Birds of Prey in action.

We have been working closely with Mpop Kids Club and the Enviro Champs as part of the Owl Box Project. The DUCT Enviro Champs held an activity day where existing knowledge about owls was investigated. The children had to fill in worksheets with various questions relating to owl knowledge. Aphelele Mkhize wrote that she was afraid of owls and she would scream if she saw one, while Amahle swore he had seen one on a rocky outcrop in broad daylight one day. Later everyone enjoyed a presentation where they got to watch videos of owls catching rats and mice, learn fascinating facts about owls like how soft their feathers are and get to ask the itching questions they had in the end many fears faded.

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After hosting a fabulous, successful water festival in the past month, the DUCT Enviro Champs had some prize money which they were glad to spend on the Owl Box Project by having an inspiring trip to the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to many raptor species that are indigenous to Southern Africa, they try and give injured or sick birds from different historical circumstances all the help they need to get in a condition where they can be released back to the wild and all the birds that are homed in the centre are unable to survive on their own in the wild if released.

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A fish Eagle in Captivity

We had a self-guided walk around the many enclosures housing different species some big and some small. We all loved the residents of Hoot Hollow, where owls resided, the most. Mzwa Mokoena was fascinated by their silent flight, the way they can turn their heads 270˚, “They have more bones in their spines than humans and did you know that the male hoots twice and the female replies with three hoots?” he asked.

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A Grass Owl
We were treated to a flight display by Orion the long crested eagle, who has white distinctive windows on his wings that are seen during flight followed by YBK a Yellow Billed Kite that was not able to join the migration to Kenya, East-Central Africa. We closed our eyes to hear an owl fly and all we heard was a small swoosh before he landed on a perch, their silent flight and camouflage abilities make them to appear spirit like because they are not easily seen.

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Most of the raptors we saw caught food with their feet first, except for the little goshawk which has shorter wings and a longer tail and catches food with its beak. The cutest was the little wood owl, the female is called uMabhengwane and the male is called uNobathekeli in isiZulu.

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Belinda with the cute little Wood Owl

Vulture feeding was interesting, we learned that the Cape Vultures were not fighting over food but helping each other tear it apart. Next to the vulture enclosure was a pair of juvenile Beaded Eagles, they are Red Data species and there are only about 320 left in the country.

 

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A juvenile Bearded Vulture

After the excitement we went to the lower Mpushini River where Pandora Long told us the story of how she watched the river die slowly since she was a young woman until its fatality when a farmer dammed it upstream about a decade or so ago.

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We also took a walk along the dry river bed and had a picnic lunch around the fire. We finished off by going to Rick and Emma Hackland’s Aloe Farm in Bishopstowe.  It was originally a rose garden which they found requires a lot of water, they then tried a patch of aloes and found them quite suitable, numbers of different species of aloes have since taken over with very few fragrant roses remain.  Everyone had a great time posing for photographs amongst the aloe flowers. ”I wish I can have this rose in my bedroom, I have never smelled a rose as sweet”, said Amanda.

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Learning more about the owls has changed the perspective of many people, there is much enthusiasm for the Barn owls that will soon be residents in Mpophomeni.  People are asking the big question, “Ziza nini iziKhova safa amagundane?”

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Rain Dances and Real Solutions

After weeks of preparation on sun drenched, dry days, the first thing we heard on the morning of the Mpophomeni Water Festival was the pitter pat of raindrops.  In the African tradition, this is an auspicious sign for important occasions. Although the rain didn’t last long, the cold wind chased everyone (including warmly wrapped up youngsters carrying banners with water messages) indoors at the Community Centre.

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We warmed up with a lovely rain activity – creating the sounds of a growing storm with swishing hands, clicking fingers, clapping and finally joyous stomping!

Ayanda Lipheyana welcomed the hundreds of children and community members, saying that the event was a collaboration between local groups concerned with the state of our water resources – WESSA Water Explorer, DUCT, Midlands Meander Education Project, Mpophomeni Conservation Group and, of course, the Enviro-Champs. “When I woke up and saw the cold rain, I thought no one would come.  It is good to notice that people are taking water related issues seriously.” he said. The Mpophomeni Enviro Champs, and many of the enviro clubs they facilitate, are registered in the Water Explorer programme.  Their good work had earned them the right to host the Water Festival.

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Manager of the project, Bridget Ringdahl explains “Top Water Explorer teams who have completed lots of the WE challenges and written up good newsreels as evidence (see http://www.waterexplorer.org, click on South Africa) can be awarded a Water Festival to share their successes and learnings with a wider community. They also get some prize money towards a project or excursion.”

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After a puppet show by Yo! Puppets that demonstrated through games and songs the value of clean water for people and animals, explaining the water cycle and how fixing dripping taps is very important, everyone dispersed to the colourful information and action stations set up around the hall.

puppet show

At the Building Blocks of Life, facilitators demonstrated noisily the effect that removing water from the base foundation of a pyramid that supported humans had on the rest of life on Earth – everything collapsed! Lindiwe Mkhize told the Tale of Two Rivers, illustrated by a beautiful poster depicting a healthy river (with DUCT teams clearing invasive vegetation, intact riparian zones and lots of wildlife) and an unhealthy one (with sand mining, pollution from factories, runoff from industrial farming and a taxi being washed on its banks).  “There are simple solutions to prevent polluting rivers”, Lindiwe told her audience, “Rather take water from the river to wash your clothes and then you can use the grey water for watering veggies. This is much better than washing directly in the stream.”

