Improving your life whilst greening your environment is a match made in heaven. The Acornhoek community in rural Mpumalanga show us how it’s done.
The northeast of South Africa is home to some of its best-visited tourist attractions. On the one side is Kruger National Park and the upmarket, private game lodges that surround it. On the other there’s God’s Window and the awe-inducing Blyde River Canyon.
But wedged in between these very affluent and much talked about regions lies a rural settlement. This is a community of more than 100 000 residents with no real industry to speak of.
The town of Acornhoek, situated in the larger Bushbuckridge and forming part of eHlanzeni District Municipality, has very few tarred roads. It’s mostly pothole-ridden gravel streets, where locals walk because they have no other way of getting around. It’s not that they don’t want to work; it’s simply the problem of finding work.
People either fled or dumped here
The CBD consists of a warehouse-like shopping centre where there are many places to spend money, but not many ways to make any. Acornhoek is unemployed and uneducated.
There are two types of people living in Acornhoek: those who fled here from Mozambique during the war of the 1980’s and those who were dumped here because of forced removals. It doesn’t rain here often. The gardens, roads and open areas are sandy. Yet the people remain. This community is resilient.
There are many NGO’s at work in Acornhoek, building them up and helping them better their lives, educate their children and look after their elders. But there are two projects that truly stand out.
Wildlands Trees for Life: Tree-preneurs
Acornhoek falls inside the Kruger2Canyon Biosphere, and together with Nedbank, they launched Trees for Life – a project that not only reforests the community, but also teaches moms, dads and school children how to do business. The project kicked off in June 2014.
A tree-preneur will start by planting seeds found in the local forests in plastic, cut-off two-liter bottles that they recycle at home. They will then nurture these trees in makeshift greenhouses built from scratch out of branches and scraps of net.
Once the trees are a certain height (10cm, 20cm, 30cm etc.), they are equal to a certain value (R10, R20, R30 etc.). A tree-preneur doesn’t receive the money in cash, however.
Plantation in exchange for bicycles, even laptops
The value of their little plantation is bartered for bicycles fit for these harsh conditions, water tanks or even laptops to help their children study. They can also barter their trees for R500 boxes of supplies and open a small convenience store at home.
Driving between the community schools and visiting homesteads of tree-preneurs, you can see the dedication that they have toward these little saplings. Less than a year ago, these people didn’t know the difference between the trees that grow outside their homes. Now they can tell you exactly which is a knobthorn, a marula or a moringa – the only exotic tree that is part of the project. The moringa leaves are believed to have medicinal value and locals pay an arm and a leg for dried leaves to use for tea or as herbs.
For the most part, the trees that are bartered are donated back to the community to be planted there or planted in other arid regions of the country.
Recycling for Life: Waste-preneurs learn to save
Similar to the tree project, the residents of Acornhoek can also register to become waste-preneurs. The project, run in conjunction with local NGO Nourish, is only a few months old. Its current focus is on tin and plastic – the two materials with the highest value.
Registered residents are informed of a pick up date and pick up points. They then collect as much tin and plastic as they can. On the morning of collection day, they arrive with wheelbarrows and rented vans full of waste.
The money that they receive here comes in cash, but Nedbank is very involved in the community, teaching the very basics of banking. They help locals open their very first bank account and teach them how to withdraw money, but more importantly, how to save money.
Mothers and grandmothers sell waste and learn more
A very strong focus of the project is to put waste-preneurs in charge of their own finances. In a community that is poor, friends and family quickly sweep in on someone who has made a bit of money.
Interestingly, up until now, the 85 registered waste-preneurs are all women. These mothers and grandmothers are working hard to improve their own lives and to secure the future of their children. It is nothing short of inspiring.
We see many South Africans with jobs refusing to go to work because they want more money. It is refreshing to learn that there are people living with much less that are simply happy to have found a way to improve their lives.
by Adel Groenewald