U3A guest speakers outline remarkable work being done by Enviro-Champs movement in KZN
Guest speakers Dr Jim Taylor and his wife Liz Taylor shared the podium at the University of the Third Age (U3A) meeting at Settlers Park, Port Alfred, on Thursday, February 23.
At a well-attended meeting they shared information about the Enviro-Champs movement in KZN and how plans are developing to grow the movement nationally.
Here, Liz Taylor explains the project for our readers
The Enviro Champs started in Mpophomeni, a township on the banks of Midmar Dam, in KwaZulu-Natal in 2009. Working under the umbrella of DUCT (The Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust) the Enviro-Champs has grown into a nationally recognised movement.
From small beginnings, where volunteers were paid R200 per month for cellphone airtime to report sewage spills in the rivers or report illegal dump sites, the Enviro Champs now have a recognised profile and work as a team with funding from various sources including national and local government.
What are Enviro-Champs?
An Enviro-Champ is a public-spirited person who cares about local people and the environment around where they live. Enviro-Champs provide linkages between issues faced, such as waste, water and sanitation, the community and the authorities. Enviro-Champs serve to develop and strengthen a social fabric that can respond and inform when things go wrong or when they are going right in the environment!
Although the Enviro-Champs function in a flexible and responsive manner, their daily jobs include:
- Door-to-door educational visits. Enviro-Champs visit community members at their homes to discuss issues relating to water, sanitation and waste management. Liz reported how, over the past few years, the Enviro-Champs have visited over 4000 homes!
- Training days – to become an Enviro-Champ one has to learn a lot. And the learning never stops! One day a week is therefore dedicated as a training day. Training is undertaken to learn more about water and the environment. Liz described how everyone learns together. Topics include: water issues, waste and illegal dumping, climate change, sustainable living, healthy eating, Recycling, and even basic plumbing.
- Enviro-Champs monitor and report fresh-water leaks, and, where possible they fix the leaks.
- They report spilling sewage inspection covers
- Attend important meetings in the community
- Undertaking citizen science through which they monitor rivers and streams.
- Enviro-Champs also support youth clubs and through Saturday Kids clubs, many young people are learning about their local environment.
Liz Taylor explained the many successes and achievements of the Enviro Champs movement in the Mpophomeni Township in KZN, these include:
- The reduced number of spilling sewers
- Fewer fresh water leaks. In one six-month period in 2016 the Enviro-Champs helped save 10 million litres of treated fresh-water. This represents a saving of over R180 000 for the local water authority.
- Engaging with leaders in the township, including the mayor and local councillors, around pressing environmental issues.
Liz described how encouraging it is that local community members really appreciate this work. In fact, a number of Individual members have received local and national awards. Some individuals have been able to get stable jobs in the environmental sector and in other fields.
Most encouraging of all is how, given a chance, people really do want to improve their local situation and environment. The passion the Enviro-Champs are developing about the Environment is truly heart-warming!
Helping save lives during the flooding
The good work of the Enviro-Champs is being noticed! Minister Barbara Creecy reported how, during the devastating flooding in Durban, recently, the Enviro-Champs helped save over 1500 people. Warning them about the coming flood and urging them to move to high ground!
Dr Jim Taylor then concluded the talk by explaining that movements such as Enviro-Champs can play a helpful role in addressing service delivery issues in townships. By attending to local environmental issues and risks the Enviro-Champs contribute to sustainable living.
He described how Enviro Champs, who may be known by other names in different areas, provide linkages between people, the issues they face, the authorities and the excellent policies that South Africa has. He described how their work strengthens a social fabric that links community members with the excellent environmental policies that South Africa has. Sadly, these are seldom realised.
He continued to describe how, by working together in cooperative ways, the Enviro-Champs really are making a small, but positive difference, to people’s lives!