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Our food choices affect our water footprint considerably. Penz Malinga pointed out at her Perfect Pulses stand that eating protein packed pulses, rather than meat, was a water wise option. To grow 1kg of lentils, only 50 litres of water is required compared to 4325l for a kg of chicken and a massive 13000l for a kg of beef!

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The Thirsty Farming stand, run by learners Philani Ngcobo, Phelelani Siloya, Mzwandile Mokoena and Asanda Ngubane demonstrated ways of reducing water use in agriculture. Mulching (straw, leaves, cardboard or paper) to keep moisture in the soil, building the hummus content of the soil to retain moisture, using organic pest deterrents rather than chemical ones (fossil fuel industry uses massive amounts of water) and planting crops that don’t require a lot of water like pomegranates and amaranthus. The boys thoroughly enjoyed chopping up chillies and garlic and covering with boiling water to demonstrate how to make your own insect spray.  Philani commented “I believe we changed some people’s minds about using chemicals. They found our demonstration of homemade spray interesting and liked the way mulch saves water.”

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Next to them, Sihle Ngcobo talked about his school project that investigated “Is Water Pollution in Mpophomeni Contributing to the Eutrophication of Midmar?”  His conclusion was that because 80% of the rivers running into the dam were badly polluted, it was likely that our main source of water (Midmar) would become eutrophicated and unusable. “We need to do everything we can to stop this pollution,” he implored.

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As the Enviro Champs use many citizen science tools for their work, they were keen to share these devices with everyone. Londiwe Mazibuko and her team showed how to use a clarity tube and transparent velocity head rod.  Using a  mock ‘stream’ in the hall, showed participants how miniSASS works. This is such a simple tool for monitoring the health of a river – by collecting bugs (invertebrates) and working out their resilience to pollution.   Sanele Vilakazi of DUCT “It is my wish to have such initiatives emulated and conducted in all township communities of our province and the nation at large. The only way we can change perspective of the youth on water related issues is through interactive education such as this. With that being done, our future becomes a more sustainable one.”

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As non-degradable materials are one of the major causes of blockages that lead to sewage overflows in the area, Thandanani Luvuno displayed What, and What NOT to put in the toilet  “Only poo-poo, wee-wee and TP” he enthused! There was lots of laughter at the Toilet Game – sort of like musical chairs where hopping children had to put the right things into the right place – toilet bowl or rubbish bin.

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There is little doubt that the Enviro Champs have had a big impact in Mpophomeni. One simple solution is to teach everyone how to fix leaking traps.  Nhlonipho Zondo, who repairs taps in local schools, demonstrated this in such an amusing way that everyone wanted to rush out and find a tap to fix!

By stopping a dripping tap, you could save 259 000 litres a year!

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Thandeka Xaba taught everyone how to be an Enviro Champ, by filling out a reporting sheet when they came across an overflowing sewage manhole. Anyone can report to the Sewage Call Centre:  0800 864 911 or call the municipality to collect rubbish: 033 239 9245

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Moses Khiloza and Mbali Molefe reported proudly just how much water the Enviro Champs had saved. Recently, in just one month, they worked out it was 8 million litres!  To end proceedings, the very funny and entertaining play by the Mpophomeni Youth Productions – Sanitation Education entitled ‘The Toilet Play’ had the audience in stiches “It was my favourite part of the day,” said Nosipho Mtambo.

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Everyone donned plastic gloves and grabbed rubbish bags and headed into the cold.

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The intention was to collect rubbish all along the banks of the uMhangeni Stream. There was MASSES. We didn’t really make a dent, but certainly there was a clear swathe where we had walked.

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To everyone’s horror the Mhlongo Road culvert was almost completely blocked with plastic and nappies. Our bags were all full by now, so we stacked them neatly for the Municipality to collect on Monday.  Zamile Mtambo plans a recycling depot on this site. “I hope to educate people about how much they throw away is re-usable or recyclable and this will prevent them throwing in the river and destroying our water and environment.”

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The fun climaxed  in the MCG Garden where Ntombenhle Mtambo and her team had prepared delicious vetkoek filled with bom bom bean stew and garden salad for the anticipated 100 guests. Quickly, a plan was made to stretch the food to feed 200 hungry people, with vetkoek halved and lots more fresh salad picked!  Everyone proclaimed the little low carbon, water wise snack ‘mnandi’!  Julia Colvin of Water Explorer was  delighted to spend time in the garden. “I am staggered at how in the period of a few years, this communal space, previously degraded and litter strewn has become a place of health and abundance, the very heart of the community! Through the Water Explorer Program, we have seen how factory farmed meat and dairy takes an enormous chunk of embedded water to produce. Vegetables on the other hand are far more water savvy and sustainable. It was gratifying to see children with satisfied smiles on their faces lap up each morsel of Ntombenhle’s hearty vegetable stew and mouth-watering salad plucked straight from soil. With food this tasty, I don’t think anyone noticed there was no meat.” Julia took home an armful of fresh produce too.

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Enviro Champ, Moses Khiloza concludes “As community activists it was good to share our work with the wider world, we felt like environmental lawyers.  It was exciting to showcase the impact that the Enviro Champs have made in Mpophomeni, saving water, fixing leaks.  Only when the last tree is cut down, the last fish is eaten and the last stream is poisoned, we will realise that we can’t eat money.”

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There is no doubt that the Mpophomeni DUCT Enviro Champs, in collaboration with WESSA Water Explorer and other local groups, are demonstrating simple and effective solutions to our water crisis. Amanzi ngawethu!

Wow. What a Beautiful Place!

