‘Land of the Living’ reaping rewards of pressing on with city transformation vision

I would have despaired unless I believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living — Psalm 27:13

Environmental clean-ups, waste recycling and entrepreneur training are some of the keys to a God-inspired model of city transformation that has been pioneered by East London NGO Land of the Living through a decade of strategic relationship building with courageous leaders from communities across the city

Gateway News interviews Dr Scott Worley founder and director of Land of the Living

  1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I am originally from the USA and have a doctorate in biochemistry.  In 2000, realising I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing with my life, I made a drastic change and worked as a community health volunteer with the US Peace Corps in rural Zambia for two years, during which I grew passionate about grassroots community development, and after which I went back to school to get a masters in public health.  Following this I moved to South Africa in 2004 as a public health advisor for HIV treatment and care programmes with a non-profit organisation, focused on psychosocial and community-based systems of support for patients.  

It was shortly after arriving here that I met Jesus in a deeply profound way (my first time at God Adventure church), which obviously hugely impacted my life and brought newfound perspective on all I was experiencing.  I began to see the need for any truly sustainable developmental approach to be firstly God-centred, with empowerment emerging from the process of discovery and growth in identity.  It wasn’t enough to offer HIV treatment and care to the sick and destitute: what about the hunger and substance abuse and violence and psychological illnesses and poor housing and environmental hazards which are collectively overwhelming and paralysing our communities? I eventually felt a stirring to leave the industry of global developmental aid and get back to my passion of grassroots community work – addressing holistic wellbeing. This led me to quitting my job in 2010 and starting Land of the Living as a ministry of God Adventure.

Yolande and Scott Worley with their three children

I was also blessed in 2010 to marry Yolanda, a beautiful Xhosa woman from Mthatha, and we now have three young children – Olivia, 8, Owen, 6 and Musa, 4.  In addition to being founder and director of Land of the Living, I also serve as a global community development strategist for One Collective, an organisation headquartered in the US which focuses on Christ-centred and integrated community transformation.  And I serve as an elder and associate leader with God Adventure church.

  1. Land of the Living: how did it start — and get its name?

As referenced above, I began Land of the Living as a ministry in 2010 – reaching out into local townships to meet, build relationally with and help support the work of courageous local leaders of community-based organisations who do all they can to address the problems around them, including home-based care for the sick, support of orphaned and vulnerable children, early childhood development, care for the disabled and elderly, community soup kitchens, support for victims of domestic violence, spiritual counselling, etc.  

At the time Ps 27:13 was really highlighted in my spirit – I would have despaired unless I believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living – and this is where the ministry name came from.  It highlights the fact that in our deeply impoverished communities, while it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the signs of brokenness and suffering, if we wear the right “lenses” it is equally easy to find abundant signs of life and hope, and to build upon those toward transformation – as opposed to endlessly reacting to brokenness and lack, a strategy which cannot be won.

In our deeply impoverished communities, while it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the signs of brokenness and suffering, if we wear the right “lenses” it is equally easy to find abundant signs of life and hope, and to build upon those toward transformation – as opposed to endlessly reacting to brokenness and lack, a strategy which cannot be won.

Eventually I began inviting these various leaders from communities across the city and region together periodically, for a time of prayer and worship, networking and collaboration, leadership skills development and consideration of innovative resource mobilisation strategies for their various projects.  This gathering became known as HOPE network and over the years has included more than 30 leaders/organisations across 15 different communities.

From the platform of this relational network we eventually began working much more deeply with specific leaders and communities – leading to partnering with them to pilot entrepreneurial training programmes for unemployed youth as a means of generating new economic opportunity and local wealth creation.  This was the very beginning of what would eventually become an entrepreneurial training centre (detailed below) – yet was at the time very difficult to sustain due to lack of funding.  It became clear that the only responsible way forward, rather than forever begging for donations, was to become entrepreneurial ourselves and start a business which could generate revenue to help drive community transformation initiatives, as a healthier model for long-term community transformation work.  This led to the birth of our recycling enterprise in 2018 (detailed below).  We also formalised Land of the Living as a registered non-profit organization and SARS Sec 18a public benefit organisation at the same time, and Land of the Living owns and operates the recycling enterprise, Unantoni Endlini (Pty) Ltd.

