Planting for the Future

The trees waiting to be planted at the community center.

“We need oxygen to stay alive,” said the teacher. “And trees give us…” “Oxygen!” the children shouted back. “If you cut down a tree, you are cutting down your life,” the teacher continued. Welcome to an iThemba Life Skills class during Arbor Week celebrations!

iThemba partners with various schools in the area to teach Life Skills: a required subject in South Africa that covers topics from how to get a drivers license and the importance of hygiene to more serious topics like how to deal with HIV/AIDS, rape, or incest. iThemba has permission to come and teach these classes–from a Christian worldview–and it is an amazing privilege for the discipleship workers to get to know these kids and follow up on what is going on in their lives.

Children at Nobanda school stand proud after planting their tree.

This week was National Arbor Week, South Africa’s celebration of indigenous trees and plants. Through a local businessman and our permaculture gardening initiative, iThemba was donated indigenous trees for all the different schools where we do Life Skills. The iThemba Gardening team came in to do a special lecture on the importance of sustainability in the Life Skills classes, then the kids got into groups and planted trees on their school property. Even though it was a cold, very muddy, very wet week, the tree plantings took place!

This is very exciting, because even though some people have a romanticized idea that everyone in Africa lives “at one” with nature, the fact is most people here (like in the US!) live with a very short-term view of things. Thus, there is lots of de-forestation due to  cattle farming and firewood. Grass is burnt during the winter because it makes it grow back faster in spring–but it also gives off lots of pollution.

In the Life Skills classes, the iThemba staff talked about the need to throw away rubbish, and even recycle, rather than just burning the rubbish. However, the area of Mpumuza is in an interesting position–because it is technically owned by the chief, the municipality does not come and collect the rubbish in the same way they do for the town of Hilton. There is a lot of bureaucracy and miscommunication between the two governing authorities, and many times the rubbish is not collected at all! It made me realize I take it for granted that in Hilton I have easy access to recycling, and sometimes I don’t even take the time to do it.

Me and my little indigenous tree!

The week ended with an a celebration at the site of iThemba’s community center on Arbor day. Right now there are only foundations at the site, but all the iThemba staff, along with the construction workers from the site, planted an indigenous tree along the boarder of the property, and drank hot chocolate under a shelter on the site!

Hot chocolate after planting our trees.

 When Helping Hurts (by Corbett and Fikkert) points out that poverty is not just financial–it is emotional, spiritual and intellectual. This week I was reminded that it is a symptom of poverty to only see the short-term and live in the immediate, grabbing for ourselves whatever resources are closest, rather than seeing the long term effects of our actions. We in the US are just as impoverished as our South African neighbors when it comes to how we steward the environment God has entrusted to us.

The pile of muddy shoes at the office when we returned from the community center–the red clay at the site is pretty sticky!

  • Pray that the people of Mpumuza would be able to find a solution for how to safely and cleanly dispose of their rubbish, and that people would take pride in their community.
  • Pray that we all (South Africans and the US) would be able to take a long-term view of things—that we would see the consequences of our actions in everyday life, and we would not take for granted the resources we have been entrusted with.
  • Praise God for providing us with trees to plant!
  • Praise God that David’s South African Qualifications Certificate arrived! He has several follow up meetings with teachers this week, and is presenting on how to use Geogebra, a maths education program, to a group of teachers this week.
  • Praise God for how well Justina (short-term volunteer from the UK) is fitting in, and for her amazing work teaching English in these schools.

(For more pictures, visit iThemba’s facebook page. Search for iThemba Projects.)

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