Holidays are perfect for doing something out of the ordinary.  During the April break, the Mpop Kidz Club went on a little adventure into the hills behind the Bethel Ministry with organiser Amanda Ntombela, and her assistant Nonkululeko Mnchube. Amanda reports:

We packed lots of apples and popcorn. Everyone bought their own water bottle.

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As we crossed the first stream, Sbahle was really scared as it was his  first walk and he had heard rumors of a crocodile living in the hills.   We assured him that there was no such thing and Nosipho offered to help him cross, so he felt calmer. It was lovely to observe how all the children helped one another throughout the day – the Kidz Club Code in action.

helping one another cross the stream

We reach an area filled with sand and rocks.  Luyanda, Nonkululeko, Snakhokonke and Melusi (and even Sbahle) all shouted WOW, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL PLACE!  Sbahle suggested that we should come and live up here. This had everyone laughing, remembering that just a short while ago he was the one who wanted to go back home!

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I noticed that Noluthando was very quiet. I asked if she was ok, and she replied “I never knew there was a place so beautiful,  so near to home.”

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We enjoyed the gift of silence and listened to the mountain breeze tell a story.

mountain breeze tells the story

We climbed higher and found a big mound of hard soil. Londeka asked what it was. I explain it was a home to termites.  She found it hard to believe that a insect so small can build such a big thing.  It is because termites are active, hardworking and all work together that they can achieve this.

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There were lots of Aloe maculata plants which is the logo of Mpophomeni Conservation Group. We saw only a few flowers, like this Gladiolus.

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Lizwi stopped to show us a plant. He picked out a flower and sucked it. A few kids said “Yuck!”, but I explained it was a edible flower and encouraged everyone to try it and enjoy the sweetness. This plant is called utshwala bezinyoni – beer for the birds. Leonotis leonaurus is it’s proper name.  Luyanda took the flower and tasted it, then when he told the others it was  yummy they couldn’t wait for a taste.

tasting beer for the birds

We continued to climb until we reach the top of mountain.

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Here we sat and admired the Mpophomeni view.  Nelisa said “It almost impossible to believe this is Mpophomeni. It is breath taking.”

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It was a lovely day out, the children saw the beauty  of nature, the view of Mpophomeni and Midmar. Throughout the walk  they were also able to observe the effect that the drought has had – the streams were dry, the plants were burnt and the resevoir was empty. This reinforced the previous lessons about the importance of saving water.

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Teenagers, Asa, Phila and Mzwa, headed even further than the little ones.   They climbed the hill near the mealie fields and discovered fabulous views, two small milky coloured dams and an interesting birds nest. Thirsty and hungry after their water ran out, they tried eating some Mdolofiya – Oputunia monocanthra – Prickly Pear.

Micro-adventures with low carbon footprints are such a great idea – especially when you live in the beautiful KZN Midlands. When last did you explore your neighbourhood?

MCG hosts walks in Mpophomeni on the second Tuesday of every month. Meet at the Library at 9 am with R20, hat, walking shoes and water bottle. Contact Penz Malinga to book: 087 236 4480

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Little Green Heroes

Young environmentalists from Mpophomeni, dubbed ‘Green Heroes’, are determined to make a difference in the world after enjoying the wonder of nature at the Green Heroes Indaba 2015, held in Umgeni Valley in Howick. The Wildlands’ Green Heroes initiative, funded by N3 Toll Concession (N3TC), exposes children from communities around the province to nature – through time spent in reserves learning about the environment and leadership.

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Green Heroes hike in Umgeni Valley

Sixteen Green Hero learners in grades 5, 6, and 7 from Zamuthule, Nhlanhleni and Sifisisihle Primary schools in Mpophomeni learnt the importance of leading by example in their schools and community and being pioneers for local environmental action. They discussed and sought solutions to the environmental and social challenges plaguing our society.

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Green Heroes are the change

Having not been exposed to nature previously, their interest in it grew as they became more knowledgeable about the environment and participated in various activities. They explored the Shelter Falls trail and adventured through the Nature Reserve crossing the river and experiencing the wildlife. They also participated in activities such as Blind Square, which teaches about leadership and working in a team; the climate change picture building game, and conducted MiniSASS tests: a citizen science tool to test river health.

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Young green leaders doing the MiniSASS scoring a citizen science tool to check river health

Over the three days, they learnt more about themselves and discovered ways of improving their immediate surroundings. An ecstatic Akhona Nxele from Sifisisihle Primary School, who particularly enjoyed the Shelter Falls trail, commented, “the beauty of this place has made me realise how important it is to care for our environment and never destroy it.”

Sisanda Mthethwa from Zamuthule Primary vowed that she would encourage her peers to keep the environment clean. “I will ask them to stop littering and instead recycle papers, bottles and plastics as that can give us money and enable us to live in a much cleaner environment.”

r Green Heroes from Mpophomeni Andiswa Ngcobo, Sisanda Mthethwa and Luyanda Morolong enjoying the waterfall
Andiswa Ngcobo, Sisanda Mthethwa and Luyanda Morolong enjoying the waterfall

Green Leadership Manager, Manqoba Sabela, urged the Green Heroes to emulate human rights activist Mahatma Ghandi’s philosophy, “to be the change they want to see in the world”. Green Heroes are a younger version of Wildlands’ Ubuntu Earth Ambassadors – individuals who are passionate about the environment and their communities, who promote active citizenship by holding events, dubbed ‘Citizen Days’. These highlight special days on the calendar and promote activities such as clean ups, tree planting and river monitoring. The young Green Heroes will continue to promote environmental awareness by participating in and assisting with Citizen Days held by Ambassadors in their communities.

