RU Environmental Award Winners 2017

Congratulations to the 2017 Environmental Award winners: Centre for Social Development (RU department/institute), Amina Cachalia Residence (Student society/residence) and Matthew Weaver (Individual).

At a celebratory function on Tuesday 26 September 2017, winners received unique and beautiful floating trophies and framed certificates, presented by Dr Peter Clayton. Dr Nelson Odume gave an inspiring address, encouraging everyone to look after our natural environment which provides the resources we need to live on this planet

Winners are acknowledged in the Rhodes University graduation booklet, and on the Environmental Awards Honours Board at the main library.

More about the winners:

Centre for Social Development

This Rhodes University institute recognises the integral relationship between human well-being and environmental health, and promotes practices and actions that benefit both the social sphere and the biophysical environment. They have been in existence for over 30 years, and during this time have evolved and become increasingly well organised, dovetailing their greening projects with educational activities that benefit teachers, parents and youth from two of the country’s poorest provinces.

The centre has for many years run a waste upcycling project, which serves as a valuable resource for their school partnerships and community development programs. At their waste room – called Eyethu – they store waste collected from the community. A dedicated staff member sorts the materials to ensure that it is clean and re-useable. These materials are then used to make toys and useful educational materials, and for creative classroom activities. Early Childhood Development / ECD practitioners can bring their learners to one of the centre’s Toy Libraries for a morning’s activity session – where the children are given activity packs containing appropriate recyclable materials and instructions. The activities are changed on a fortnightly basis to ensure that a variety of activities are conducted in the classroom.

ECD practitioners are also trained on how to make useful educational resources out of the waste materials – which reinforces the message that green practices have social benefits! They learn, for example, how to make book holders, paint trays and puzzles out of cereal and shoe boxes, and pencil holders from yoghurt and milk containers. They also link up with other groups that run useful workshops, such as making Eco bricks. The waste resource training is offered regularly, including during the annual Trading Live week.

The primary aim is to empower practitioners, not only to make use of information, but to also generate new ideas on how to upcycle waste into educational resources, for the benefit of their learners. Through this innovative approach, teachers and learners alike are empowered to improve their economic circumstances, learning how to make useful things instead of spending limited funds on expensive products. With creative thinking comes enhanced social value – an improved sense of wellbeing and ability to take charge of one’s life.

The centre has a network of 160 mentors who provide support to learners across the Eastern Cape. Statistics from a few years ago indicate that about 700 ECD practitioners have been trained, and nearly 20,000 children and 40,000 parents have been reached. The group also trains B Ed foundation phase teachers in the Eastern and Northern Cape – and includes the waste resource training in this learning programme.

With its impressive track record, there is no doubt that this centre will continue to implement and improve its practices. Going forward, they plan to produce a step-by step manual on how to make toys and other useful items from recyclable and reusable waste. The resource manual will be like many of their other knowledge products: an open source document on their website. The teachers and parents who have received training on how to use recyclable materials will be encouraged to teach other members of their community and schools. All participants are encouraged to send photos of how they are doing the activities and the outcomes. This is used to tweak the choice of activities, increasing teachers’ enthusiasm to use the packs with their learners. In this way, the quality of their teaching can improve continuously.

This centre, through its environmentally conscious initiatives, is making a meaningful contribution to solving social, economic and environmental issues in our community. As Early Childhood Development practitioners become more creative, innovative, self-reliant and productive – with eco-friendly skills and educational practices – they are in a better position to promote environmental sustainability.

Amina Cachalia Residence

For many years now, this student residence has consistently shown a heart for promoting – and actively implementing – sustainable practices. Every year, the serving Environmental Representative leads a variety of tangible environmental initiatives, with the assistance and participation of other students in the res.

Fellow students are educated about the importance of saving water, and given tips on how to do this – especially this year, with the water crisis facing Grahamstown. The Environmental Rep also sourced blocks to put into the toilet cisterns, thus reducing the amount of water flushed away.

Last year, the res started weekly water collections from the Grahamstown spring. A small fee was charged to residents for filling their re-usable water bottles – to cover transport costs and raise funds for low-flow showerheads. This year the project has been restructured to include local community assets, which helps make the project sustainable. The res has partnered with a local company that delivers water once a week. The stipulated day is publicised to all residents so they can get refills at the same time; this saves the company from making too many trips.

The res still plans to get the university’s help with cleaning out and maintaining their rain water tank, and installing a proper filter. They are motivated by the fact that clean, healthy drinking water should be available to ALL people; collecting clean, filtered rain water in reusable containers is the most sustainable option. And it significantly reduces the amount of waste generated by single-use plastic bottles.

Last year, the res launched a ‘Rethink the Bag’ initiative, to raise awareness of South Africa’s litter problem and help reduce a large percentage of that by tackling the ubiquitous plastic bag. Re-usable bags are made freely available for students to take shopping and return afterwards. When the bags are ‘worn out’, they are then used as bin liners. Ted Talks about this are on the res Facebook page. The project is well-accepted: students find it easy to change a small aspect of their lifestyle, with the satisfaction of making a BIG difference.

The res also has a recycling collection every Tuesday evening, when the Environmental Rep and volunteers empty their communal recycling containers. Recyclable material is put out in clear bags for collection first thing in the morning. Recognising that there is a lot of paper wastage from printing, the Environmental Rep also hosts information sessions on how to print more cost-effectively. With fellow reps in the hall, she started a collection of discarded printer paper – this is donated to their partner pre-school for educational purposes. The residents realise that while these are useful greening projects, it is important to focus on generating LESS waste.

