by Gaia U MSc Candidate, Jason Engledoe

To contribute to Jason’s scholarship fund, go to

My background

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in the mid 1970’s. It was an environment in which we often heard how hard life is and that life is a continuous struggle. That we should always remain humble and be grateful; that we should be tough and resilient. That we had little to complain about as there were many who were worse off than us. Looking back and listening to those same stories, many years later, I understand how tough life truly was for the people of our communities during those dreadful years of apartheid. We were rarely encouraged to speak openly to others about our pain. “Don’t be too vulnerable” or, “be careful to expose yourself to ridicule” – this type of honesty could be misconstrued as weakness.

I seek not sympathy or pity for my story – there really is no place for that here. I wish only to provide an account of how difficult things were growing up and how debilitating the resulting self-doubt can be. I didn’t realize the real extent of the hardship back then, because mum and dad always did their very best, despite the hardships, to make it feel as though we were the richest people in the world – because we have “heart.” This heart would be my best companion whenever I came face to face with self-doubt.

In apartheid South Africa, I was classified as “coloured,” and this was a label which would determine much in my life and the lives of other members of my community. I am fiercely proud of my heritage, and I have a deep respect, admiration and infinite gratitude for the sacrifices made by all those who came before me, regardless of labels. I pay homage to those men and women who paid the ultimate price for our liberation.

Despite idyllic surroundings and promising changes on the horizon, I was compelled by a suffocating sense of oppression to leave the country which I called home. I was old enough to understand that I was lied to for most of my life, our families and communities were already convinced of our second-grade status and that we would never really amount to much. It would be hard to imagine that anyone would want to leave a place of such epic natural beauty, one so rich with cultural diversity, but I was on a clearly defined mission to discover my own truth and the world would be my teacher. The problem was, at 17 years of age, I had never stepped foot on an airplane – this was a luxury to be relished only by the fortunate few. I had never even left the province in which I lived, but there was in me an ever-present drive to go and see the world, to discern truth, to find my freedom.

When you don’t have money, but you have heart, you are capable of anything! Having heart allows me to dream big and to be bold, compels me to create my own opportunities and back then it dared me to travel to one of the most expensive cities in the world with only £50 in my pocket. On arrival, it cost me a further £10 to get to central London! That was one of the most profound lessons for me and remains with me forever – our futures are not determined by our past and to have heart is enough for us to pursue our dreams.

After 13 years of living abroad, I find myself in South Africa again, and the reminders of a troubled past are still quite evident, but I look at them with fresh eyes and a strong determination to be part of the change. Though I have managed to discover new exciting possibilities and ways of being whilst calling three other places home outside of South Africa, I must acknowledge that here, the fight for true liberation continues. Things have changed significantly; we are now living in a democracy, and it is a wonderfully exciting time to be in Africa. Just as I was compelled more than half a lifetime ago to leave, I am now compelled to be here, on the frontline to help explore and design better ways of living, for the benefit of all.

Vision: Living Learning Centre

My vision is to create a living, learning centre.

Imagine an eco-village which strives to harmoniously re-integrate people with the Earth, by:

1. offering a sanctuary to reconnect with one’s self and others through nature
2. enabling communities through collaboration
3. learning how to grow quality fresh produce which is beyond organic
4. creating purpose through process, expression & sensitivity
5. encouraging exploration through enriching experiences
6. being… a vibrant shared, living, learning centre

Through the creation of this living, learning centre, I aspire to develop possible solutions to some of the major problems we face in South Africa based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.

It has always been a burning desire of mine to be a conduit of positive change, but I was uncertain of how this would manifest, until now. I can confidently say, that for the very first time I have found something towards which I am willing to dedicate my life’s work. About a year ago, I decided to leave my government job in international trade & investment with all its cosy benefits, to focus on being an entrepreneur full time. It was a bold move during tough economic times. An office environment never really appealed to me, and I had already discovered during my travels around the world, more rewarding ways for me to earn a living. During this last year of un-learning and exploration, I have encountered the world of regenerative agriculture…and I am utterly convinced that this is the way forward- I have never been more certain of anything!

I have no experience in agriculture whatsoever, and I don’t have deep pockets, but what I do have is a vision, heart, and purpose.

The problem is the solution

One of my first encounters with alternate methods of growing one’s own food was during an Aquaponics workshop some time ago. That was the first time I had heard about permaculture (origin: permanent + agriculture). Since then I have immersed myself in researching regenerative agriculture, and I am intrigued to say the very least. Through my studies, I have come across a wonderful idea from Bill Mollison (one of the founders of Permaculture) who said, “In the problem lies the solution.” Related to this idea is another of his quotes: “You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency” – I love this!

One of my biggest fears, probably the major reason I have not started a family yet, and perhaps a function of not completely freeing myself from thoughts of those tough times growing up, is the fear that I will not be able to provide for my family. We could agree that sometimes fears can be irrational, but I’ll admit that this is something I have been grappling with for some time. But what if the problem is the solution. Though this may seem simple, it was the first time that I ever tried to view this fear from a different perspective. What would I need for a family to have a comfortable life? Food, water, and shelter. Surely, if I move to a plot in the country, learn how to grow food, harvest groundwater and build my own home using natural inputs, then I have liberated myself from this fear too?