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Green Heroes doing the Caterpillar transverse activity which tests communication skills, leadership and ability to work in a team

Nature Reserve on our Doorstep

During  the holidays many children of school going age are left with nothing to do but wander around the streets, playing mindless games.  So, when they heard of the Mpop Kidz Club excursion to Thurlow Nature Reserve they were very excited.  Thurlow, on the edge of Midmar Dam,  is only a few kilometres from Mpophomeni (within easy walking distance)  but sadly many people only visit the area on Christmas Day to picnic and never explore, see the animal life, or play in the water.

On the 10th of July, Mpophomeni Conservation Group members Lindiwe Mkhize, Zamile Mtambo, Nkulu Mdladla and Penz Malinga gathered 41 enthusiastic and excited children from different parts of the Township to learn about the biodiversity the Nature Reserve offers and also to have fun. Taxis arrived at 9am sharp.

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We  began with an interpretive trail.  Walking through the winter grassland toward the dam.

RE IMG_1651We encountered a terrapin, it appeared dehydrated.  Penz picked it up to get it off the tracks and prevent it being run over by a car.  The terrapin (probably a helmeted terrapin Pelomedusa galeata – the only terrapin that would be found naturally at Thurlow)  joined us on the rest of the walk.

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We walked past some Blue gum trees where there was lots of glass bottles, rubble and ruins of stone walls.

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We spotted some zebra, blesbok and red hartebeest in the distance ahead of us. We asked the group to quieten down so that we could get quite close to the animals without them feeling edgy.

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Penz explained that the blesbok had got their name from the white mark on their  faces called  a blaze in English and bles in Afrikaans. We also learned that the blesbok is sometimes afflicted by a nasal worm parasite (Oestrus variolosus larvae)  that makes it bob its head. We watched closely for this ‘bobbing’. Everyone was fascinated by this, Fezeka Mbanjwa commented “I didn’t know that the buck had a worm living inside its head,  I have added new knowledge,  I’m happy.”

The group then encountered a termite mound and had a discussion about the anteater.  This animal has a long sticky tongue which it stretches down the hole it makes in the mound to scoop up hundreds of termites. Many questions arose – the funniest one was  “Does the anteater eat to get full?”   It is called an anteater because the majority of its diet is termites and it does eat until its has had enough was the reply.

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The group saw some zebras. “Why do you think they are so stripy?”  asked Penz.  She explained that in a grassland where there are predators like lions,  the confusing stripes help camouflage them. When the group stands together it gives the illusion of being a far bigger beast.  There is also a theory that the alternating black and white stripes have an ‘air conditioning effect’ –  have black stripes to absorb heat, while the white ones to reflect it causing airflow across the skin.  “Yoh, they are so beautiful” said Sandile Msomi. “Can we come and visit them again?”

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We spotted a pair of resident Egyptian Geese taking off from a tree, a whole span of ducks as we approached the dam and we also found a dead Pied Kingfisher.

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When we got to our picnic spot,  we put our bags down and took off some of our layers as we had warmed up while walking. Everyone enjoyed the river bank games lead by Zamile.

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The younger kids practiced lap sitting!

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The very best moment that the children loved, was when they had to go in the water to do a miniSASS.  They were very amused, you would swear they were at the beach!

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We didn’t find any invertebrates in the water but found bad water weeds and saw signs that the invertebrates had matured and left the water as adults.

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Akhona Nyathi said “I wasn’t myself. My  granny told me not to go near the dam as there is a huge snake that will swallow me.  I was sad but after seeing everyone playing along the banks of the dam,  I saw it was not true”.

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We had worked up an appetite after playing in the water and were treated to scrumptious lunch of homemade vetkoek, boiled eggs and tomato which everyone thought was the most delicious combination ever.  Apples and oranges finished off the picnic.

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After lunch everyone was given cards with double sided sticky tape.  They had to look for natural  treasure in the form of different grass types, leaves and feathers.

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The children collected these to have something to show others at home and had a whole lot of fun.  “I have never walked fearlessly in the long grass as I am doing today”  said Snethemba Ngcongo happily. Melusi Dladla added “It was a  perfect day. I enjoyed everything.”

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The taxis arrived to take us home at 3pm – tired, happy children chattering about their day. Sbonelelo Zuma ”I  liked the long walks and doing minisass even though the water was cold but I enjoyed and the part where we had to go and pick up different leaves and grass. I even got a chance to play with binoculors and the camera.”

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Asanda Maphumulo : ”I am lost for words because of the happiness I have.  It was worth coming to this trip.  The lunch was something that I was not expecting I thought maybe it was going to be sandwiches or something else but I had vetkoek and tomatoes. It had this unique taste that I had never tasted before. I learned that its important to leave foot prints on the ground not litter – not only in Nature Reserves but every where I go.”

We would like to thank N3TC for sponsoring the wonderful trip. Ntombenhle Mtambo for making vetkoek, Lindiwe Mkhize for boiling eggs, Philemon Mahlaba EKZNW Officer in Charge of Thurlow for waiving the entrance fee, Nikki Brighton for doing the shopping, Nkulu Mdladla for taking the photos and the parents who gave their children permission to be part of this.

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We Love Mpop

During February, the activities of the Mpop Kidz Club were filled with love. Rescuing a chameleon from the river, crafting cards for Valentine’s day, adopting bits of the stream, delightedly discovering places that make Mpop special, sharing knowledge with others and splashing in the sunshine. Activities were funded by the DUCT Mpophomeni Sanitation Education Project (Rotary) and MCG (N3TC).

