For many decades South African communities were segregated on the basis of colour and by socio-economic circumstances. Even though there are no longer legal barriers between different sections of society, it is still difficult to bring together young people from different communities for a common cause. This is a form of deprivation for all communities at least as serious as physical hardship.
The WCC eco-camps, citizen-science projects and volunteer groups allow the youth from all walks of life to share experiences to the benefit of society. They get to know each other, thereby increasing the chances of working together later in life. Research has shown that the healing power of nature cannot be underestimated.
The young people can also connect with adult role models - many of them academics and scientists - while learning about the environment. Adult volunteers help the youth to acquire knowledge and to practise scientific methodology through bird identification, frog and dragonfly monitoring, plant identification and uploading data to national and international databases. The youth who have participated in our camps were so inspired that they have spontaneously formed a “Friends” group that collects litter along the Mill Stream in Stanford every month to reduce pollution of the eco-system. In just three months the “friends” grew from twelve to thirty members.
At one of our camps the group chatted about career options and one of the girls realised that being poor and living in a shack does not have to limit her ambitions in life. She now has her sights firmly set on studying medicine – and is achieving the academic standards to do it. Another young girl from a Gansbaai fishing family is already an accomplished ‘skipper’ at the age of 14. She now has ambitions to become the first woman captain of the Antarctic research vessel the SA Agulhas II.
It’s not just the youth who benefit from our activities. There are simultaneous benefits to the environment through community involvement in citizen science projects. The benefits include, for example, determining the population demographics for Drewes’ Moss Frog in Fernkloof Nature Reserve; rescuing Cape Leopard Toadlets when they leave the breeding pond and cross the road to forage; relocating chameleons threatened by urban development; and cleaning up sensitive eco-systems like wetlands and rivers.
One of the adult “Friends of the Mill Stream” posted on Facebook: “I was totally impressed by Sheraine Van Wyk's ways with the girls...not only was it a good cause cleaning and helping our environment but also a wonderfully constructive way of interacting with the youth!”
All the benefits of nature are lost to many underprivileged children through lack of transport. We would love to give the experience to more young people. We really need a nature-bus to expand their horizons beyond the ‘townships’ and involve them in all our adventures in nature.
The cost of a 16-seater Toyota Quantum is R440,000.