Driving into Mpophomeni can be a depressing experience – a sea of litter scars the landscape. A few hapless cows scrounge a living on the roadside dump and the occasional bloated goat lies belly up in the murky water of the uMtimzima River. Julia Colvin, DUCT volunteer and MMAEP facilitator, reports:Whilst Duzi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) has been very active in the area – educating the community about river health issues through drama, clean up campaigns and awareness days – services, sanitation and refuse removal remain in dangerously short supply.
This year, the Midlands Meander Education Project in collaboration with the DUCT team decided to clean up their neighbourhood during National Clean Up Week. Sifisesihle Primary School, alarmed by the stories they have read in their library about the poor state of our rivers, mobilized to join the activities organized during the DUCT clean up week.
Preparations for Clean Up Day began on a chilly Thursday morning, with children huddled into the library to play the Windows on the World Catchment Action picture building game. This stimulating game was designed to help learners to critically reflect on issues of pollution in our rivers and actively seek solutions to address this water crisis. The class was divided into groups and asked to discuss and present on two different scenarios. A papier maché model of a clean, untouched river system and another model depicting a polluted and severely impacted river were presented to the groups for discussion. The facilitator challenged the children to think about creative and plausible solutions. After the indoor learning, the eco-warriors were delighted to head outdoors and do something positive for mother earth. Wearing gloves and carrying paper bags, we made our way into the streets of Mpophomeni to clean up a nearby river. Hours later, we were beginning to make some sort of impression – collecting 20 bags during the afternoon. When the children audited the waste, they realized to their horror that much of the litter was attributed to the wasteful packaging of their tuck-shop purchases. They realized that they could help save our rivers by carefully considering the foods they choose to buy. The healthy peanut butter sandwiches we had brought along to snack on had no unnecessary packaging, for example. Sometimes, the conclusions that children generate through their own evaluations and discoveries are far more impactful in altering behavior and values than thrashing out the same old rhetoric from environmental ‘expert’. This day was a good example of active learning and hopefully, the messages learnt today, will linger.
Other groups in Mpophomeni also braved the torrential rain to remove as much litter as possible from the river edges. The DUCT Enviro-Champs collected a few bags and
Olga, who heads up the Sizanani Widows Fund collected 13 bags yesterday afternoon with enthusiastic children.