The monthly walk across the road to Nguga stream revealed masses of bright red hot pokers – Kniphofia caulescens – in flower.   Sihle Mnikathi explained to everyone the importance of citizen science and the opportunity that everyone has to care for the planet by monitoring rivers and doing miniSASS tests. “MiniSASS is very cheap and anyone can conduct the tests, both literate and illiterate people.” He said. “It is important that we monitor Nguga stream because it feeds Midmar dam which feeds us all with fresh clean water.”

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At the first miniSASS site we found flatworm, crabs or shrimps, minnow mayflies, dragon flies, bugs and beetles and snails – a score of 5 (largely modified).r nguga Mpop Feb 2015 012

In site two Ntokozo Kunene noticed that river has condition has improved (score 5.6). As nobody was cleaning the river, he concluded “Nature can take care of itself if it not disturbed and it can recover if has given enough time from whatever impact has caused damage.”r nguga Mpop Feb 2015 035

Sihle Ngcobo picked a Kniphofia flower and used it as a microphone to interview Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi. Sihle asked “Sbonginhlanhla, how are you feeling and what have you learned today?” Sbonginhlanhla said “I am happy and proud to be part and parcel of Mpop Kidz Club because I always learn during outings and I am grateful to be exposed to nature.”

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It certainly is a wonderful feeling to be part of a group that cares about their surroundings and one another.

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The sun was shining and everyone had great fun splashing and swimming in the stream.

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Penz Malinga and Ayanga Lipheyana attended the UEIP ‘Save Midmar’ meeting on 11 February.  Many caring people gathered in Mpophomeni to contribute to improved water security in the upper uMngeni River Catchment. Some notes:

Midmar Dam is important for supplying water to almost half the province’s population. The catchment of the Midmar Dam is a highly complex social and ecological system of land uses and activities that affect the flow and quality of water into the dam.

There are major challenges related to improving the quality and quantity of water flowing into the Midmar dam. The quality of water flowing in has declined due to contamination from sewerage, solid wastes, and agricultural activities. Wetlands have been severely degraded and the Mthinzima stream, which runs through the Mpophomeni Township, is impacted by massive pollution in particular from the dysfunctional sewerage systems. Although Mpophomeni occupies less than 3% of the dam’s catchment area, it produced about 51% of the E. coli and 15% of the phosphorous load in Midmar dam. Sewer surcharge and run off from agricultural activities in particular are gradually leading to the development of eutrophic conditions in the dam. If current trends of pollution load entering Midmar dam continue it is estimated that the dam will turn eutrophic by 2028. This will have major economic, social and ecological consequences similar to those now experienced by Hartbeespoort Dam.

MCG believe that be working together with all partners and focussing on education including all members of the community, the water quality of Midmar will be improved.

ayanda at save midmar meeting

Ethembeni Family Centre that cares for vulnerable children is keen to adopt a section of onr umhlanga Mpop Feb 2015 148e of the Mpophomeni Rivers to look after. This month we hosted 36 children for an afternoon of water sampling on the uMhlanga stream. We did MiniSASS sampling and water testing in two sites – the first in a tributary to uMhlanga stream (miniSASS score 7.2 and water clarity 45 -58 cm – natural condition),

and the second in uMhlanga stream. We found the main stream to be in good condition too with a score of 6.2 and clarity of 30-41, this is good news.

r Mpop Feb 2015 164Mpophomeni Conservation Group has been given permission by the Municipality to create a park in the public open space opposite the Community Garden and along the uMhlanga stream. This is an exciting project and we intend to encourage young people from the Mpophomeni Enviro Club, Midlands Meander Education project interns programme and local schools Enviro Clubs to participate in creating something everyone in the area will love.r umhlanga Mpop Feb 2015 155

On Valentine’s Day, a group gathered at the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial to show how much they loved Mother Earth (and their own mothers) by making cards from handmade paper. This simple activity helped the kids to understand how important it is love Nature and to take of Nature.

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Samke asked if she could decorate her card with flowers and soon all the kids were picking leaves and different kinds of flowers. While tearing paper and glueing hearts, Uyikhokonke Mthembu said “I wish people can stop hitting horses because I love horses. They are helpful. Especially if you don’t have a car you can ride them and they can take where ever you want to go.”

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Tutu Zuma (facilitator) commented “The kids loved making the cards with their hands and decorating with what they have, not wasting money. Parents loved their presents too.”

Ayanda Lipheyana (facilitator) comments “It was very interesting to see how the young kids think about the interrelationship between people and the environment. They learned that they must conserve natural resources for the future generations.”

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On 21 February Liz Taylor and Thandanani Luvuno from DUCT joined the group for the day, sampling the water at three sites on the uMthinzima stream – two in Mpophomeni and one at eMashingeni.

From the Mpophomeni library we walked behind the uMngeni Municipality offices to collect our first sample. The river condition was very poor or critical modified (score 3.2)

liz

Then we headed upstream for about 1,5 kilometres, chatting about the different species of grasses we saw. Everyone collected different grass flower species as they walked.

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Liz Taylor explained the difference between grasses and other plants. Participants had found lot of different grass species. Liz said “The variety of plants shows that biodiversity is healthy here. If the area was just planted with sugarcane that would be monoculture. Monocultures are more vulnerable to disease, because all the same plants could be destroyed, but in a healthy diverse environment a disease would attack one species and other species will survive.” The youngsters were fascinated to learn that meilies, sugarcane and rice are all grass species!

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We conducted the second MiniSASS sampling. Sihle Mnikathi suddenly shouted “Wow, we found a stonefly!” Everyone thought he was joking, but went to look and confirm that his group had found one. We were amazed as no one expected to find the stonefly in Mpophomeni. Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi said “This is our first stonefly in Mpophomeni and we will find many more in the near future.” The score was 9.8 indicating the stream was in natural condition.

