Growing green futures
Waking up at 4h30am at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is an almost spiritual experience. The pre-dawn air is cool and still, and a calm peace rests over the remains of the night. There is nothing but complete bush silence. But what is most striking is the waning moon still high in the sky, reflecting brightly in the Walker Bay ocean stretched out below. It’s no wonder we passed a sign yesterday on the R43 pointing to Maanskynbaai.
As a world-renowned eco-tourism destination Grootbos is a responsible member of this Overberg coastline and plays its part by focusing on the development of sustainable nature-based livelihoods amongst local communities. Thus, the reason we’re visiting is the R400 000 funding provided by Old Mutual Foundation in 2015 to the Grootbos Green Futures Foundation, which offers accredited training in landscaping and horticulture. This training programme aligns with one of the core goals of the Old Mutual Foundation, which is to develop skills that enable unemployed youth to secure permanent employment and become economically active.
We meet ‘our’ 12 Old Mutual beneficiaries proudly kitted out in their dark green Grootbos uniforms and distinctive red caps. I chuckle and can’t help thinking EFF meets red-capped woodpecker! The Green Futures team has been amazing and given over the entire morning to allow us access to the students who’re busy studying in the classroom when we arrive. I chat with some of the students, who’re initially a bit shy in the presence of camera and video. Siviwe (24) and Sibusiso (23) are both from Mthatha originally but now find themselves in the Western Cape seeking employment and better livelihoods. I discover this is a common theme as we chat to the other students, highlighting the complex shift of regional populations. They’re so excited to have been selected from amongst many applicants into the final 12 students. Unemployment is very high along this stretch of Western Cape coastline and the major source of income in many of the poorer communities is illegal, but highly lucrative abalone smuggling.
With an accredited horticulture certification backing them, the Green Futures graduates can go on to secure employment in the Grootbos Reserve, other Botanical Gardens, landscaping companies or even set up their own gardening businesses. Many graduates however, with their improved confidence and life vision, go on to study further and have successful careers as trained and knowledgeable Field Guides working closely with overseas visitors in the region. This is what good eco-tourism is all about, developing passion and pride in our unique environment, and most importantly creating an improved quality of life through sustainable livelihoods.
Thandeka Ngcabane (21) is from Masakhane, Gansbaai. Her father was a traditional healer and instilled in her a love of plants. She studied tourism at school and wants to eventually go on to become a trained field guide.
And we’re off!
Growing green futures
For the love of reading
Paying it forward
In the heat of the moment
The road to Camdeboo
The light of one small candle
Investing for the future
The building blocks of business
A heart for horses
Mining for talent
My ability is greater than my disability
To be a nurse, you must be love
There’s no such thing as ‘the voiceless’
Mark my words
The place where the sun rises
Welcome to your future