From dustbowl to oasis

Entering the gates of Luhlaza High School, the oasis of green spinach and buffalo grass bordering the entrance is in stark contrast to dusty and windswept Khayelitsha on the far side of the fence.

Encouraged by her love for the environment, science and biology teacher Elizabeth Le Tape started the Luhlaza Environmental Club last year.  

Within less than a year her hard work and that of the learners has won them the prestigious Eskom Eduplant Award in the emerging category.

“The benefits are endless,” said Le Tape, who receives very little support in terms of funding.

“Instead of disrupting the whole school and taking learners to Kirstenbosch, they have their own indigenous garden where they can experience it all. They can learn, practically, about food webs and chains, nutrition, ag man, it’s endless,” said Le Tape.

Luhlaza is being supported by the Kommetjie Environmental Action Group (Keag), which trained Le Tape and other local teachers on incorporating the gardening projects into outcomes based education.  

Schools are encouraged to follow permaculture principles when working the gardens and to share their experiences with their community.

Permaculture has various definitions, but one is the design and implementation of productive living systems that cater for human needs in an environmentally responsible way.  

It is basically about reducing waste: energy and materials, human and environmental.

It aims to design and create systems that imitate nature, contain and digest any by-products and turn the problems into solutions. No two systems will look the same as each is in harmony with its natural surroundings, different climates and aspects, and people’s needs.

“It would be great if the teachers could start sharing their experiences and skills. This is a tool that they can use and integrate into outcomes based education,” said Fulvio Grandin of Keag.

Le Tape said parents were starting to get involved with the vegetable and indigenous gardens, taking turns to water and work in the gardens.  

“There is an increasing general awareness around healthy eating habits, rain patterns and the environment in general,” said Le Tape.  

“You never rest, it is hard work, but I love it,” she says.  

Sonwabile Notywala (15) is one of the learners that spends all his free time, including weekends, in the gardens.

“I have been doing it for two years and something is wrong if I don’t get to come here over a weekend. My friends are also starting to help me,” said the youngster, who has aspirations of becoming the Minister for Water Affairs.  

Thandiwe Dubase is a volunteer mother who helps to water and weed the gardens.

“I love doing it. I now grow vegetables at my house as well. I have planted cabbage, cauliflower, onions, beetroot.,” she says.  

“Doing this instills a sense of pride in the children, the teachers, the parents and the community. It is a difficult environment to try and grow things in. There is no rain, it is hot and it is windy, but we have learnt and we have grown,” Le Tape said.

Luhlaza started out with one wheelbarrow and a spade, but has since managed to buy a few more implements with the help of the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.

They urgently need to install an irrigation system and another tap. A borehole is another luxury they are hoping to install if they can find the funds.

Anyone wishing to contact the school or Keag can get hold of Grandin at (021) 7833433. – Health-e News Service


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    Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews

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