The Benefits of Service that Can’t be Measured

07

AUGUST, 2019

By Jacqueline Brinkmann

The Eden Festival of Action is a solution-based engagement program that works against the current climate crisis. For three weeks, participants and team members come together to create positive change. Through reforestation, eco-building, and environmental art projects, the festival fosters unmatched experiential learning.

I entered the space of the festival as a complete novice. I’m a recent college graduate from the States (I only graduated four days before I boarded my flight to South Africa). I came to the festival as part of my internship with Greenpop. Upon my arrival, I had never met any of the Greenpop team in person, only via e-mail. I studied urban planning, so I was very excited for the urban greening aspects of the program. I had never planted a tree, never been to South Africa or completed work directly related to bettering the environment.

Living in the forest at Wild Spirit Backpackers in Nature’s Valley changed all of these facts for me. I cannot express enough gratitude to Greenpop for providing the platform for learning and making connections while doing good for our planet.

We are finding ourselves unraveling from the web of inspiration, connection and passion provided by the Eden Festival of Action. Given this, it is easy to focus on the impressive parameters of measurement that the festival has achieved.

To reiterate and give the Greenpop team and participants extra kudos, the Festival of Action accomplished:

5,000 indigenous trees planted of over 30 species

3,000 square metres of alien vegetation cleared

9,000 plant-based meals consumed

3 collaborative murals, totaling 104 metres squared of surface area

12 open planting days with 80+ community volunteers

420 eco-bricks filled with non-recyclable waste to make 2 giant game board sets and 1 eco-brick earth bench

41 scholarship students from local communities contributed to a 200+ participant total

These numbers summarize the positive change that the event created, but there are also many positive changes that numbers can’t capture.

We can regurgitate the numbers that represent the impact of the Festival of Action. Still, it is difficult to keep track of the small moments and exchanges that nourish our spirits. For example, when a friend notices that your energy levels have changed, you feel considered. When another friend brings you a fresh coffee without you having to ask, you feel cared for. At night sitting by the fire, your leg touches the leg of someone next to you, a silent exchange of consent occurs. Maybe it’s because it is too cold to care about touching a stranger. Or maybe the discomfort dissipates because of a silent agreement that you are both here for the same goals. 

These are examples of the brief encounters that often get labeled as insignificant. These small encounters accumulate over the course of four weeks. We must all acknowledge the significance of this foundation of caring, trust, and love. Arguably, these moments occur more often because of the nature of the space. It matters little whether these interactions occurred between team members or participants. These are moments of humanized connection with a unified mission; to help our planet.

After the festival, most of us re-enter the world that bombards us with culture promoting consumerist ideals and capitalist values. But, we will return to these small moments and how they made us feel, reminding us that we are appreciated for the impactful work that we are doing. Our What’s App notifications will ping. Our Instagram direct messages will fill. But we won’t forget the peace we felt when we were off the grid. Re-entering the grid makes us sometimes wish we never re-entered in the first place. Even now, over two weeks after the conclusion of the festival, the Greenpop staff is still in a place of processing and reflecting. This is how deep the effects of events like this are. We have now had enough time to process the immediate emotions connected to a monumental event. Our emotions have romanticized us into a place of nostalgia. Still, the reality is that as a movement, we must continue progressing forward.

Sometimes, a critical mind can wonder, “When I leave this place, will the change that I am making last?” At the Heartlands School of Self-Sufficiency, the festival observed this lasting change. Last year, the festival planted just metres away from this year’s site. The previous year’s trees had grown to ~5 metres tall, doubling their expected growth rate. Mahek Ranchod, a participant from the second week praised this experience; “When we saw the trees that were planted from last year and how they actually grew and flourished, that made me feel so great because if I come back next year, I’ll be able to see that change that I’ve made and that’s just a really good feeling.”

I conducted a focus group made up of five students from the second week with my fellow intern Alexandra Gunn. All five of the students interviewed expressed a profound change-making sentiment. Students spoke excitedly about implementing improved waste-management programs at their schools. They have plans to speak to the principals and school administrators. The students were also touched by the eco-brick building sessions with Waste-Ed by Candice Mostert and Matt Baker. Zoe Maralack revealed her newly found confidence to pursue a career in music, thanks to the workshop sessions with Paolo Costa. The focus group proved that the impact of the festival transcends the Garden Route.

The festival is marketed as a learning experience for participants. However, all who are involved in the Festival have gained many valuable lessons from the experience. Those involved include team members, participants, community members, students at partner schools, the staff and hosts at Wild Spirit Backpackers, and countless others. The beauty of the design of the Festival of Action is that community outreach is necessary for the success of the event. Greenpop takes the deliberate step to involve the community in the change-making process. This ensures that the Greenpop team gains a better understanding of the contexts of the changes made. This is essential in creating lasting change that seeks to empower communities.

By involving the community in the changemaking processes, Greenpop has created effective change. When speaking about the mural design and painting process, Chris Auret, resident muralist, stated that “All of the mural spaces were activated in a positive way.” Yes, we appreciate the final product and the beauty of the three murals. But upon further reflection, we are also appreciating the significance of the process. The engagement with the children and community members in the process of painting the murals is essential to the beauty of the product. Now, community members feel a sense of pride and ownership over the murals painted. This pride and ownership cannot occur without their direct involvement. The process of creating the murals is enriching and essential. The final product represents the ultimate reward of this process.

The Eden Festival of Action serves a significant purpose that does not end at the conclusion of the event. The event seeks to plant the seeds of inspiration and sow these seeds with active citizenship and meaningful connections. Over time, care of these seeds will yield saplings that serve as catalysts for future projects and goals. These saplings will transform into forests filled with meaningful networks and success stories. This all began with these numbers, all completed in a matter of three short weeks. We cannot summarize this festival with just numbers. We must see past these numbers and acknowledge a greater context that goes beyond the individual, the team and Greenpop.

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