This week’s The Gallery is in honour of my partner in crime Mister F. aka HimUpNorth, who keeps my feet on the ground and my roots well and truly northern AND, more to the point, who is now officially the same age as me … well, for another three months anyway. The Yorkshire contingent went wrinkly but we are and remain (well he does) a flippin jolly good fellow. Amen. That’s all ya get HUN, but congrats, hope you have a fantabulous year and here’s *raises glass* to many many more of’em Poppet. (Oh yes, if you, dear Reader/ess haven’t already had the pleasure, pop on over and read his wonderful OopNorth blog >Here< … That, at least, will tickle his little chops pink :-) … *whispers*: but you might want to finish reading mine first? Pretty please?! Thank you :-) )
So from Yorkshire to Africa! and a month out as a ranger in the Addo National (Elephant) Park back in 2004:
I spent that December working predominantly in the park itself, but one week was asked to join in on a big day out to one of the largest stretches of beach near Port Elizabeth on a “community clean-up trip”.
The aim was to get as many of the rangers’ children (mainly from the surrounding settlements … some of the poorest areas in the South) together and have a fun day while teaching them some of the principles of helping to keep their environment clean. If you saw the state of the settlements, you could see why even presenting this as an idea was a huge challenge. I didn’t get any pictures of the living areas close up as it was simply too unsafe for a white woman to stop the car anywhere near them, let alone don a camera, but the notion of rubbish sorting and disposal was and probably still is pretty non-existent. The philosophy (or lack of it) goes something like: you use something, you don’t need a bit of it, you throw it down, right where you stand. That’s it. Most of the locals have no concept of the damage they are causing by winding down a truck window and hurling out a cigarette packet, a take-out cup or worse an old chair or a sheet of rusted corrugated iron. It all just sits at the side of the road and festers, drawing in rodents, scavengers and of course, in the inhabited areas inviting serious accidents and also disease.
The ‘clean-up’ initiative had been instigated a couple of years earlier by the park management, by targeting the rangers first and gaining their support and buy-in … all very much peu à peu, but you could see by the twinkle in the boys’ eyes and the huge excitement of their kids as they turned up on the day, full of anticipation, that the drive had already begun to chip away at a tiny corner of the community. That’s how it starts isn’t it … very small, very slowly, but gradually eeking out the message and filtering it down.
So once the rangers themselves had learnt a little respect for rubbish disposal, it was time to target the younger, slightly more receptive generation. The park staff were clever: Kids love the beach so they used the estuary at Port Elizabeth – one of the most stunning stretches of sand and dunes I have ever seen – as their training room. Perfect! The park had set up a couple of days each year where a select number of staff and volunteers would supervise a massive ‘beach-clean’ event, which involved everyone taking huge plastic bin-liners out on the enormous stretch of sand and picking up rubbish … for about four hours. Hot, tiring, but also immensely rewarding. A few rangers would drive park trucks between the allocated collection areas, pick up the hundreds of bags and dispose of them properly at official dumps, but only after the kids had counted all the bags in their respective jurisdictions and the numbers had been recorded. These would then be read out to the kids by group and compared to the figures from the previous event. Each decrease in number of bags would be met by tumultuous applause and immediate singing and dancing in celebration. The message certainly appeared to be getting through.
This one particular trip that I attended, was well organised and very successful; the numbers were down on the previous event and the children were buzzing when we returned exhausted to our bus. Unfortunately, the driver had parked too far in to the dunes and the bus had sunk whilst we were away on the beach. It took 2 hours, many hands and various hunks of driftwood to finally dig ourselves out, but we did it….
This second picture is therefore a triple celebration: 1. That the number of bags collected at this event was much lower than at the previous for the same amount of collection time; 2. That the message of environmental cleanliness and rubbish disposal “What do we do with our lolly wrapper?? We TAKE IT HOME!!” appeared to be seeping very slowly but surely through … and 3. That we’d finally, FINALLY managed to push our bus out of the sand after 2 more arduous hours in the searing heat.
Now that‘s worth a big cheer eh lads?! :-)
This post was written for The Gallery hosted by Tara over at Sticky Fingers. Pop on over and check out the Linkything from Wednesday to see other crazy, weird, wonderful and emotional entries. But take a coffee or three … you’ll be there a while …. :-)