From Design Academy to Permaculture


 "A path to sustainable nutrition"


Benjamin, who is studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, is a member of the association Shorten the Distance e.V. and is currently implementing a project in Kasungu. In 2018, he learned about Permaculture Design in various community projects in Portugal and has been developing projects applying the principles of Permaculture Design since then. His vision is to develop beacon projects in different contexts to highlight the resilience and potential of permacultures. As part of his current studies, Benjamin will conduct a Permaculture project in collaboration with the Permaculture Paradise Institute (PPI) in Kasungu from March to June 2024. The project with the theme "Sustainable nutrition for children and adolescents" includes the training of 15 young adults in permaculture at the Shorten the Distance - Culture Community Center.

In December and January 2024, Benjamin traveled through India to develop his perspective more holistically through yoga and agro-ecology. During his journey, he visited Dr. Vandana Shiva at her farm Navdanya in northern India. The recipient of the Alternative Nobel Prize is a well-known social activist and critic of globalization who advocates for environmental protection, women's rights, and the fight against hunger. At her farm, small farmers from India learn how to sustainably cultivate old and resilient plant varieties. Benjamin gained insights into sustainable traditional farming methods and the practice of seed conservation in the seed bank. Original seeds for crops are stored in this bank to ensure that people in India continue to have enough nutritious and sustainable food in the future.

Armed with new knowledge and inspiration about sustainable traditional farming methods, he embarked on his journey to Kasungu. On February 14, 2024, Benjamin flew to Malawi, where he met the members of Shorten the Distance in Kasungu. Together, they will develop a permaculture on the Shorten the Distance premises in the coming months. In June, the final plan will be presented and published, and the participants will receive their certificates for completing the Permaculture Design course. The closing event will certainly be a festive highlight for the group and the network. Until then, we look forward to the latest updates from Benjamin and the group.

The collaboration with architecture students from the

Berlin University of Sciences


 The collaboration between architecture students Jens-Benjamin Köhler and Laura Bernholz from the Berlin University of Applied Sciences and the association Shorten the Distance e.V. began in September 2021. At that time, Mr Gondwe-Köttner was looking for support in planning and drawing a future youth centre in Kasungu, Malawi. Mr Köhler and Ms Bernholz were looking for a project for their Bachelor's thesis, with the topics of sustainability and participation playing a major role in the design. In the planning phase, which lasted one and a half years, they focused on the use of clay, compost toilets and photovoltaic systems for energy generation and power supply.During this time, they conducted interviews with other organisations, engineers and architects from Malawi who were familiar with the region, climatic conditions and construction projects. They met regularly via Zoom to exchange ideas. At the same time, Mr Köhler and Ms Bernholz worked on the construction plan and wrote their Bachelor's thesis. Mr. Gondwe-Köttner simultaneously looked for donors for the construction and was successful in obtaining a donation from the organisation BASAID (Basic Aid) for the construction of a cultural kitchen by Shorten the Distance e.V..The bachelor thesis was presented to Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Petra Vondenhof-Anderhalten and Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Mathias Essig at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences on 30 July 2022. In January 2023, Mr Gondwe-Köttner travelled to Malawi to supervise the start of construction.

Shorten the Distance and supply the people with water


by Dennis Wolter from viva con agua

In September 2019 I visited Shorten the Distance in Kasungu/Malawi. I was en-route coming from a festival at the shores of Lake Malawi going back to the capital Lilongwe. With me was Victor, a Solar Engineer who is working on a big scale solar farm project halfway between Kasungu and the Lake Malawi. I work as a water and sanitation engineer for the German based NGO Viva con Agua assigned to coordinate our projects and partners on the African continent and had arranged to visit Shorten the Distance in Kasungu prior to my arrival in Malawi. We met with Mr. Nyangu, the Chairman of Shorten the Distance in the town of Kasungu, before heading to the site together. Mr. Nyangu is a former school principal and the head of the Kasalika district, in which the plot is located.

Figure 1: Mr Nyangu (l) and Victor (r) at the well of the Shorten the Distance plot. The town and the Kasungu Mountain in the background that is also featured in the organisations' logo. Residents of the surrounding houses - Approximately around. 10-20 buckets of water are fetched from the well per day.

After a ten minutes’ drive to the north-east of Kasungu we reached the area that shall host a community and arts centre in the near future. Currently, the land looks still a bit barren, but the organisation already started planting fruit trees on the plot. The surrounding area is pretty much the typical peri-urban setup you find in many Malawian and African towns in general: scattered small houses, with the main economic activities being subsistence and small-scale farming with the main cash crop grown in the area being tobacco.

