Macassar High School,
The first stop on our journey to see all things good and green was Macassar High School in Somerset West, where we’d be doing the first of over 60 project assessments for Food & Trees for Africa.
We hopped on our scooters and headed out to the township of Macassar, where unemployment, poverty and drug abuse is rife. Teenagers loitered on street corners, staring at us curiously as we passed.
A cacophony of barking dogs followed us as we passed ramshackle houses, separated from the road with barbed-wire gates. We met up with Mr Jusuf Abrahams, the school’s principal, whose passion for the school and his garden comes across instantly.
All images © Christopher List Photography
“Even a dog has a better life than some of these kids”, he tells me. “Teaching is not only about learning A, B, C and 1, 2, 3; it’s about instilling values and morals as well. The lifestyle and environment of these kids is not great, so I want the school to be their haven”, he continues. “Ultimately, I want to cultivate respect for plants and animals, so that students appreciate what God has given us”.
Mr Abraham’s started the school’s food garden two years ago, with the idea to provide school kids with a hot soup every day.
Today, the school produces beans, sweet potato, turnips, spinach, onions, carrot, peppers, cucumber and tomato, as well as herbs such as parsley, fennel, mint and origanum, all of which are grown organically, using no pesticides or fertilisers.
Seeing the success of the food garden and feeding scheme, Peninsula Feeding scheme are now sponsoring Macassar High students with a hot plate of food every day. “All because of a small little project from our school garden”, Mr Abrahams says proudly.
This allows the school to sell the produce to the teachers and the community, raising money to buy more seed packets and plants, and donating any excess to local feeding schemes.
And if that wasn’t enough, the garden is also a mini animal sanctuary, home to two tortoises whose owners couldn’t care for them anymore.
Food & Trees for Africa first became involved with the project after Mr Abrahams attended a workshop at the Marvin Park Primary School in October last year, initially with the donation of two trees, and later, contributing R15000 towards the development of the garden.
So far, this money has gone towards the expansion of the garden, the fencing of which cost R5500 alone.
The far-sighted principal hopes that the remainder can go towards the installation of a sorely-needed drip-irrigation system, which will help save water.
He also hopes to get a shredder, which can be used to shred readily-available biomass for compost.
An ex-Geography teacher, Mr Abraham’s tells me that the main purpose of the food garden is to teach the school’s pupils how to grow their own gardens one day.
“My long-term goal is to take this idea to the whole community, starting with the households opposite the school, and teaching them how to grow their own vegetables so they can have fresh food every day”, he says. By supplying plants to nearby households, and offering free advice and assistance, he hopes that more and more people will start their own gardens.
Vanita Drew, of Soil for Life, is working with Mr Abrahams to take his vision to the wider community. “Having knowledge is one thing. But you need to get people involved”, she tells me. Vanita will use the school’s garden to help train people in the township with skills such as soil preparation, composting, trench gardening, seed saving and more.
As we walk through the garden, Mr Abrahams tells me that the Macassar High School is part of the Eco School’s programme, which helps schools reduce their carbon footprint.
They also have an eco club, consisting of about 35 learners who help out with gardening and maintenance. In fact, the school has been involved in environmental projects for the past 20 years.
The school recycles, collects rainwater from the roof, and holds gardening workshops, with the assistance of Eco Schools. Through life skills training, hiking expeditions, and the gardening courses and workshops, Mr Abrahams hopes to create awareness about conservation, the importance of recycling and the saving of rare and endangered plants.
In line with this, the dedicated principal spearheaded the creation of a remarkable indigenous garden, with the help of students and Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, who provided the initial training and plants.
Mr Abrahams and the school’s gardener, Henry Langenhoven (nicknamed Oom Boy by the kids) are so dedicated to the garden that they work in it on weekends and school holidays, expanding it dramatically in their spare time. Henry alone has created two thriving extensions using cuttings and seeds from the existing indigenous plants.
The garden has also attracted the likes of Prince Edward of Wales, who came to visit in 2009 while the kids were busy planting. “We’ve even got people coming by in bakkies to drop off plants”, Mr Abrahams says. “But I won’t plant anything unless it’s indigenous”.
The two gardeners also propagate plants and give them to other schools, encouraging them to start their own indigenous gardens. Mr Abraham’s points to some small proteas, which they’ve nurtured to life in pots.
“It’s a very delicate process to get them this far. You put some seeds on a dishcloth, which has been placed on a flat slate or tile, and cover it with another cloth weighed down with stones on each corner, keeping it moist. After 8 weeks, the cloth starts to pop up.
Then you take off the top cloth and you’ll see two leaves, which you replant in pots. I had 28 pots, but only 11 survived”, he says regretfully. “But it’s our first effort - and it’s bearing fruit. These plants cost around R80 each in the shop”, he exclaims.
He points to another protea, flourishing in its surroundings.
"I was told (by Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens) that I wouldn't be able to grow proteas here", he continues.
"But I was confident it would grow. So I went to Benbel hardware store and bought some.
I know proteas don't like standing water, so I planted it on a slope.
And it flowered, and then they believed me and started bringing other protea species".
What’s astonishing is that apart from the plants donated by Kirstenbosch for the first two phases of the garden, the school has received no further funding.
But that doesn’t deter Mr Abrahams or Henry, who plan on developing the project even further. They’ve even created benches for the kids to sit on using wood from alien trees.
“I don’t go the Helderberg Nature Reserve on Saturdays anymore. I come to the school and read my newspaper, and just watch the birds and listen to their bird calls - some of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen in my life”.
Part of Mr Abraham’s future goals include the building of a nursery to propagate plants and seedlings (using waste building materials), and he hopes to create a profitable business by selling vegetables from the food garden, as well from the sales of indigenous plants.
Walking with him back to his office, I asked Mr Abrahams how much money the school generates from this project. He opened up a tin on his desk, containing the savings from the food garden over the past eight months. Coins and notes spill onto his desk, amounting to a mere R1000.
Return from Macassar High School to Our trip
Return from Macassar High School to Eco-friendly Africa Travel