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NATURE CONNECT CHANGING LIVES THROUGH NATURE Author: Janis Theron This is a story about how the wheel turns: a few years ago, a young child called Ntombikayise Lolwane participated in a school environmental education programme with Nature Connect, and something changed inside her. She completed her schooling, was selected to receive a bursary for her studies, and graduated. She then enrolled in an internship with Nature Connect and is now a valued staff member! Starting as a Penguin Ranger, today she is the site manager for the Milnerton Racecourse Section of Table Bay Nature Reserve. "My journey with Nature Connect has been one of personal and professional growth, development and improvement. Being part of those who speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Conserving the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos and contributing to the rehabilitation and upkeep of this necessary patch of vegetation is very honouring. It has always been a passion to be within the conservation sector, and my passion drives me to do better and progress within my career." Lolwane is motivated to uplift people whilst driving behavioural change for the advancement of environmental conservation. And she embodies the values that drive Nature Connect. Nature Connect is a Not-for-Profit Public Benefits Organisation founded in 2001 by the Table Mountain Fund and the City of Cape Town to provide opportunities for children from the Cape Flats to experience the outdoors and, in the process, develop a curiosity and interest in the natural environment.
Over the past 21years, tens of thousands of these children have had this opportunity of learning to love nature. "We educate, not only to grow responsible citizenry, but to foster employability. We teach more than just skills development; we nurture correct attitudes as well." This fits into the bigger picture of the current environmental crisis. It is about how the average person lives. Do we live sustainably in our homes? Do we promote sustainability in our schools and our workplaces? What can the average person do?
"Live by example, live sustainably, become an advocate by keeping your community clean, become an ambassador for that river that flows past your house. Encourage fostering a love for nature amongst your family and friends. Recycle and reduce your waste and be mindful of how you live, eat and commute," answers Catherine Kuhn, education coordinator for Nature Connect. She leads a team of passionate staff who want to preserve Cape Town's biodiversity using environmental education, training and conservation initiatives. They love and understand young people and their potential for self- and environmental discovery.
"We believe in building relationships with people so that they may view the world differently. We are working with youth who are often from challenging backgrounds - we see the poverty and the challenges they face every day," acknowledges Kuhn. "Our education programmes are the first step of our Crèche-to-Career model which establishes the stepping stones for these kids to take a journey of personal growth and, through skills transfer and training, equips them to pursue careers in the Green Economy. We believe that only through the creation and access to opportunities will we help these youth to build their values around the environment and challenge the barriers that exist for their advancement," says Kuhn.
The Greenskills Programme equips school leavers with the skills necessary to get into the Green Economy. Training programmes, learnership, internships, and mentorship make them job-ready when they leave; up to 75% of them get jobs.
Nature Connect is concerned about the extreme rate of biodiversity loss - directly linked to socio-economic issues, including poverty and a lack of proper governance. "Poverty stricken areas give rise to many other anthropogenic problems, such as littering and poor waste management practices which affect natural areas. Water and sanitation management and the health of catchment areas and river systems are a major concern. Illegal activities such as dumping, poaching, snaring, making fires and other forms of wildlife crime all add to biodiversity loss." Kuhn believes that lack of education and plentiful misconceptions regarding wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are the challenges they face. Environmental Education is meant to inspire people to fall in love with nature and learn a new respect for all forms of biodiversity. It starts with you. Become your own hero, don't just walk past the rubbish in the road and speak up about issues affecting your way of life. Become an ambassador for your community and advocate for real change in your suburb.