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Feeling happy with our exciting find we walked upstream to eMashingeni. Mzwandile Dlamini spotted chameleon floating in the stream and quickly rescued it. “It must have fallen out of the trees” he said, gently holding it for everyone to see.

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At site 3 we found 4 stoneflies! We found the average score of 8.2. To find 5 stoneflies in one MiniSASS fieldtrip was an amazing experience for all of us.

Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi said “I have just fallen in love with the upper part of uMthinzima stream. I wish you could leave me here with this beautiful environment.” Liz Taylor concluded “It was such a wonderful day and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Such a stark contrast at the three sites moving from the polluted area in Mpophomeni upstream to the almost totally natural site just below Nxamalala school.”

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During February we certainly spread a little love around. Siyanthanda iMpop!

Siyadlala futhi Siyafunda

Everyone knows that you learn better when you are having fun. In Mpophomeni we also know that there are plenty of opportunities for learning and fun right on our doorstop.  Almost 100 Mpophomeni youngsters have lots of stories to share as they head back to school this week after participating in a variety of holiday activities organised by the Mpop Kidz Club facilitators Ayanda Lipheyana and Tutu Zuma.

Whenever they suggest a fieldtrip to explore the uMthinzima Stream to do some miniSASS and turbidity tests, a small crowd of enthusiastic youngsters interested in acquiring more knowledge about the environment, arrives.

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Early in December the younger members of the club learned about river health and the water creatures that indicate good quality water. They headed to the uMthinzima stream for a practical session. There was a manhole spilling into the river, so it was too dangerous to get in the water to do a miniSASS, but they did test the water clarity – it was only 3cm!

We talked about how a miniSASS test works and practiced pronouncing all the difficult words. Samke, in Grade 3 was curious “Why don’t we take frogs and fishes into consideration when doing miniSASS?” she asked. Noxolo, in Grade 7 explained that we only use aquatic invertebrates for the survey because they are easy to catch. “Sisebenza ngezilwanyana ezingenawo umgogodla.”

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A few days later, a group returned to do some proper mini SASS tests working their way up the stream from the very polluted area behind the Municipal Offices. It was lovely warm day and although it started to rain before we were finished, everyone enjoyed themselves.

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At the first site they found worms, crabs, bugs and damselflies- a dismal score of 4.25. Further upstream the score improved to 5.2.

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As we walked, we passed small forest patches and the children took the opportunity to discuss alien plants and indigenous forest.

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At the third site we found mayflies, damselflies, bugs or beetle and caddisflies. There were lot of stones and fast flowing bubbling water – the stream was largely natural – in a Good condition.

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At site four we found flatworm, crabs, other mayflies, damselflies, dragonflies, caddis flies and true flies, but the score dropped to 6.5.The water clarity test was 64.

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Exploring Nguga Stream

A small group of high school kids trekked across to the Nguga Stream on Goble’s Farm opposite Mpophomeni just before Christmas. During the morning, four children who live nearby were watching us and we called them to join in.mpop streams mini sass 104

The first spot we did a miniSASS test was just below Midmar Crushers. We found flatworms, Minnow mayflies, Damselflies and true flies – a score of only score of 3.5. The turbidity score was high – 50cm. There was a short discussion about what could be the reason for a low MinSASS average score when the water clarity was good? Ayanda explained “The MiniSASS average score shows that the site is in very poor condition and the water clarity score shows that the river condition is not that bad. Better water clarity does not mean water is in natural condition. If we can do MiniSASS in water that we drink from the tap. We will find no insect and the MiniSASS score will be zero while the water clarity is 100cm.” Asanda thought it was possible that at Midmar Crushers release some chemicals in the stream that kills insects but does not affect water clarity.

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Our next site was 100m downstream from the first. The MiniSASS average score improved to 4.25, but the water clarity test decreased from 50cm to 31cm. We noticed that between site1 and site 2 people were washing, children were swimming and cattle passing through the stream.mpop streams mini sass 147

Another 200m downstream we did another water clarity test and we got only 17cm! The site is spot where the surrounding community dump their rubbish. The manager of the area, Doug who joined us, said people are dumping rubbish in the stream because the Municipality does not collect rubbish for Nguga community. He suggested we start a petition and forward it to the counsellors or municipality authorities.

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As we walked we saw 2 dead goats in the stream and a leaking manhole. However, the sewage does not go straight into the stream, it spreads over the land and has formed a ‘sewage wetland’ near the stream. The MiniSASS test we conducted here was 3.8 and the water clarity has improved to 31cm We thought that the leaking manhole was not affecting the stream that much.mpop Nguga stream stream mini sass

Everyone enjoyed exploring a new stream and had fun making things from the clay on the banks.

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Exploring Nguga Forest

Early in January the MCG trailed across to the forested area near Nguga stream to learn about trees.

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In groups they identified 12 indigenous species and discussed the functions of each tree using the Sharenet Forest Community Handbook.

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They repeated the exercise in a plantation nearby and found only five species.

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They surprised a group of kids swimming in the stream! Eish, it was HOT!

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Kids were given the picture of a puzzle with environmental issues and the one that they had to fix and they did give the feedback of what is wrong in the puzzle and how they did fix it.

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Nomfundo Mlotshwa said “I enjoyed myself today, it was great. I learned a lot of new things about gum trees and that there are many different species in an indigenous forest. In the indigenous forest there is more shade and the plants that grow there help one another to survive.”

