Living and working amongst free-roaming wildlife on an African national park may be the definition of a nightmare for some, but for Laurie Simpson it’s a dream come true.
The reality of having wild animals as neighbours led the environmentalist to create the Soft Foot Alliance, a community-driven initiative that seeks to improve the lives and landscapes of people living on the boundary of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, while achieving a sustainable co-existence with the local wildlife.
“I never looked back,” smiles Laurie, who a decade ago left Paris with only a backpack and jumped on a plane bound for Africa. “I felt I had arrived home and started putting my skills and experience as an artist to good use, working with underprivileged groups. I volunteered as a field assistant and worked on the Hwange Lion research project. I then went on to study permaculture and natural building creation, which led to me designing and building our homestead.”
Laurie moved into her self-built abode in 2014. Nestled in the heart of her adopted community, it sits on the edge of the protected park and as such experiences daily encounters with the indigenous wildlife. She tells us if it’s not elephants, baboons and honey badgers raiding their crops, it’s lions and hyenas killing their livestock.
“I’m passionate about sustainable living and spreading ideas that improve lives without destroying the environment, so last year Brent and I set up the Soft Foot Alliance. We were tired of current conservation models, and after moving into our natural homestead amongst the community that lives with wildlife, we had a new and unique perspective.”
In essence, the SFA designs and implements long-term sustainable solutions that allow humans and wildlife to live together harmoniously in a regenerative, inspirational and protective environment. On the organisation’s website the group says it uses six permaculture principles: ‘Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share’, ‘Focus on long-term sustainability’, ‘Co-operate, don’t compete’, ‘Respect for all life’, ‘See solutions inherent in problems’, and ‘Work with nature not against it!’
“We are privileged to live and work in our community; people have so much desire for knowledge,” Laurie continues. “Living simply in our homestead and finding ways that we can live side by side with wildlife is very rewarding.” A sentiment echoed by Laurie’s husband and co-founder Brent, “my eyes are my most precious possessions and boy do I soak up all that I see! I want nothing else but to experience the wonders of nature and play my part in improving this world, however small my contribution might be.”
One of the SFA’s latest projects is ‘Co-Herd’, which involves working with and training local herders in a variety of sustainable skills, in order to regenerate the landscape, by implementing a holistic grazing plan and fertilizing fields with mobile predator-proof livestock stockades, which will go some way to reversing desertification. It was actually this innovative initiative that helped the association claim one of five Lush Spring Prize Intentional Projects Awards and with it £10,000.
“It is a real honour to have our efforts and vision recognised and supported,” Laurie beams. “It’s so exciting to see that funding opportunities are being opened up to fields of permaculture and regeneration. I have been looking for this kind of help and support for a long time and to finally be awarded a prize is so special.”
Laurie is resolute in her response when asked what the SFA will do with the funding: “we will take community members on site visits to be inspired by permaculture and holistic management. Then we plan to do some onsite permaculture training and implement a scholarship program, as well as training local builders in rammed earth building, which is an underutilised natural building method.
“In short this prize will help us work towards our dream of becoming a community working cohesively towards improving lives and landscapes for all: wildlife, people and livestock.”
To follow the footsteps of the SFA drop onto the website at https://www.facebook.com/softfootalliance