Impact In Person: Creating a home away from home with Tanya van Graan
By Marlena Niedl
Although they live in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom, many children in Cape Town’s marginalised areas do not know much about Fynbos or biodiversity. Our Fynbos for the Future partner, and Highlands Primary Principal, Tanya Van Graan, wants to change that.
Cape Town is a divided city, privileged areas border informal settlements, and there is a visible divide that can be seen as you drive throughout the city. This can be seen in the amount of vegetation as well. Oftentimes schools in under-resourced areas do not have a garden or much greenery at all. Greenpop’s Fynbos for the Future programme aims to change that, with the help and involvement of the students, staff, and community.

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.

fynbos for the future
Highlands Primary Principal Tanya van Graan proudly standing in the school’s Fynbos garden. Photographer: Marlena Niedl


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
Our Urban Greening manager, Deon Louw, teaching the students all about the magic of fynbos. Photographer: Marlena Niedl 


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!

Women in Sustainability: Meet our Head of Programmes, Zoë Gauld-Angelucci

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World Environment Day is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and has been held annually since 1974. The goal of the day of action is to promote environmental awareness and draw attention to crucial concerns around our planet’s survival, that require active engagement and commitment. Today, the day represents one of the largest global platforms for environmental action, with millions of participants from around the world. Each World Environment Day focuses on a specific issue that reflects urgent problems and challenges of our time, such as climate change, biodiversity loss or pollution.

Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.