Intern Journal #1:
An Environmental School Camp
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
I never knew how true these simple words are. Until not too long ago.
Hi, my name is Jan-Niclas and I am interning at Greenpop in Cape Town, South Africa. Writing and being creative has always been one of my biggest passions in life. When I started writing my first short stories, I fell in love with the power of language.
Almost exactly one month ago I came from Germany to join the Greenpop team in their mission to make the world a little greener. To do so I signed up for a six-month Creative Writing Internship.
Now I am excited to use my passion and work on campaigns, blog content, and newsletters for Greenpop.
The most amazing thing is, that my tasks don’t force me to work in the office all the time. Part of my role is to join my colleagues on trips and events, like the plant days we’re gonna have with different schools or the Open Eco Hub Days in our nursery. This way I get to experience almost every branch of the work this NGO does and see more of Cape Town and the surrounding areas.
My third week here already included one of the most fun, exciting and inspiring experiences of my life. With a small team of six people, including me and another intern, we went to Greyton, a small town two hours from Cape Town. There we resided in the Greyton Eco Lodge, to host a camp for the St. George’s Grammar School students from Mowbray, Cape Town. To give a little insight into my experiences, I took a point and shoot camera and captured some moments from those four days.
We arrived on Tuesday and used the day to set up the camp, prepare our sessions and make sure that we were all on the same page. The next morning, thirty Grade 8 students joined us to learn and talk about our environment.
Off to a great start
To kick off the Camp we used this first day as an orientation for the participants. Together with the rest of the Greenpop team, we assisted the youngsters to come up with rules and norms they wanted to see implemented throughout the time in Greyton. They made sure to consider everyone’s wellbeing and did a great job of creating a safe space for everyone to enjoy the camp.
After that activity, we used smaller workshops to explain some logistics in a more fun way. I got to join Misha, Greenpop’s TREE-E-O, and his group where he covered the topic of water. Unfortunately, Greyton still struggles with supplying everyone with drinkable water. To dig a little deeper into the meaning of this resource for our planet we visualized the actual amount of water available to us. It was pretty amazing to see their reactions when they found out that producing a single pair of jeans uses up to 11,000 liters of water.
At the same time, other groups talked about waste and the consumption of meat. They learned how to separate the waste for the next three days and why all the meals were going to be meat-free. Even though in the beginning some of the youngsters bragged about the biltong they brought, none of them were bothered by the catering in the end. The local kitchen team did some magic and surprised everyone with an incredible variety of food, whilst not using any meat. Just thinking about those chickpea-burgers we had on our first day makes me want to go back immediately.
The afternoon we spent outdoors, exploring the beautiful nature surrounding the Greyton Eco Lodge. December 2019 was a challenging time for the area, with wildfires burning many thousands of hectares. The beautiful thing about this was seeing the life resurrecting between the burnt bushes, trees, and flowers. The whole area was still black and grey, with small green patches here and there. And in between some paintbrush lilies found their way to the surface. Like little drops of flashy red paint they appeared between all the dark colors. Seeing nature regaining what it lost was beautiful.
After almost two hours of walking in the heat, we arrived back at the lodge and got the chance to relax a little bit. To finish off this first day, we had a little movie night.
To my surprise, we had very interesting discussions and conversations, after we showed some short clips. Those videos were made to raise awareness about the issue of climate change and encourage the audiences to get active about it. Having the class critically analyzing the films and their messages the way they did was very inspiring. That is what I came here for, to work with the youth on such a level and getting inspired by their ideas, thoughts, and energy.
Getting our hands dirty
… was the motto for the second day of the camp. We left the lodge and went to the Eco Camp, not too far from where we stayed. After a quick warm-up game and introduction, we got to the initial purpose of the camp: Tree-planting.
The children absorbed every piece of information on what kind of trees we’d be planting, how to dig the hole, and all the other important details they had to keep in mind. First I feared that would bore them, listening to this kind of stuff. But again they surprised me with their patience and there was nothing but joy when we finally started planting trees.
We split up in small groups, each responsible for two trees. And then it was all about teamwork. We had to dig holes, prepare soil and compost, get the tree out of its bucket, plant succulents as “living mulch”, build a wall around the tree and add some real mulch. After being in the office for most of the first two weeks, this day was a true blessing. I didn’t care about the heat anymore or the exhaustion. Feeling the spirit of planting an actual tree and getting to work outside made me feel very grateful. I am very happy to be where I am right now, and this activity was the real-life experience of what I imagined for my time being here to happen.
Unfortunately, I missed out on the workshop about the medicinal use of indigenous plants, that Marshall, a local environmentalist, and environmental educator, ran with the second half of the kids, while we were busy planting trees. But I’m glad I got to feel the soil between my fingers and see those amazing results of fifteen new trees in the ground.
Before we went back to the lodge we had some spare time. We celebrated what we achieved and learned over lunch and relaxed in the sun. At the lodge, Marshall took over and explained the idea of the “Transition Town”. For a few years now, Greyton has been part of this movement, where small cities try to run themselves like the government usually does. For example, they got one major supermarket to stop selling plastic bags and similar products that have negative effects on the environment. Also, they aim to grow the majority of ingredients for restaurants locally.
The idea, Marshall explained, is to keep as much money and prosperity in the town as possible. This means they’re trying to build up a local and self-sustaining economy. This is a very inspiring process because, with a concept like that, cities and towns can make their own rules and get to a greener way of living, without having to rely on governments to take action.
Lastly, he introduced the class to permaculture and the permaculture garden right next to the lodge. Everyone got to pick one leaf of a plant they didn’t know and one from a plant that they did know. This worked like a wake-up call and the tired children became excited learners. I don’t even know how to describe the desperation with which each one wanted to know what kind of leaves they found in the garden.
It was a long and hard day and while the kids got to shower and relax we started packing. A little quiz game and a very funny acapella competition after dinner marked the end of our time together and we all went to bed exhausted but satisfied and fulfilled.
All that was left to do on Friday, was to finish packing, make sandwiches for the children and collect their feedback. Then we had to say goodbye. We really bonded during those days together, so letting them get on that bus was kind of sad. This showed me how great it is to connect with different age groups and share simple but impactful experiences like planting a tree.
I am highly thankful for being part of such a project. Inspiring others by doing what we did there in Greyton is precious and I can’t wait for the next camp and the next opportunity to do what I love.
Until next time.
Greenpop Creative Writing Intern
P.S. If you want to intern with Greenpop, visit www.rootsinterns.com
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Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.