Becoming the Real Thing

By Mark Anstice, Founding Director

The first moves towards physically starting this charity began as far back as 2013. As is usual, when one has what seems to be an inspired idea, I plunged ahead, accelerating like a greyhound out of the gate. Around making a living on one continent and self-building an eco lodge on another, I created this website, arranged our first educational course, recruited Trustees, cajoled the locals towards forming a cooperative and began filling out the application for charity registration.

At around this stage one of our new Trustees asked how on earth I found the time for all this? My somewhat self-congratulatory reply was that I ran everywhere, and it was true, I was a little on the manic side. But now I understand properly what he meant; I had the time for all this because our first child was not even yet conceived. Now we have two.


I’ve only just now submitted our completed application for charity registration, almost 2 years after I started filling it in.  And 15 months have passed since I last posted anything on this website . My personal blog has become similarly untraceable to the search engine algorithms. It’s been hard to pick up these things again, because failure and realism have elbowed their way into a space once occupied only by shining optimism and invincibility. And it’s not just the website; looking out of the window as I write my efforts to regenerate our own tiny acre seem hardly to have gained any ground at all. On starvation water rations, the 250 wind-break and shade trees transplanted last year are still under a metre tall, and most of the fruit trees have died. Some kind of beetle is killing many of the windbreak trees we planted five years ago.  Over the farmers’ fields around, there is no starvation ration to supplement rainfall and water our plans for re-greening, not one drop. In our main demonstration site, at least fenced off from goats all summer, none of my other deadlines have been met and the locals have taken note. Despair creeps in if I let it, and sometimes, momentarily, I do.

But defeatism is a luxury I cannot afford. I’ve put too much into this and my dreams still have force. I have found here a path so fascinating and enticing that to not spend the rest of my life working along it is something I cannot contemplate. I look at what they’ve done in Niger and Sudan, re greening the desert Sahel, and know it’s more than just possible here; it’s only time and effort.


That’s one of the things when you have children, perhaps especially when already in middle age as I am; time speeds up with a lurch. It’s put me off balance for a while, until the realisation begins to dawn that all this: family, land, community, the project, everything; each little bit is simply bigger than me. The aim, after all, is to build something lasting and I have, what, only 25 useful years left in me? My windbreak might take, no, it WILL take 10 of those, and every year there will be as many failures as successes, maybe more.

Learning to climb a ladder, my 19-month old daughter shows the way; a quick blub, pick one’s self up, dust off and try again. And who cares who’s watching the fall and then the sheepish restart.  This post is just that; a sheepish restart. I don’t imagine those search engine algorithms will show it to too many people anyway.