We’re on our way to Mukovha wa Bale to meet Baobab Guardian Evelina Tshitete. Along with Dr. Sarah Venter of the Baobab Foundation and Noemie Bauer, I would like to see “my” baobab which I sponsored. With support from the Baobab Foundation, Evelina has grown the tree from seed, nursed and cared for it for a year and planted it in her home garden during the rainy season of 2017. Understandably I am very curious to see how the little baobab has developed. When I visited Evelina in 2018 for the first time I was not impressed by the size of the tree – but then, it was only a year old.
Visible changes in Baobab Guardian Evelina’s homestead
Now in December the rainy season is finally here, the long awaited rain lets the surroundings sink into a gloomy uniform grey and parts of the way it was raining “cats and dogs”. Good for nature, less good for us. Fortunately, the heavy downpour does not last too long today. On the otherwise sandy tracks we navigate our way through deep puddles – all without a proper 4×4. Today we seem not to be able to find her place. We actually have to ask for directions. At her gate I am blown away: how the property has changed! No wonder that we had to search and ask for directions. The tiny one-room house, glowing neat and clean in the evening sun, has undergone dramatic change: it has grown to a three room house. Across the yard we find another structure which purpose we are about to find out.
The little tree in the Baobab Guardian’s housegarden
But first we turn to the small house garden where the little baobab resides. Although I do not understand Tshivenda I gather from the situation that Evelina seems a bit embarrassed. She tells us that she has taken good care of the tree. But there is not much green left on it today.
The day before a stray goat overcame the fence – how unfortunate for the tree. It browsed on the fresh and juicy shoots of the little baobab tree and has left it standing bare. So we find the tree almost looking the same as last time we saw it. After all, it stands a chance to survive as the rainy season has only started recently. If the goats, chickens and cattle stay outside from the house garden that is.
Rainy season and doing the laundry
Like most of the women in the area, the Baobab Guardian makes the most out of the rain. She seems to have done the washing for the whole family. Now the laundry is left to dry fluttering merrily in the wind between the house and the reason for Evelina’s financial uplift.
Evelina starts to explain. She has taken out a loan of 8,000 South African Rand – about 420 Euros – with neighbours and family. For her that means lot of money which she has invested in her business: a chicken coop. In the structure near the house she raises little chicks and sells them on local markets. With part of her earnings she started to add two more rooms to her house. Some of the money she still invests in her business and with the rest she has managed to pay off the loan almost completely.
A Baobab Guardian meeting challenges
But it is not all sunshine for Evelina. In the week before we arrived, the Limpopo Province experienced temperatures of 46° C. That was not only too much for the people, but especially for small livestock. The little chickens were hit particularly hard. Despite Evelina’s efforts to cool the animals with water, she lost many. She is not ready to give up and plans to buy more chicks.
Multiple income strategies needed
Apart from selling chickens, she continues to sell fried buns and popcorn at schools. She works hard and the results make her proud. Last year she had told us that she would lose an important source of money: the child grant coming from the government as one of her daughters came of age. With this the grant is no longer available to her. When I heard about that I wondered how she could possibly compensate this loss of income. Today I see how successfully she has managed to go on with her life. I am very impressed by the way she masters her life.
And because Evelina’s story touches me so much, I decided to dedicate a chapter to her and the little baobab when writing my book “111 reasons to love South Africa”. Before we say goodbye for this time, I give her the book as a present. Sarah Venter translates for me. I see Evelina’s beaming face and I am happy that she is happy.