Mahashe Green Trust Awards Winner
Winner 2002: Emerging project

The rainwater harvesting project at Mahashe was submitted for consideration as part of the annual Nedbank Green Trust Awards. The project won the prize of: Overall winner, emerging project (R20 000) in 2002.

Harvesting hope…

Submission: Green Trust Awards

Category: 1. Environmental Education

Project: Rainwater Harvesting Project

implemented for the Save the Sand Project (SSP) by the Association for Rural Water and Development (AWARD)

Harvesting hope… education, conservation and development meet in a school-based rainwater harvesting project in the Sand River Catchment

We all live in a catchment area… but what does this mean in terms of resource management, particularly when your catchment is semi-arid and in one of South Africa’s poorest provinces? An innovative school-based programme in Limpopo is using rainwater harvesting as a medium through which to explore this question, support the implementation of the new curriculum, and encourage action for development in schools and rural communities. The Save the Sand Project(SSP)/AWARD Rainwater Harvesting Project works with rural schools and communities to build new ways of approaching problems (in this case, limited access to water), learning (in schools within the new curriculum framework, in communities, and between school as learners and teachers work with each other), and improving quality of life (increased water availability not only helps with hygiene and health but also provides opportunities for income generation).

From small beginnings…

The project began as an SSP initiative to address some of the serious problems of access to water within the Sand River Catchment. Mahashe Secondary School in Green Valley had applied to the SSP for help with access to water. The SSP released a small amount of seed money (ZAR 20 000). Instead of opting simply for the technical fix of erecting guttering and storage tanks, the project decided to also use the opportunity to develop awareness, capacity and conceptual understanding within the school and surrounding community. A Rainwater Harvesting Club was started at the school, with a group of learners and teachers adopting the rainwater harvesting tanks and associated educational and maintenance activities as an extramural activity. This club has been instrumental in expanding the project to three other schools in the area (the club played a large role in initiating contact, selecting the schools from various applications, and carrying out initial awareness raising and educational activities at these schools). The project has also begun work in five other schools in different areas in the catchment.

The place where we stay

The Sand River catchment falls within the Sabie River catchment, which is part of the Inkomati system, an international drainage basin that stretches across South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. The Sabie River is the last of the five rivers flowing eastward through the Kruger National Park to have maintained its perennial status, and the Sand River is the major tributary of the Sabie River. The Sand River Catchment is largely made up of two former “homelands” of Gazankulu and Lebowa. The upper reaches of the catchment are mostly under commercial forestry, while the lower catchment is mainly conservation areas (Manyeleti, Sabie Sands and Kruger National Park). The central region of the catchment is heavily populated (approximately 176 people per km 2 ) and very poorly resourced due to its homeland legacy. Approximately 37% of schools in the Limpopo province have inadequate access to water, while nearly 76% have inadequate sanitation.

Every drop counts

The Rainwater Harvesting Project works with schools that lack access to water and sanitation. While harvested rainwater can at best only be a supplementary or auxiliary source of water, a pre-feasibility study indicated that school roof of some 400 m 2 (with appropriate guttering and storage systems) are capable of capturing some 300 000 l a year – enough to make a substantial difference to school life. For example, at Mahashe Secondary School where previously learners spent teaching time fetching water from a spring some half a kilometre away across a busy main road, there is now water for drinking, washing hands, cleaning classrooms, and making bricks enough and providing water for the construction of three new community-built classrooms. Water at the school has also enabled the development of a school vegetable garden and the continuation of water-dependent home economics classes.

While rainwater harvesting is only a small (and some might say superficial) aspect of resource management, the project provides a model for and learnings on how an environmental issue can be incorporated into school life and the new curriculum, and how social processes are integral to resource management and development. The project provides teaching opportunities for many of the new subject areas. For example, maths teachers have an exciting and relevant way of teaching required topics of surface area and volume; economics and management science teachers and their classes get involved in costing materials and in exploring opportunities for income generation; and at Mahashe, learners have collected a wealth of stories – old and new – around rain, water and water use.