Some challenges which we face today include food and water security; ever-rising property prices, a lack of a supportive community, a skills shortage, lack of quality education, equal empowerment opportunities, an enabling environment for entrepreneurship, to name but a few. These problems we may see as barriers to make the transition to the kind of rich, rewarding lifestyle I believe is possible and indeed necessary. But what if we allow ourselves to see solutions within them?

What if we design abundant, diverse food systems to cultivate our own produce and harvest our own water? What if by building rich soil and reading the topography, we can slow down, absorb and spread rainwater, thereby reducing some of the effects of both drought and flooding? What if we learn techniques of how to build nutrient-rich soil or to implement creative garden systems on land which is currently not used for agricultural purposes and so is more affordable? What if models already exist for profitable and sustainable farming on small pieces of land in either an urban or rural setting? What if the design calls for people to be at the very core of what we do, to co-create the space, to teach and share the learnings; to encourage buying local and to explore ideas like CSAs (community supported agriculture) and hereby help create a supportive community, enhance skills and help ignite opportunities for empowerment and entrepreneurship?

This is a portion of what I believe is possible with regenerative agriculture and I have only just begun to learn about these techniques. My journey continues whilst reaching out to the communities which have embraced non-traditional methods of agriculture. Technology allows me to tap into both local and global communities which have already found success, those world-changers who are willing to contribute their knowledge to the creation of sustainable, regenerative models.

Gaia University is known as the university without walls. It is the un-institution with which I will pursue a Masters of Science in Integrative Ecosocial Design, through their Climate Steward Scholarship initiative. Gaia U, with its transformative action-based learning programs, affords me the opportunity to integrate learning with doing whilst finding solutions for real-world problems. Since regenerative agricultural practices are relatively new in South Africa, Gaia U will provide access to its alumni of world changers through mentorship, advisory, and expert support.

The Gaia U ethics aligned with the Permaculture ethics are:

  • People Care
  • Earth Care and
  • Fair Share

It is easy to integrate these ethics as my vision unfolds, since these were very similar ethics which we embraced as a family and as a community, growing up in Cape Town.

I have now retired my suit and tie for overalls and wellies. I believe in this vision so much that I am willing to further galvanize my knowledge through volunteer opportunities with farmers who are practicing regenerative agriculture at present, in return for board and lodging and a labourer’s wage.

My ultimate goal is to play an active role in contributing to the change we so desperately need in the world.

One way I can achieve this is to become the mentor I wish I had.

To contribute to my scholarship fund, click here.

Thank you for your time, thank you for support.

What the community is saying:

Jason is a natural born leader with values that shine beyond just the good – he is simply great.
He possesses mental, emotional as well as spiritual energy and intelligence that stands above the basic merit we see in business and life at present. He is honest, focused, flexible and creative, great communicator who is not only loved, but more than this he is respected by people.
His strengths are in building relationships with people, he is great in educating others by leading with example. Hi brings fun and humor and relaxed atmosphere in the work environment.
He supports people and cares for them, he is a team player and team builder.
With the right support and environment he is a treasure and potential.
-Viktor K, Executive Coach

This skill calls for the good management of strong individuals, a testament to Jason’s effective leadership style.
Jason proves to be an excellent group coordinator, allowing each individual to maintain their identity while retaining an organized and cohesive structure. The supportive and Collaborative ethos he presents is valuable in any business context, and an asset in assisting building international relationships.
Jacqueline B, Business Founder

The fantastic mix of leadership involved – it takes a strong character, a driven and passionate one, to deliver results in such unknown territory something I felt you did in spades. You offered space when needed, advice when called for and showcased the value of building relationships in international trade.

I look forward to having him on our team moving forward into new markets.
-Jarrad N, Company Director

Jason is a dynamic manager who makes things happen. He is efficient, has superior people skills and pays attention to detail. I have no hesitation in recommending for his dedicated and professional attitude.
Toni B, Business Owner

Jason overflows with charisma and is one those rare individuals that’s positive energy is so infectious, that one feels inspired to do great things after a just a brief conversation at the company water-cooler. He makes for an inspiring leader and does so with a reputation of integrity.
Fred vd W, CRM & Digital Marketing

Jason Engledoe is an excellent teacher who goes above and beyond what is required from an instructor. He is not only concerned about the technical requirements that need to be learned but also focuses on the art’s Cultural Heritage, real life applications and students’ well-being. His experience in teaching definitely impacts upon my learning as he is able to break down the classes in easy to understand bite size chunks. His patience allows for students to recap on their learning so as to provide a strong base for future growth and he has the ability to use interesting analogies in instruction. Finally, his ability to inspire and belief in the martial art form as a conduit for positive change brings another dimension to the classes that I liken to an X factor!
Robin J, Arts & Culture Director

Jason’s passion, commitment, skill and positive attitude is infectious. This coupled with his prowess not only as a martial artist but as a teacher has allowed me to learn much more than I thought I would be capable of in a relatively short space of time. I look forward to seeing what I’ll be able to learn from him in the years to come.
Anthony S, Designer/ Label Owner

You may find my complete bio here: