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Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko. Photo credit: Brock Dolman

In September 2015, I got word from Ken Wilson of the Muonde Trust that an incredible mentor of his, mine, and of thousands around the world, Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, had passed away.

Mr. Phiri had set me on my path in 1995 (and his story and teachings had become the core of my first book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, 2nd Edition) when I spent one day with him on his farm in the driest region of Zimbabwe. Over the course of 30 years, he and his family had turned a wasteland into an oasis by planting the rain. I was inspired to the core.

When I told him how concerned I was with the water situation in my community and watershed, and how I was thinking of leaving my community because of this, he presented me with this challenge:

“You cannot leave. You must set your roots deeper than you ever thought possible. Because if you run from your problems, you will just plant problems everywhere you go.

“You must instead try to find solutions. If you succeed, you will then have the ability to find solutions anywhere.”

I returned home determined to do just that, guided by the example of Mr. Phiri and his family.

In 2014, nineteen years after spending that day with Mr. Phiri, I had the opportunity to return to Zimbabwe to his farm. I was excited, but also fearful. I wondered if what he had done was really as wonderful as I remembered. Or had my vision been clouded by his incredible storytelling?

Read on to hear what Brad encountered when he returned to visit Mr. Phiri and his farm; to meet, though Brad’s eyes, Mr. Phiri’s local apprentices who are now teaching others and continuing to innovate; and to learn how you can support the furthering of such work through one community-based Zimbabwean organization.

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