Life Lessons from a Chinese bamboo farmer

Life lessons from the Chinese bamboo farmer

 By Nengi Benstowe


Nengi Benstowe came to Ireland as a student, and she has been living here for a while now.

She is a writer, a gospel artist and a public speaker. She explains how what she has learnt about bamboo farming helps her to support her own mental health, one of AkiDwA’s key areas of work.

The last thing I wanted to hear when my government-sponsored scholarship was withdrawn during my final year of college abroad was: “things are working out for your own good, just give them some time’’.  Those words would just have stirred a lot of anger in me.  If only you could understand how I’m feeling, I’d have replied.

Then I read the story of the Chinese bamboo farmer, which gave me a different view on life. The seed of the Chinese bamboo is planted in the ground like every seed. It is watered and fed with nutrients daily. But like every other plant planted in the same period, the seed of the Chinese bamboo shows no immediate physical response to water and nutrients; it does not appear to grow. The farmer continues to water and feed the seed in year one, year two, and year three.

No growth is seen until the fourth year, when the seed finally breaks through the ground. Then, in the space of just five weeks, it grows ninety feet tall. The Chinese bamboo grows to its full capacity within 5 years.

There is a major truth that I believe is being swept under the carpet, as a result of the instantaneous nature of things in the world today. That truth is the bliss of being patient, of being able to trust that nature has its own timing.

Before mobile phones and social media, when people had to contact their loved ones, they wrote letters. People waited months for letters to be delivered and even longer to get a response. The sender had to trust that they would be delivered and lots of patience was required before any answer would be received.

Our world has moved on and our expectations have changed. Today we don’t have to wait for months to get a response from a relation who lives abroad. We live in an instant world where everything is happening right away. It is now and right now or I’ll lose my patience.

We sometimes forget that nature still has its own timings. Seed times and harvest times haven’t changed. If it were in our power, humans would have designed instant trees and instant animals. We may have succeeded in making many things better for ourselves but we have not been able to alter nature’s timing. The job of a farmer is to sow crops and to provide the right environment for the seeds to develop. It is in the hands of nature to make the seed sprout at the right time.

Human life works the same way. We often want success to happen right away, the way food cooks in a microwave. Our generation is gradually ignoring the power of timing, and trusting in nature’s grand design. We have lost our patience.

But each time we ignore these crucial factors we end up with a premature end result that doesn’t match what nature would have produced if we had given it the necessary time needed.

Going back to my bamboo story, that Chinese bamboo  plant did not grow ninety feet tall in five weeks. It had been growing all through the five years. The root was developing and spreading in the ground throughout the four year period, even though there was no physical manifestation above ground. The plant was growing downwards where the farmer couldn’t see it. It kept building its foundation, by growing a strong root to help it sustain its big trunk.

However the seed would have died in the ground if the farmer had given up in the first or second year.  Despite not seeing an immediate result, the farmer had trust in what he was doing. He continued to water and feed the plant for four years, because he had faith in the grand design of nature. He believed that if he played his own role and did all that a farmer was supposed to do, then he would be given his reward at the right time.  That trust and patience Is what kept the farmer persistently feeding his seed for four years. After five  years his 90 foot  bamboo  plants are the reward.

Life is not always straightforward. Most often, it’s not a matter of 5+5 =10.

Life can be more like 2+2+1+2+0+0+0+1+2+0+0+1+1=10.

Both sums lead to the same result, but through  quite different paths and processes. To be mature is to accept that things might look rough right now but the story can still have a great ending.

Developing a mindset of persistence and believing that giving up is not an option, because we know that things will end well, can help  us  to get through many tough situations. Accepting that life is not always a straight road will also save us a lot of headaches.

We might live in a microwave generation where everything seems to happen instantly; but many things still obey the laws of nature.  Just doing what you are supposed to  be doing, having patience like the Chinese bamboo farmer, and trusting that things will work out for you can help you  get through the toughest times.

Having trust; believing in nature’s grand design and understanding the importance of timing will also help us to stay mentally well.   Cultivating patience, trust and self -belief will help us to reduce the stress we feel when things don’t happen as quickly as we want them to.

Nengi Benstowe

Nengi Benstowe graduated from Dublin Business School with an MBA.

Nengi served as an EU Youth delegate in Estonia in 2017 and in Bulgaria in 2018. She has participated in youth events in Ireland, India and Lebanon. and is currently volunteering with National Youth Council of Ireland and JIGSAW. She loves singing, reading and she is driven to create positive changes wherever she finds herself.

Nengi writes for a magazine and she is also working on her first book. It’s about Mindfulness and she hopes it will be  published in 2020.



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About AkiDwA

AkiDwA as an organisation emerged from regular meetings held amongst fellow migrant women, from 1999 to 2001, initiated by Salome Mbugua, a Kenyan migrant woman who had arrived in Ireland in 1994. The first meeting was held in city centre Dublin, in Temple Bar, in 1999. In 2001, through the support of the Catherine McAuley Centre, Salome mobilised a group of African women to come together to SHARE their experiences of living in Ireland. What emerged from this meeting were feelings of exclusion, isolation, racial abuse and discrimination, issues related to gender based violence were also raised. The group went on to meet regularly and were supported and offered facilitation from outside. AkiDwA sought and obtained funding from the Combat Poverty Agency in 2002 to carry out a pilot needs assessment with African women living in Ireland. The survey elicited over two hundred female participants from seventeen counties. Formal structures were put into place when AkiDwa was registered as a company with guarantee but without capital SHARE in 2003. However, limited funding meant that most work continued to be carried out on a voluntary basis. With a view towards enhancing the integration of migrant women and indigenous women, training modules were developed including programmes on capacity building, cultural diversity, racism and its effects on society. In addition, ‘Train the trainers modules were also developed’. Over the years, the organisation has gained recognition as a leading NGO in Ireland, reviewing key legislation, policy and practice as well as proposing reforms specifically to do with the issues faced by migrant women. AkiDwA consulted with migrant women and other key stakeholders, identifying gender and racially discriminatory practices, to develop evidence based and representative solutions for migrant women in the key identified areas of gender-based violence, gender discrimination. AkiDwA employs the following key strategies to achieve its objectives: networking, policy work and individual and organisational capacity building/development. AkiDwA’s networking strategy is aimed at individual and organisational levels. Policy work is developed from migrant women, identifying their needs in the areas of gender discrimination, gender-based violence and employment. AkiDwA develops legislative, policy and practice reforms to address these priority issues with government and sectoral stakeholders, as well as capacity-building programmes to deliver the on the ground practical support that women require. AkiDwA has developed the capacity of hundreds of migrant women and their communities living in Ireland over the course of its lifetime. Their capacity building was supported through our network, resource centre, outreach and training programmes aimed at promoting participation in their local communities, in civic and political structures and in sectoral and government consultations and decision making processes. Training programmes delivered over the years including targeted capacity building in multiple regions, sexual health workshops, access to education and employment, integration, leadership and political/civic participation sessions.