Joining planting days has been one of my favourite activities during my internship at Greenpop, and this is not only for environmental reasons. The eleven partner orgnisations that form a part of Greenpop’s Fynbos for the Future Programme, are located in various under-greened areas around Cape Town.
One such school is Highlands Primary in Mitchell’s Plain. We have hosted six Fynbos for the Future planting days at Highlands Primary School. When we arrived at our final planting day, we instantly saw the excitement and enthusiasm on the kids’ faces as our Greenpop transporter pulled up. “Are we going to paint again?”, asks one of the girls as we met the children, and I tell her that we are not going to paint rocks for the fynbos garden today, but rather play the biodiversity game. With pure excitement she runs off to the schoolyard and tells the other sixth graders.
Re-connecting learners with nature
For three years, Highlands Primary has been a part of the Fynbos for Future Programme.
“Because the school is situated in a very economically challenging area, as a principal I try together with my staff to create a home away from home for our learners. They are faced with so many challenges on a daily basis,”
says the school’s principal, Tanya van Graan.
She continues: “So when Greenpop popped up on our registry, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.” For Greenpop’s Urban Greening team it is an absolute delight to see the garden flourishing and the kids getting their hands dirty for the environment. Surveys conducted by the team throughout the Fynbos for the Future workshops show that many primary students who live on the Cape Flats do not feel connected to nature at all. That is what the Fynbos for the Future Programme is trying to change, one planting day at a time. “When we got started with the fynbos, our learners were not really sure about it”, Tanya tells me.
“Sometimes, although we live in Cape Town, these children are not exposed to the floral abundance the Western Cape has to offer. Some of them have never been to Kirstenbosch.”
Biodiversity also plays a major role in the school’s curriculum, the principal tells me, which is taught to grade six and seven learners. This creates a perfect opportunity to take the classroom outdoors to see how biology matters in their daily lives.
Empowering environmental stewards
And the learners are not the only beneficiaries of the garden:
“Let me first start by saying for myself, it is very therapeutic. You can just step out of the office and into the garden. And the educators have also felt inspired: We started doing our own projects like the ‘Green Fingers Project’ where each year we identify learners in groups of 20 that will go to the garden with a local woman that will teach them about the different plants.”
And according to Tanya, learning goes far beyond biology. Through the Fynbos for the Future Programme, the students’ entrepreneurial skills have been shaped, and it teaches them discipline:
“We have little captains wearing orange caps which ensure that things are running smoothly in the garden. During the breaks they care for the garden and fix little things, it is teaching them discipline and all those things. […] Not only do they cultivate the garden, but it is also a cultivation of the love for gardening.”
Urban greening matters
Besides making the school ground a more enjoyable place for learners as well as staff, the fynbos garden also has environmental benefits. Although Cape Town is the heart of the Fynbos Biome, urbanisation and under-greened spaces are a hurdle for biodiversity. By planting more fynbos around the city, strategic fynbos corridors can be built to promote pollination, and create an important feeding ground for birds and other wildlife.
In addition to the Fynbos garden, Highlands Primary school even started its own vegetable garden, and the principal is proud of how the environmental projects also affect the communities in Mitchell’s Plain and Woodlands. Students take their love for gardening, their self-grown vegetables, and their new knowledge home, which inspires their own household and communities.
Gardening inspires environmentalism
What is more, the school has established a recycling and a compost programme.
“We try to compost things like peels for the garden. When the kids find tins or bottles at home, they must bring it to school and we will plant little seedlings in them. Then they can actually see in the garden how you can use recycling materials. That really helps them to understand the different aspects of gardening and that everything is intertwined.[…] The garden captains also make sure that no littering takes place in the garden. So we have litter awareness, we have sustainability, we have accountability – the kids are learning many things.”
In Cape Town, many underprivileged areas tend to be very under-greened, and children rarely have contact with the natural world or exposure to environmental knowledge and topics.
“We need to make environmental matters more visible and known in our areas and pass on that knowledge to our learners. Many of these communities have drugs and gangs, single parents or only grandparents caring for them and giving them a hobby is a very good thing. It can be really balancing for a child to have something positive at home that they can put their energy into.”
Having grown up growing and eating vegetables from her own garden, Tanya strongly believes in environmental education for children on a global scale. She emphasises the importance of establishing matters of gardening and nature as a healthy hobby: “You do not have to be a talented musician or good at sports or art, gardening can also be an avenue to explore.”
What is more, gardening skills can even turn into a career. ‘Green Careers’ is an important part of Greenpop’s Fynbos for the Future Programme, which is why they not only teach learners about possible career paths, but also teach them practical skills, such as propagation and business skills. “With these skills I can not only sustain a garden, I can also go back and sustain my family”, Tanya says.
The fynbos garden serves as much more than creating a beautiful schoolyard space, it encourages greener perspectives, and opens up possibilities for our future generations.
Do you want to help us plant more Fynbos gardens in under-greened areas? Visit our Fynbos for the Future website page, to find out more about how you or your organisation can get your hands dirty for the good of the environment!
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