  1. You also have a successful waste and recycling project?

As referenced above, Unantoni Endlini (Pty) Ltd is our separately registered green enterprise which serves as a platform for: 1) Helping motivate, train and equip, and practically support unemployed youth to create a livelihood through environmental conservation and recycling; 2) Mobilising citywide involvement in environmental cleanliness and stewardship; 3) Ultimately generating revenue to help sustain the community-based entrepreneurial training programmes.

The primary components of this business include: 

  • Local corporate sponsorship of our environmental clean-up and regular maintenance in targeted areas of the city problematic with litter and illegal dumping (currently being piloted through Car Connexion and associated businesses in East London and targeting areas of Nahoon Point Nature Reserve, Nahoon River Park, Gonubie Ocean Way, and John Bailie Rd, among other areas).
  • Recycling of plastics, cardboard/paper and glass (obtained through our residential recyclables collection service (described below), the clean-up initiative (above), and purchase from collectors in communities and at the landfill) – including sorting and baling of material types at our central depot (in Gately industrial area), for sales to large recycling companies.
  • Citywide residential recyclables collection service – Weekly collection of recyclable materials at your residence/small business for a fee of R100 per month.
  • Residential grass-cutting, garden maintenance and garden refuse removal services
Waste recycling manager Joshua Acheampong

We currently do all of this through the commitment and hard work of our manager Joshua Acheampong and team of seven previously-unemployed youth, two of whom have been with us for more than two years and recently assumed more supervisory positions through demonstrated diligence, responsibility and lifestyle transformation.  In this sense, we view this enterprise as a ministry which focuses more on development of people than of programmes.  We are also able to offer additional unemployed people the opportunity to get involved with us through the clean-up initiative, which can potentially lead to longer-term work within the larger recycling operations.

The Unantoni Endlini recycling plant
  1. We have a beautiful country but it sometimes feels like we are messing it up with litter. But you have turned litter into an opportunity in your city. Tell us more.

East London is obviously a naturally beautiful city. Yet despite its ideal location and breathtaking views, it is a city besieged by environmental destruction – with widespread littering and frequent illegal dumping of trash – from the sides of narrow pothole-ridden streets in outlying townships, to the sidewalks of the downtown corporate business district, to recreational beaches, parks and nature reserves.  Adding to the complexity of the problem is a largely inaccessible regional landfill, and a municipality whose hands are full simply trying to make the general residential waste collection system work.  

There is a lot of understandable frustration and disillusionment among city residents – directed toward city administration, toward those who engage in such illegal dumping and careless littering, and toward homeless populations who often rip bags open in search of food, resulting in wind-scattered litter far and wide.  Yet surely there is a better, more Godly way of responding – a proactive response rather than reactive anger, a vision for a clean and green city rather than despair of a trash-laden one, felt ownership and responsibility rather than finger pointing and endless blame, generation of employment and skills development opportunities rather than cursing the behaviours of the destitute and hungry.  

Building on this idea our green enterprise name Unantoni Endlini is a Xhosa and Zulu term for “What do you have in your home?”, from 2 Kings 4:1-7 — the story of Elisha, the suffering widow, and her small measure of oil that God multiplied. This conveys that everyone, even in the poorest of places, potentially has some measure of passion, knowledge and skills, and local resources which they can identify, cultivate, utilise and trust in God to ultimately multiply to create wealth, build a sustainable livelihood and bless their families and communities.  

And what is there an overwhelming abundance of in our communities?  –Litter, for starters.  Just as Jesus transforms our “trash” into “treasure”, surely we can demonstrate the same deeply spiritual truth in a very tangible sense – transforming waste,  environmental destruction and upset and divided residents into opportunity and a fostered sense of united stewardship of the beautiful land we’ve been given.  

Just as Jesus transforms our “trash” into “treasure”, surely we can demonstrate the same deeply spiritual truth in a very tangible sense – transforming waste,  environmental destruction and upset and divided residents into opportunity and a fostered sense of united stewardship of the beautiful land we’ve been given.  

God recently opened a doorway of practical opportunity for this, in our partnering with Car Connexion and 19 other local businesses who each contribute toward a monthly corporate sponsorship for us to clean up and regularly maintain key targeted areas.  This is currently still in an initial piloting phase through January 2021, yet our hope is for it not only to continue beyond then but greatly expand to include many more businesses, and as a result, more areas we are able to clean and maintain.  

This is an innovative way of the private sector taking ownership over our problems and becoming a solution by working together.  The only other option is to sit back and endlessly complain about the government and services delivery, yet where has that got us as a society?

  1. You are changing mindsets and destinies with your Entrepreneurial Training Centre. How is it going?

As discussed above, we believe that everyone has some measure of passion, knowledge and skills, and local resources that they can identify, cultivate and utilise to create wealth and build a sustainable livelihood.  We have thus established an Entrepreneurial Training Centre that provides needed support to catalyse this process of small business enterprise  development – both with unemployed youth and aspiring entrepreneurs to start up, and with those who already run small or informal businesses to formalise and grow.  

We have thus far piloted this programme online via Zoom teleconferencing, due to Covid-related restrictions and precautions in person within communities. However, the vision in the coming year is hopefully to start expanding into township communities through local partner organisations who we’ve worked closely with over the years and who embrace a similar vision.

As to our approach, we help aspiring entrepreneurs to live “life in 4D” — providing personalised support to help them Discover their God-given life purpose, Define their vision for what they want to create, Develop their enterprise around that vision, and Dignify their communities by reinvesting into local transformation as a business.  

We use a “lean” approach to do this, which is meant to help people 1) Define and link their felt calling in life with tangible enterprise development, 2) Very succinctly capture an initial overall business plan around it, and 3) Develop and immediately test their product/service in their target market — so as to learn, make any needed adjustments and improve before investing too much time, energy and resources into developing something that ultimately doesn’t work for any number of reasons.  

While there are numerous small business development programmes and courses available today, they may not often achieve desired impact due to over-reliance on theory and abstract plans, instead of highly-individualised support and mentorship to walk one through the process of product development with evidence-based potential, and subsequent help with registration and other initially-needed administrative support services, ongoing coaching and networking, and continuing education around specialised business topics.  The latter is the approach we are building, as we believe that only this can generate the kind of highly relational and deeply-rooted impact that is needed to spark transformation in our communities – spiritually, mentally, economically, socially and environmentally.

The latter is the approach we are building, as we believe that only this can generate the kind of highly relational and deeply-rooted impact that is needed to spark transformation in our communities – spiritually, mentally, economically, socially and environmentally.

  1. How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your work?

God always works in wonderfully mysterious ways, and this has proven no less true during the tumultuous and in many ways tragic year of 2020.  

Firstly, we had to close down recycling operations during the month of April, and in an industry where profit margins tend to be extremely thin even during the “best of times”, we faced a situation where we could not pay our casual workers, who generally live in impoverished communities and have no other sources of income.  

One day I heard about a “backyard marathon challenge” that my local running club (Oxford Striders) was organising, and on a whim I signed up with two days’ notice and we put out word on social media that I would be doing it to raise support for us to be able to pay wages to our workers during shutdown. To make a long story short, I ended up completing the challenge (a gruelling 540 laps around my house, 42.2 Km, just under 6 hrs of running in circles!) and in the process we raised more than R30 000 in funding – which helped us bridge the gap until we were able to resume operations. In this sense, this wasn’t just ordinary business revenue — it represented seeds of hope, inspiration and solidarity among the public sown into our ministry, which blew me away.

And with regard to the Entrepreneurial Training Centre, it was a long-standing dream which under normal circumstances may have taken much longer to crystallise in terms of the training and subsequent planning that we as the organisers and facilitators needed to go through. Yet, with lockdown came home confinement and extra time that we all needed to make this happen.  

During the months of May and June, four of us were trained in the “lean” process by a friend and colleague in the US, and subsequently were able to meet via Zoom regularly to put everything in place.  Thus we suddenly found ourselves conducting an online informational session for potentially-interested participants in July, some of whom then signed up – and by September we had started our first 3-month training cohort! We have since completed that initial training cousre, with very encouraging results from the nine participants who went through the process, and are in a position now to build upon lessons learned and enhance services offered in early 2021.  

I honestly don’t think we could possibly have made so much quick progress had the lockdown not happened.  It’s a very strange emotion – grieving the terrible impact which Covid has had on our lives, families, communities and economy, while simultaneously grateful for God transforming such tragedy into unexpected opportunity.

