A Green Voice For Change (Sawubona Magazine)

An innovative organisation is helping impoverished children foster a sense of self-worth and hope for the future by developing in them a newfound respect for nature.

I saw a bumper sticker once that read “For some there’s therapy – the rest ofus climb mountains”, and while I laughed at the time, contained within this rather glib statement lies the essence of what fuels the nature lover’s passion. The healing effects of nature have been espoused through the centuries by many different cultures, especially evident in the Eastern practice of feng shui and the relationship A GREEN VOICE FOR CHANGE American Indians had with the natural world. Closer to home, an innovative environmental education organisation has embraced this concept of nature as a healing and restorative force, and is using it to change the lives of hundreds of impoverished young children.

Nature And Poverty Don’t Mix

One of the legacies of apartheid is the ubiquitous “townships” that fringe just A group from Brown’s Farm, Phillipi, Cape Town, on a camp with BEEP. February 2012 Sawubona 91 about every major city across this great land of ours. Generally comprised of a collection of RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) housing, shacks, shebeens (drinking taverns), spaza shops and a sprinkling of shopping malls, clinics, soccer stadiums and other infrastructure, for millions of South Africans the daily reality of life is filled with poverty and struggle. A common element in most townships is the prevalence of litter, illegal dumping, polluted water sources and what appears to be a complete disregard for nature and the environment.

Green belts near or around major townships are decimated for firewood, used as dumping grounds and generally stripped of all natural resources. This is certainly understandable – when you have very little, anything that can be sourced free is a godsend. However, it is not just the need for wood or food that fuels this seeming disregard for the environment amongst the poorest of the poor. It is almost as if the capacity to nurture and protect that which has little immediate benefit has been eroded through decades of hardship and poverty. It must be almost impossible to respect and value nature when one’s own sense of self-worth is so low.

It is in this space that the Beyond Expectation Environmental Project (BEEP) operates. “We use nature as a platform to help kids from impoverished communities reconnect with their core being. We help them discover their purpose and overcome the challenges they face by teaching them to respect and protect the natural world around them,” says BEEP MD Lindela
Mjenxane.

Holistic Offering

BEEP uses several innovative tools to help township-based children awaken and sustain their interest in nature. These include two-day camps on majestic Table Mountain, participation in community and school environmental clubs, curriculum-based environmental workshops, food gardens, water conservation workshops and cleanup campaigns in the schools and their communities. “All our activities have the same underlying objectives, namely to create access to and interest in the natural environment and the incredible biodiversity of the Cape, to educate youth about water conservation and the scourge of litter and to empower them with personal development skills,” explains manager Khanyiswa Zangqwa.

Mountain Of Healing

Every weekend BEEP provides around 20 learners from different schools and community organisations an opportunity to break free from an environment dominated by poverty and to immerse themselves in the wonders of Table Mountain National Park for two stimulating days.

BEEP’s School Interactive Environmental Workshop
at Walta Teka Primary School

All our activities have the same underlying objectives, namely to create access to and interest in the natural environment and the incredible biodiversity of the Cape, to educate youth about water conservation and the scourge of litter and to empower them with personal development skills …

Future Plans

BEEP’s future vision is to select groups of Grade 10 learners with an interest in the environmental field to become part of a three-year programme, during which time they will complete advanced courses in environmental studies. The plan is to empower these young leaders of tomorrow to become “green voices for change” in their communities, and for them to help instil environmental awareness amongst their peers. Funding is currently being sought for this initiative.

The hikes on Table Mountain, which can be strenuous and difficult for many of these children, serve as a reflection of the challenges they face in their young lives. “The hikes provide tangible life lessons for these kids; when they hike on this mountain, they always seem inspired by their surroundings and determined to reach the summit, no matter how difficult the terrain. That is the attitude we want to instil in these young minds,” explains Lindela Mjenxane.

It appears that their message and methods are starting to be noticed. In the past few years the organisation has won numerous awards, including the Mail & Guardian Greening the Future Award for Environmental Best Practice in a Community Based Organisation.

BEEP also partners with several organisations and initiatives such as the Old Mutual Legends programme, the University of Cape Town and the Rainbow Dream Trust to increase its reach and impact on more communities. While the awards and accolades are validation of the great work BEEP does, the real winners are the children. “I really enjoyed the camp, I hope BEEP can take as many youngsters as possible so that they can learn about environmental issues and also share the personal challenges they might be facing in their lives. Big up to BEEP!” says Unathi, a Grade 6 pupil from Estshona Primary in Phillippi. Big up to BEEP indeed.