This res also values the green spaces on campus, recognising that a healthy environment is essential for human health and wellbeing. They sourced a sponsor to install a bench in their garden – a great way for people to enjoy a pleasant green space right on their doorstep. The Environmental Rep also raises awareness about threats to biodiversity, especially pollution – putting up notices and posting videos on their Facebook page. Many of the residents are involved in outdoor activities – participating socially in the community Park Run on Saturday mornings, and going on hikes and trail runs. It is noteworthy that this res has also been a consistent supporter of the Green Fun Run, and from 2014-2016 won the prize for the biggest res team.

In res meetings, they discuss the benefits of green living, and posters and signs help remind residents to use resources such as water and electricity wisely. Students are also encouraged to share lifts, make use of bicycles, or walk where possible. The res appreciates having movement sensor lights – which switch off automatically when people leave a room – as it helps save electricity and reduce costs. The students are also keen on energy-efficient light bulbs and want to get an electricity meter to record how much power they use. They acknowledge that institutional change takes time and funds, so keep liaising patiently with Infrastructure & Operations, whose support is pivotal in implementing cost-saving green technologies.

Continuity of their activities is assured through a good handover system from one Environmental Representative to the next. The rep plays an important role in raising awareness about environmental concerns and activities, and alerting students about how they can participate. This residence deserves acknowledgment for its consistent efforts to raise awareness about environmental sustainability. They know that caring for the environment is not difficult; it makes a big difference to people from all walks of life – wealthy or poor.

And they deserve to win for the second year in a row!

Matthew Weaver

Often it is far easier for established and senior members of our society to make a difference due to their status within the community and the resources available to them. This evening’s winner is a young, enthusiastic and motivated individual of our community who has taken it upon himself to make an important and significant contribution to our town in a time of need. He has contributed significantly to a number of organisations, working groups and water management-related platforms. His contributions have been selfless and will have far-reaching effects, for the benefit of many.

Our winner is engaged in postgraduate research that focusses on involving civil society in co-learning and co-knowledge production – providing a pathway for people to engage in sustainable water governance. He has used this research opportunity to make an extraordinary individual contribution to the sustainability of water service provision and water resource management in the Makana Municipality.

From 2014 to 2016 he worked with the civil society group, Water for Dignity – using participatory research practice in an extremely principled and committed manner. He worked far beyond the usual level of a student researcher, meeting with the members every two weeks, collaborating and using Appreciative lnquiry to anchor them in an ongoing learning and practice cycle. He supported and enabled the group to collect data from Vukani in Grahamstown East, to show their real experience of water interruptions (frequency and duration), water quality, and the extent of water provision. These are rare data and could only have been collected by residents from residents, with the sensitive and consistent support of the engaged research context. At the same time, our young winner continued to sustain the engagement with Makana Municipality that began in 2O11 with Dr Jai Clifford-Holmes. The Municipality is hard to work with … it requires careful and consistent perseverance and patience.

During 2016 our young winner upgraded to a PhD and extended his civil society work to a provincial scale, engaging with the Eastern Cape Water Caucus, when Water for Dignity became members of the caucus. At the same time, the wider Institute for Water Research group was working with the new Eastern Cape Catchment Agency, in the establishment of the civil society-water governance interface. He worked with provincial Catchment Management Agency officials and Makana Municipality, facilitating the development of a “Terms of Reference” document for the first combined Water, Sanitation and Catchment Forum in South Africa.

This is ground-breaking work. There is scepticism as to whether participatory water governance can succeed at all. However, this young man’s work is completely innovative and effective, and takes care to integrate fully with local and government practice and mandate. As a result, the Makana Water Forum exists and is thriving. Nationally, it is the first forum to combine catchment, water and sanitation, and to contribute to a local Catchment Management Strategy! The forum is the real space for participatory water governance – and has been praised for its work in the current Makana water crisis.

Sustainability in water governance is best ensured by empowering people – enabling knowledgeable engagement with the governance structures responsible for water service delivery and catchment management. It is hard, slow work, and our young winner has proved himself an excellent – as well as sensitive and committed – water governance sustainability practitioner. He has facilitated interactions between local healers and relevant government officials regarding valuable yet polluted sacred water sources, undertaking a trip to the Sacred Pools on the Bloukrans River to discuss threats and management options. He also facilitated meetings between key municipal and Dept of Water and Sanitation officials and commercial farmers regarding regional and catchment level water restrictions, thus helping reduce the amount drawn from the town’s primary water source. His consistent and persevering practice has inspired water practitioners, from local communities to local government and provincial government level.

Our winner has published a paper in an accredited journal, and has submitted two more, ensuring that the new knowledge he has generated will be shared more widely. He has given interactive presentations in both private and public schools about the water crisis, educating them about wise water use and water security. This is an effective way to extend the message into the wider community. He has also pioneered a stakeholder education campaign with members of the community, taking them on a learning journey of Makana’s water resources and infrastructure to see first-hand how water management takes place and what infrastructure upgrades are underway. By undertaking trips to local rivers, he has used biomonitoring – a method of determining water quality by looking at what lives in the river – to demonstrate the horrific condition of these rivers, and what the community can do to have a more positive impact on the environment.

Our winner is a wonderful example of the positive difference a single motivated individual can have on the environment, as well as society. As Professor Tally Palmer of the Institute of Water Research said, he “is an extraordinary person … I do not believe anyone could be a more worthy recipient.” Join us in celebrating this winner in the Individual Category!

More info on the RU Environmental Awards.

Go to the Rhodes University ENVIRONMENT front page. Suggestions/Questions? Contact environment(at)

Last Modified: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 06:31:40 SAST