisscross the area. As they get older, the bars are the place to be. Neither location is preferable.
So, the plan to maximize our resources and empower the community is simply this: we build a futsal court for 5-a-side soccer, with a slight tilt to it, leading to underground rainwater storage tanks to collect rainwater during the rainy season, to be used during the dry winter months. The field will be used by school phys-ed programs, and for social and competitive leagues, and for training purposes with our soccer development affiliates.
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Bontleng has many people who creatively try to sustain vegetable gardens, despite limited water. So, beside the tanks we will install an urban aquaponics system, fed with the rainwater (aquaponics = fish, whose waste feeds a vegetable garden, whose waste feeds worms and grubs, who are fed to the fish, whose waste feeds a vegetable garden…and so on; MC Canada’s own Hippolyto Tshimanga explains it more interactively here). This system will be taught to a number of our Bontleng park committee volunteers, who will maintain it, and teach others this form of farming.
Beside the aquaponics will be a drip-fed vegetable garden, maximizing the rainwater from our tanks.
This area already attracts a lot of businesspeople from a nearby commerce neighborhood who like to get their delicious traditional foods every lunch hour (that’s right, magwinyas, seswaa, palechi, merogo, semp; you know, the usual). So, beside the futsal court, we will build an eco café, serving traditional foods. The café will be open air, with a large grass-thatched roof. The base will be made from leftover concrete from local construction sites which would otherwise be dumped and left to solidify into mounds on the outskirts of the city. This will be mixed with sanitized and shredded medical waste (no, nothing creepy, just latex gloves and other garbage products from local hospitals), which will make it a bit less heat and cold conductive, and will also allow us to stretch out the amount of concrete. The knee walls and counters will be built using this concrete, as well as used cans and bottles, while the furniture will be built out of recycled skids and other found materials, like tires and scrap metal.
The café will be a wifi hotspot, and the wifi router will be solar powered, attracting students and businesspeople alike.
One of our local partners, currently designing the café, is also skilled in computer technology, and plans on using the finished café as a space for providing free seminars to community members who would like to learn IT skills.
Other recycled material stalls will be built around the site, so that local craftspeople will be able to have space to show off their wares and their talents. One older gentleman in a wheelchair is a cobbler, repairing all types of shoes and sandals at the site under some sheets of tin; we hope to build him a beautiful little stall, and to inspire others to come and join him with their own talents.
The park tends to be a bit of a dangerous area, unfortunately, as people use the dark, open space to hide at night and rob unsuspecting passersby. So, solar powered lights will be installed in order to remove the dark spaces, as well as to illuminate the futsal pitch for late-night activities.
The traditional kgotla, or meeting area, at the corner of the court will allow the older community members to sit and relax, while enjoying the sights and sounds of their community, while a playground will help the local children to expend their crazy amounts of energy, and an outdoor gym playground will allow active adults to do the same!
Our guys have been hard at work to raise the funds for this project, as well as to make sure that it will be done right, so that it can last for decades to come, and can be reproduced by other communities around the city, and around the country.
So, the efforts of our wonderful Ride for Refuge teams have not been in vain, although this is all taking a while. Most of what’s being proposed is new to Botswana, and new things often take time! Other people from our congregations have also contacted Mennonite Church Canada to ask how they can support this project, and have generously donated funds to make it possible (and it’s not just this park; MC Canada has workers all over the world who are involved in incredible projects; check them out at that same link!). Of course, our value of keeping this effort locally produced and sustained would seem to nullify the opportunity to donate. However, Canadian funds will be going directly into the behind the scenes costs which will make the park replicable for others locally.
Once again, we’ve found ourselves thankful for the incredible support and generosity from our churches back home. Our biggest hope is for a lot of prayer, as we trust in God’s provision here from local sponsors, and as we look to His guidance for the ways which we can best serve the amazing people of Bontleng (and as they hopefully inspire other communities to do the same!). Thanks for the continued support! If you want to drop a line to encourage our team, please check out the Facebook page that they’ve set up (they’re working on a website but it’s not up yet) – Pula Sports Development Association. Send some words of support, and ‘like’ the page (I’m not a fan of myself for having just written those words, but it’s done and there’s no going back). We’re also filming the process and hope to eventually be able to provide a picture of how it all went down, and we’ll keep you updated in the meantime.
Futsal Park Sketch Link – Go ahead and get coloring!