  1. What transformation would you like to see in East London as a result of Land of the Living?

We envision a united and actively mobilised public where common walls of division are removed; and where residents, businesses, churches, government and other stakeholders come together and collectively contribute in order to generate a clean and well maintained city, a conserved environment, small business development and jobs creation, and ultimately newfound life opportunity for wealthy and poor alike.  This is not just a pipedream – while still in its infancy, it is starting to happen and a proverbial “tipping point” of momentum feels very possible.

  1. Is this a model that can be applied in other areas?

Absolutely.  But it cannot happen overnight, as so much of what we are creating is highly relational, based upon trust built over years of dreaming, reaching out and engaging, trying initiatives and sometimes failing, trying new approaches, etc, all the while patiently trusting God to eventually open up the right doorways of opportunity.  As such, it has been an organic process and a vision that has gradually formed and sharpened in clarity through experience – we certainly didn’t envision all of this years ago when starting out!

Land of the Living’s current breakthrough’s are rooted in trust relationships built over years and testing various initiatives while trusting God to open up the right opportunities

However there is a model in development which can be learned from and adapted elsewhere – i.e. green enterprise partnering with local residents and businesses to create a sustainable means of fuelling social transformation through small business development and jobs creation.  Surely this is the future – it may look different in each local context, but that’s the beauty of how God works. His grace brings together those people, entities and resources He has uniquely placed in any given location. It cannot be forced, and it ideally takes people/entities serving a background coordinating role of identifying and bringing stakeholders together, gradually creating a greater collective impact.

By the way, Land of the Living is dreaming of being able to expand the green enterprise work and entrepreneurial development programmes to regions outside of East London.  We haven’t yet had the resources to do so, but are confident that with the right people and investment opportunities, this will come in its time.

  1. How can people find out more or get involved?

The primary ways to join and help support Land of the Living’s efforts to become more sustainable and with greater impact include:

  • East London area residents and small businesses: 
  • Signing up for our weekly on-premises recyclables collection service and encouraging others to also take part (for a fee of R100 per month per address)
  • Utilization of our grass cutting and gardening/refuse removal services (contact us for a quote)

**NOTE: We are currently running a promotional campaign with local partnering enterprises, where people who sign up for our recyclables collection service and/or who successfully refer others to do the same stand a chance to win exciting prizes – including vouchers for dental treatment & care and vouchers for specialty hand-made children’s clothing.  Visit our Facebook page (below) for more information!

  • Residents anywhere in South Africa:
  • Individual monthly sponsorship of our environmental clean-up initiative 
  • General Sec 18a tax-deductible donations to Land of the Living
  • Corporate and industrial (e.g. as a CSI initiative qualifying for tax credits)
  • Monthly/annual sponsorship of our citywide environmental clean-up and maintenance costs – enabling sustainable maintenance and expansion to new areas.
  • Sponsorship of essential equipment needed for green enterprise expansion – e.g. additional bakkie & trailer, shredding machine
  • Corporate subsidies to help cover community-based entrepreneurial training and mentorship and small business support programs.
  • Large corporate/ Industrial donation of bulk recyclable waste materials – whose estimated value can qualify for tax credits
  • Innovative business partnerships to explore enhancing collective impact in the area of green enterprise development – e.g. coupling our environmental cleanliness, recycling and small business support initiatives with energy efficiency consultation services, reduced carbon footprint initiatives, and/or new product development from recyclable materials.
  1. Contact information:

General enquiries and partnerships:

Dr Scott Worley
Director, Land of the Living
+27(0) 73 223 8951
scott.worley@onecollective.org
scott@godadventure.org

Signing up for Recycling and gardening services:

Mr Joshua Acheampong
Manager, Unantoni Endlini (Pty) Ltd
+27(0) 78 104 3334
okaufmann@rocketmail.com

Website: www.landoftheliving.org.za
Facebook: @landofthelivingministry
Promotional video link: https://web.facebook.com/Landofthelivingministry/videos/1047432642386969/

2 Comments

  1. Alan Ter Morshuizen

    Awesome, credible people doing a great, genuinely sustainable job of social transformation.
    Well done, Scott and your team.

  2. Scott and team well done…we cheer you on…go go go and don’t give up. We will be in contact soon