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From the forest to the grassland – our next outing was up the hills that surround Mpophomeni to conduct a grassland study. We wanted to compare the grasses at the top of the hill and at the bottom. We were hoping to find more species at the top.

As we walked, participants remembered other times they had been up the hills. Bulelani Ngobese remembered that way back in 2009 he left his red cap on top while having a picnic and wondered if he would find it again!

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On top each group collected different species of grasses within a 9 metre square area for 15 minutes, then spent time identifying the different species using the Grasses of SA guide.

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We found 15 species of grasses but couldn’t identify all the species. We did identify thatching grass, red grass, brown needle grass, bristle grass and spear grass and discusses the functions of grasses and whether or not each species was palatable to cattle.

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We had a picnic of apples, eggs and fresh, cold water before heading back down the hill. At the bottom in the disturbed area we only managed to find 7 species of grass.

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Everyone really enjoyed the excursion. Phelelani Sibiya said “Sihambile kakhulu safunda.Sahlukanisa izinhlobo zotshani esizitholile saphinde sadla sasutha saqeda sahamba.” Tharibo Zondi added “Osukwini lanamhlanje sifunde lukhulu bengingazi ukuthi utshani buhlekene,sengizokwazi ukufundisa abanye abantu uma sibambisane singenza okugcono.”

We were all happy to conclude that our assumption was correct – we did find more species at the top of the mountain than at the bottom of the mountain.

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Tutu commented “The views were amazing, most of the kids had never been up here before. they could not believe how beautiful Mpophomeni looks from so high up.”

Children from Ethembeni Family Centre are keen to adopt part of the uMthinzima stream that is only 50m away, to keep the banks free of litter and monitor the condition of the water. The purpose of this excursion was to introduce the 22 kids and 4 adults to mini SASS.

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We walked from Mpophomeni Library to uMthunzima stream behind the Municipality offices near the sewage pumping station to do the first test. We found flatworm, redworm, damselflies, bugs, beetles and snails, the river is in very poor condition. The water clarity was only 9.00cm.

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It took about an hour to walk to the second site. Along the way we saw some indigenous trees. 10 year old, Anele Mgadi said”Ngiyasikhumbula lesi sihlahla umama wethu uSofe usake waifundisa ngaso e-centre.”   Then she thought for a while and said “umlahlankosi usetshenziselwa amadlozi.” Ziziphus mucronata or Buffalo Thorn.

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At the second site young John observed that the river condition was improving. We found caddisflies, true flies, damselfies, other mayflies, damselfies, minor mayflies, crabs and flatworm and our score was 5.7. The water clarity was 35cm

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The kids made notes about all that the found –

We should make sure that we keep the manholes clean so that we can drink clean water. We found a leaking stamkoko 3 years siqalile so that means 3 years makaka engena emanzini! We do not to have throw rubbish in the river, we can make many things with rubbish by recycling. We found some stones, we found some small insect living under small stones. Sabona isitamukoko sokugcina esingena emanzini uma ufuna ubhukuda. Bhukuda ngenhla kwaso not ngenzansi.

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We walked along the banks for another two hours passing some children swimming. In the clean clear water Nhlaka found a stonefly! “Look what I found. I found a big one.” He shouted, with no idea how exciting his find was. Our miniSASS score here was 9.

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Ayanda concludes “This was the one of best young groups I have had so far. They were all active and participating. We all had fine time and experienced new things together.”

For the very last excursion of the holidays, the kids asked if they could walk along the uMthinzima again to the top where the water is clean. 38 youngsters aged 8 to 19 and four adults joined in the river walk! They will be monitoring the stream at once a month and conducting regular clean-ups along the banks of the stream.

mpop kidz jan 108As expected, the river behind Municipal offices near the sewage pumping station gave us a very low score of 3.8. The water clarity was 6cm.

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We walked for the next three hours, not dawdling too much as the kids were keen to swim in the clean water at the top. We passed some other kids swimming along the way.

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Near the source of the stream, where it is natural condition, we found crabs, flatworm, snail, dragonfly, other mayflies, damselfly, bugs and beetle and caddisflies – a super score of 8. The water clarity was an amazing 97cm – what a difference from 6cm further down! Everyone was happy to see the part of clean water Mthunzima stream and had fun exploring and splashing.mpop kidz jan 185

We explored the forested area on each side of the stream. It was lovely and cool.

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To conclude the day we used a picture building game. On one side the river is polluted while on the other side was in natural condition. All the kids were given different coloured crabs. Red crab (no life or poor condition), green crab (natural condition), purple crab (poor condition) and had to put the crabs into the poster where they think they belong.

Nosipho Mchunu, in Grade 6 loved the walk. “I have never been up here before, it was so beautiful, I loved it.”

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Tutu Zuma, MCG facilitator “We had a great day and hopefully the kids did learn new things.”

Now that’s a lot of lekker, local holiday activities!

iNtaba Fihlekile

Inhlosane is visible from the hills surrounding Mpophomeni and it has long been a dream of some of the boys who enjoy hiking, to climb it. “Intaba ifihlekile” was the comment as we drove out through the Dargle valley – the hill was indeed hidden, shrouded in cloud.r inhlosane dec 2014 057

Undeterred, we set off up towards the peak anyway, with a chorus of Cidacas echoing through the plantation, hoping that the cloud would lift for a little while at least so we could see the views. The first indigenous plant we came across on emerging from the plantation was protea. Everyone reminisced about seeing them on the trip to Hlatikulu in 2013.

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The mist got thicker the higher we climbed. At least it wasn’t baking hot on the slopes as it could have been – even at 8 in the morning.