Mr Nyangu showed us around the one-acre plot and explained to us in detail which works had already been executed. Because the site lies in about 500 m distance to the piped water scheme of Kasungu town and the surrounding households are facing water scarcity and only have access to unsafe drinking water Shorten the Distance implemented a hand-dug well with a depth of 15 m. This is a common practice in Malawi and other countries of Sub-Saharan Africa where a hole is dug with a diameter of about 1 m until groundwater is reached. Upon completion the structure gets reinforced by rings of concrete or in this case out of masonry burnt bricks. Currently, the five households in the immediate vicinity fetch water from the well using buckets and a rope. Due to the shallow depth of the well the yield is limited to about 10-20 buckets a day, which is equivalent to about 6 liters per hour. Shorten the Distance is currently raising funds to implement a handpump to ease the drawing of water. However, in the mid and long term the well needs to be upgraded by either extending the depth of the existing well or by drilling a shallow or deep well to increase the yield of the water point to provide the Shorten the Distance community centre and the surrounding households with access to sufficient amounts of water for drinking and other domestic purposes.

Additionally, Shorten the Distance is raising funds to construct the first phase of the planned community centre, which shall be a multipurpose hall that can be used for workshops, gatherings and events, that shall be complemented by a toilet facility to provide a conducive environment for everyone visiting the community centre. Mr Nyangu presented us the technical drawings for the structure, for which the costs are estimated at around 10 Million Malawian Kwacha (equivalent to approximately 12,000 Euros).
The project aims to significantly uplift the living conditions of the surrounding households by shortening the distance to draw safe water and to provide a safe space to nurture talents and develop life skills of people, particularly children, youths and young adults from the surrounding area and Kasungu town at large.

If you like this initiative, kindly support Shorten the Distance with your donation to see the handpump and community centre come into life! Because water is life!

All 4 Water - Water 4 All

 Change of perspective - September 2019


Picture: KJBb Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

In the context of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Partnerships for Democracy the Barcamp "Living Democracy" took place, where we were able to participate and present our project. Enclosed a link our participation from Children and Youth Barcamps: "Live Democracy" & "Voice of the Future".

We are not only in Malawi active, but also in Germany. Our project idea "development cooperation which is focused on face to face dialog" is presented at schools as well as in children and youth recreational facilities. We from Shorten the Distance would like to look at development cooperation from a new perspective, by debating and exchanging ideas with our future young generation. Africa should get a new image in the field of development cooperation. We are convinced that you cannot help a person who does not want to be helped. The will to develop must come from the Africans themselves, because: "You can't wash someone who doesn't want to be washed." Human beings are capable of taking responsibility and developing themselves, as long as they are no longer dependent on others. In the facilities, we engage in dialogue and discussion with the younger generations on the following topics:


Why is the African continent always portrayed as poor and helpless by the Western world?


How is it that despite the many NGO's (Non-governmental organization) the continent is still not more developed?


Doesn't the development aid make the people even more dependent?


Does Africa need development aid?   

These exciting and highly sensitive topics will lead to an exchange of ideas and hopefully a change of one's own perspective. Together we come up with our different opinions and assumptions by collecting valuable information, that bring us forward. Thereby we look at the current situation of the African as well as the European continent. In terms of content, we also deal with cultural differences, education and job perspectives, as well as the living conditions, health and equal opportunities. With this exchange we want to arouse interest and curiosity in the participants to develop a cosmopolitan way of thinking and to create their own image of Africa. It is also about avoiding stereotypes, prejudices, and stigmatization of people with a different origin or skin color. In order to better understand the living together in the globalized world, participation in the field of educational work plays a very important aspect for us, whether at home or abroad. We want all people to participate, to join the conversation and help to organize. This awareness can only develop by spreading our project ideas and message.

What does Shorten the Distance e.V. do?


We have been working with our cooperation partner "Shorten the Distance Trustees" in the Malawian provincial capital Kasungu for several years and are pursuing the goal of opening up development prospects for children and young people in several local communities.


Our tasks in Germany include the following:


Funding, monitoring, and financial support for local projects.


International networking with experts, organizations, and companies.


Implementation of information and educational events in Germany about Malawi

Unser Projekt in Kasungu


Tel: +49 1771659244