New laws, new learning

The project’s innovations are in part due to the new framework in which it operates. It is designed to support the new outcomes-based education system and hence is not an information-based or message-driven environmental education programme. It allows for and supports formal education participants to develop their own curricula and interpret and make meanings from activities in a way that is contextually relevant. The project is also framed by new water legislation, in particular the National Water Act and the National Water Services Act. The project thus works towards and supports integrated catchment management, and views rainwater harvesting as one part of a holistic management strategy rather than an end in itself.

Innovations are also encouraged by the project’s principal of working within constraints in the interests of long term sustainability. Working within constraints imposed by available finances, climate and local capacity has meant the project has started small and grown slowly, but also means that ownership, commitment, and participation rest with the communities in which the project has evolved.

Action for development

Development doesn’t occur in a vacuum. New knowledge is required to support action for development and development must be framed within what is possible. The educational orientation adopted by this project is to provide the information and conceptual understanding with which to initiate and support development processes. We have found that the different groups involved in the rainwater projects require different levels of input and types of information. Teachers benefit from learning about the curriculum and how they can improve their teaching practice, while learners like to engage with information that supports stimulating and exiting activities. Principals on the other hand, warm to information about how rainwater collection can improve their roles as school managers and how they can provide a better learning environment for their children. Working with water at a school level also provides opportunities to explore the income generating opportunities that access to water provide: one school has initiated both a brick-making project and a vegetable garden, and learners spend time investigating other possibilities for small-scale economic activities.

Communities are also involved. At some sites Village Water Committees have taken it upon themselves to oversee school rainwater harvesting projects. The committee has selected suitable schools, negotiated with principals, selected the work force to erect storage tanks, and arranged and managed the procurement of materials for the job. Local builders have become involved, along with ‘apprentices’ whose involvement is specified by the project.

Developing the capacity to do it ourselves

The project develops local capacity at a multitude of levels and in several different fields. The most obvious area is its contribution to teaching and learning within subject areas, but the approach taken also allows for learning about democratic practices and entails taking on responsibility for managing natural resources and for sharing learnings made. The process of erecting storage tanks and gutters provides learning opportunities too. At each new school a minimum of two local ‘apprentices’ are employed during construction to help develop local skills and build a pool of capable people. Participating schools have come to serve as centres for developing community conceptual capital, and through their work in surrounding schools and communities, have spread the ethos of taking responsibility and action to solve their own water- and curriculum-related problems.

Partnerships for change

A broad range of organisations, institutions and individuals have a stake in the project. The Save the Sand Project (SSP) is an alliance of government and private institutions charged with carrying out a national pilot project in integrated catchment management. Members include the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, the Department of Agriculture, Working for Water, AWARD, the Sabi-Sand Wildtuin and local government. The Rainwater Harvesting Project falls under the SSP’s Public Awareness Campaign (PACAM) and learnings from it influence not only other public awareness activities but also feed in to the national pilot programme’s findings.

The project is a nexus for education, community development, income generation, change, and community participation. It brings together teachers and learners within the same and from different schools, community members, development workers, local builders, and technical support persons.

The worth of water

‘Water is life’ is a cliché often heard amongst environmental educators, but the value of water stretches beyond basic survival. Access to water at schools provides a number of important spin-offs. The Rainwater harvesting Project has demonstrated how access to water can improve education, encourage democratic practices, enhance local capacity and provide opportunities for development. Teachers and learners are looking at water through new eyes. At Mahashe Secondary School the Rainwater Harvesting Club has decided to lock their tanks to allow for planned and controlled use of their water. Enrolment at the school has increased as parents in the surrounding communities come to realise the benefits that access to water and a committed and motivated teaching force offer. Starting small and building slowly has given under-resourced schools and disadvantaged communities a new determination to take action and determine how their own natural and social resources can best be managed.