At a glamorous occasion in Pietermaritzburg last night, Penelope Malinga was a winner in the KZN Youth Achievers Awards – organised by uMvithi and aimed at exposing young people to positive career, educational, entrepreneurial and recreational opportunities – in recognition of her ‘selfless efforts in making a difference in KwaZulu Natal’. Penelope was nominated in the Environmental Category by the Midlands Conservancies Forum.
Penelope describes herself as a self-appointed guardian of wild places, tree and bunny hugger. She recalls the inspiration, “one day a friend introduced me to the uMngeni River gorge below the Howick Falls, it was like nothing I had ever seen, heard, or felt before. I knew I was home.”
Last year she was part of the team who walked the length of the uMngeni river, inspiring many to take up the cause of protecting our rivers. Penelope particularly enjoys working with the youth, passing on her passion for wetlands and a respect and connection to our precious rivers.
Penny Rees, fellow river lover, is very excited about her achievement. “Penz – from the days that we walked the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve with kids in tow, to your work in Mpophomeni pulling the community together and healing the streams, from your Zulu dance lessons, to duck diving in muddy pools, from all the grey hairs you gave me climbing down holes and up huge boulders, from the uMngeni River walk, to witnessing your singing debut, we have walked a long road together (sometimes quite literally!) I cannot tell you how happy I am for you and how proud I am – you SO deserve this award – go forward from this day with your held high.
For those who only know Penz via our blog – she is an impressive young woman who approached me back in 2009 or 2010 for employment for her prac. year as a Nature Conservation student. Since then, her love for Mother Earth, her enthusiasm, ethics and sense of justice, her ability to work with folks of all ages and from all walks of life, and her sense of fun and radiant smile (resulting in our Mayday nickname for her – Chakide) have been an absolute pleasure to witness, and I look forward to many more years working together with Penelope Malinga – Bayete!”
Penelope is a positive role model, unafraid to speak up on issues of animal rights, fairness, racism, feminism and environmental causes. This means she is not always understood in her community.
Little sister Nonthokozo says “People often refuse to help her with testing the water, but now I think they will see what a difference she is making and help.” Her mum, Thembeni, adds proudly “She always loved the environment, I remember her coming back from school completely wet and saying she had fallen in the river.” Penelope adds “Ja, people think I am a little weird, but it is my ‘weirdness’ which won me this award!”
At the Award Ceremony, the Environmental category was announced last, causing Penz’ heart to thump when her name was called out. “I was getting ready to start clapping for the winner when they said it was me. I have never won anything in my life and yet tonight I am KZN Young Achiever in the environment category. Aweeeemah!”
Penz concludes: “I am proud of living in Mpophomeni and want to do all I can to alert people to the fact that we need to look after the small river, uMthimzima that runs through the township and into Midmar dam. Our actions have a big impact on the water quality of millions of people. I think this award might be a platform to make an even bigger difference.”
“I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Earth I walk on, the water that replenished my spirit, the Sun for lighting my way during day and the moon and stars by night, also the air that found a home in my body becoming a soul.”
Penelope and other exceptional Mpophomeni women are founding members of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group – look them up at www.midlandsconservanices.org.za read more about their adventures at: http://midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/exploring-the-umthinzima-through-mpophomeni/ and http://midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/izinyoka/
Or join their group on facebook ‘Mpophomeni Hills’