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Plenty of summer plants were in bloom, so opportunities to stop and discuss them, the animal tracks, and the insects allowed us to catch our breath.

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The last part of the 2,2km ascent to the ridge is very steep through large dolerite boulders. “My best moment was reaching the top and the gentle blow of the mist and cold wind. I needed that after the steep, sweaty hike.” said Asanda. The mist swirled, offering occasional glimpses of the valley below.

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On reaching the beacon, we sent photos and messages to those who were unable to join us due to family commitments “Sesisenhlosana, we are 1947m above sea level.”

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A discussion about the name Inhlosane followed. Hlosa means to ‘develop’ – the shape of the hill from a distance looks like a young girl’s developing breast.

Everyone took turns to take photographs and videos (thanks Sue Hopkins!), capturing the colours on the rocks, the tiny flowers, the skinks, the graffiti on the beacon and of course, one another.r inhlosane dec 2014 197

We explored a little and settled down for a picnic amongst the rocks.

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A group of hikers emerged through the mist to join us. Rose Dix, one of the group, was delighted to meet the boys saying “Oh I know all about you, I follow the blogs and Facebook and see pictures of all your adventures and everything that is happening in Mpophomeni!”

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While we finished off our brunch, the intrepid hikers set off down the other side of Inhlosane for a distant waterfall where they planned to stop for lunch and then walk about 6kms along the road, back to the carpark. I enjoyed meeting people who were old enough to be my grandparents on top of the mountain.”   commented Asanda.

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The cloud lifted and the views were wonderful. We could see the Drakensberg and had fun pointing out Howick, uMngeni Vlei, kwaHaza, Lion’s River, Midmar and Albert Falls dam. “Where is Zenzane in Balgowan?” Philani wanted to know, having made new friends who live there, on the MCF excursion to Shawswood recently.

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Taking the opportunity to sit quietly listening to the sounds that floated up from the valley,

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and imagining we could fly! r sihle inhlosane dec 2014 crop

When it was time to leave, the boys skipped like mountain goats down the slope. Philani and Sihle were intrigued by the cairn of rocks that marked the path. “Well done to the people who came up with that idea to show the way, it is great.”

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Not wanting the adventure to end, halfway down we sat a while in the grassland, enjoying the views and using the binoculars (thanks N3TC) as magnifying glasses to look at the details on the flowers surrounding us.

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On the way home we stopped at the Mandela Capture Site, to visit the sculpture that they had only seen on television before and wander through the displays. “Awesome, Perfect, Mnandi” were the comments in the visitors book from Mpophomeni. These words described an entire day of interesting revelations, actually.

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Midlands Conservancies Forum believes that giving young people opportunities to be in nature stimulates creativity, curiosity and imagination, interest in local flora and fauna and respect for, and connectedness to, nature. These experiences are essential to produce tomorrow’s creative thinkers and change agents.

Soil, Air, Water

Mpop Kidz Club headed across the road recently to a different world – Thurlow Reserve on the banks of Midmar Dam. Tutu Zuma, Kidz Club facilitator said “They were so excited to have a trip outside of Mpophomeni and especially to see zebras and different buck. It was not hard to organise, and transport was cheap. Everyone should learn about the wonderful local things instead of going to Durban and other places.”

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While fun was high on the agenda, facilitator Ayanda Lipheyana was not going to miss the chance for a few lessons. He divided the 38 youngsters into three groups – Soil, Air and Water. Each group had to do some research on each abiotic component that is the basis for all life. Why do they think that these things are important for humans and what affect do humans have on each component?

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Each group did a MiniSASS and water clarity test using the turbidity tube on the banks of the dam. There were not many invertebrates because water levels are low and there are no stones or vegetation on the edges of the dam.   The MiniSASS Average score was 5.5. The water clarity score ranged between 45-53.

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During the feedback, many different points were raised and it became clear that humans are completely dependent on Soil, Air and Water. Zama said water is the source of life because we cook using water and we drink water – “amanzi ayimpilo ngoba siyapheka ngawe futhi siyawaphuza”. Palesa said water is the habitat for the aquatic animals. Noxolo said we need air to breath and plants need air to grow. Samke said on behalf of the soil “People make bricks out of me and they build houses using me.” Zama added “Without soil there will be no food.” Ndalo, also talking about soil, said “Soil very important because people use it as sunscreen when it is hot.”

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Ayanda asked some interesting questions like: How long can a person live without breathing? Thando guessed four hours. Ayanda asked all the kids to close their mouths and noses for one minute – no one managed even 30 seconds!  Humans can survive a maximum of four minutes without breathing, live a maximum of four days without water and live for two months without having food.

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Ayanda built a pyramid to illustrate this. The bottom row has soil, air and water, with plants and animals balanced on top of them and then the top level for humans. The hierarchy shows that humans depend on everything in the bottom and middle tiers. Everyone understood the importance of conserving what we have because when one of the bottom tier was removed, humans fell down along with the animals and plants.

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Everyone enjoyed having lots of space to play soccer, throw balls and skip with the skipping rope they had made using discarded bread bags.

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Tutu showed everyone how to make Christmas cards using old magazines and everyone made one to take home for their family and friends.

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Sitting on the banks of the dam enjoying a picnic, the children were astonished to see that the dam had waves. “They felt as if they were at the sea!” laughed Tutu.   It was a long, productive and very happy day. Ayanda concluded “These kids were so energetic and amazing, they made my day. I love these kids.” 

Thank you N3TC for funding all the Mpop Kidz Club activities this year and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for waiving the entrance fee to Thurlow for this excursion.

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