Tag Archive for: Eco Atlas

plastic free header pic
Going Plastic Free in July has been an interesting and eye opening experience for many of us, so I thought it would be really valuable to have all our stories in one place so we can recognise the similarities in the difficulties we face when attempting a plastic free lifestyle and share solutions and ideas to overcome them.

What will follow is a series of six episodes, a collection of real stories from around the country to document the experiences of those who have risen to the challenge and what they have discovered as difficulties and solutions, specific to where they live, because our solutions vary quite a lot depending on whether we live rurally or in a big city. So we have episodes from rural living in the Klein Karoo, from inner city living in Cape Town, from a working class suburb in Port Elizabeth, from a small town on the Garden Route and then more from the suburbs of Cape Town.

The bottom line though and a common thread that runs through all our stories is that it hasn’t been easy! The onslaught of plastic at every turn seriously limits one’s choices and it’s going to take a lot of us using our consumer power to demand more plastic free options. But taking the month long challenge was also about nurturing new habits and new possibilities and it has been incredibly heartening to see the interest in Plastic Free July throughout South Africa, the time is so ripe for action and positive change, really and truly we can do this thing – we can collectively create a future we can all believe in, one where the well being of people and all life on the planet comes first.

Sharing our stories is powerful, we are not alone, we inspire each other and we can take back our power as consumers to create healthy communities and a healthy planet. Join us on this plastic free challenge storytelling journey… (subscribe to the blog to make sure you receive all the episodes over the next month)


[Did you know… you can specifically search for places that are recycling or using eco packaging on  Eco Atlas? And here are some other plastic free wins you should definitely check out – GreenHome, StreamStraws, FreshBag, The Candylwood Store and more…]

Celebrating the Change Makers…Eco Atlas Discounts for Going Plastic Free

Did your business take up the Plastic Free July challenge this year? Tell us how it went in the comments below and you could receive a 50% discount on your Eco Atlas company listing, which you could use for your own business or you could identify a small business that deserves the recognition for their eco and empowerment practices.

stikeez versus super animals eco atlasI have had so many queries as to whether I am in any way involved with the new Pick n Pay marketing campaign called Super Animals because of the open letter I wrote to them last year asking them to withdraw their plastic Stikeez. I’m not connected to their new campaign, but it appears they listened to my letter…In it I said that if they insisted on marketing through children (which I still don’t agree with) they should rather do something educational and inspirational that would not have a negative impact on the Earth (like all those little pieces of plastic that have become a forgotten craze and are diabolical for our ocean life and landfills),

“If you insist on giving away free stuff, what if, instead of Stikeez, you gave away educational collectable cards (printed locally on recycled paper!) with eco super hero characters who had the power to grow things, invent things, solve things, entrepreneur things? Children will gain the same joy of swopping, trading and collecting, but with learning and purpose behind it. We are in desperate need of inspired custodians.”

A friend of mine even found a Stikeez on TOP of a not much climbed mountain in the Cedarberg! Where else have they landed up?… The point here, though, is that we must not forget our power as consumers and if you have something to say, something you believe needs to change for the benefit of people and planet, then say it! You will be heard… write that letter, post on social media, ask questions at the businesses you support, raise your voice for those who can’t raise their’s. It works. And we need to keep asking ourselves throughout the day,

“Are the choices I’m making having a positive impact on people and planet?”

and if not we use our consumer power to make sure they are!

Remember to use Eco Atlas to find and recommend places that have sound empowerment and eco practices and vote with your wallet.


featured in FinWeekHere is the letter that was posted on Facebook on 25 August 2015 and shared hundreds of times, it was featured in Finweek and on 567 CapeTalk Radio.

Open Letter to Pick n Pay – Withdraw Your Stikeez

Together we were finalists for the respected Mail & Guardian ‘Greening The Future’ Awards last month and while we were not in the same category the ethos of innovation for a sustainable, viable and thriving future was something we all had in common. Or so I thought. Warning bells should have rung for me when during your video clip at the gala evening, which outlined your laudable project of educating the educators with practical teaching tools on rhino conservation, hundreds, if not thousands, of balloons were released into the air….

And so, I have a few questions for you Pick ‘n Pay. In terms of educating children on the workings of Earth’s closed loop systems (in which wildlife conservation is just one facet), how would you explain where all those balloons are going? And equally as important, where they come from? China perhaps? And where is most of the poached rhino horn going? China perhaps? Which brings me to the ease with which you release Stikeez on the children of SA. On one level it is a base marketing strategy which targets children’s obvious love of colourful new things and encourages parents to make sure they not only shop more at Pick ‘n Pay, but shop in increments of R150! Luckily my children are still oblivious to the craze and yet they have come into contact with Stikeez and my eight year old daughter can be quoted as saying “Mommy, I want to go to Pick ‘n Pay lots of times” and we don’t even shop at Pick ‘n Pay!

But clever and conniving marketing strategies aside, the real question here is whether we really need tiny bits of plastic made in China and individually wrapped in even more plastic, sprayed willy nilly, for free nogal, on the populace and landscape of SA. Where are all those bits of colorful plastic going to land up, in turtles tummies, over full landfills and on high tide marks? Because if this is Pick ‘n Pay’s best attempt at greening the future then I have grave concerns for the challenges and crises we face, we need creative solutions to climate change, job creation, energy needs, biodiversity conservation and cradle to cradle innovations which do away with the concept of waste.

If you insist on giving away free stuff, what if, instead of Stikeez, you gave away educational collectable cards (printed locally on recycled paper!) with eco super hero characters who had the power to grow things, invent things, solve things, entrepreneur things? Children will gain the same joy of swopping, trading and collecting, but with learning and purpose behind it. We are in desperate need of inspired custodians.

Ultimately, though, there is no such thing as free and our living systems will pay the full price for your Stikeez folly. Please Pick ‘n Pay, don’t insult us by dangling cute and colourful animated things in our faces to encourage us to pour more money into your centralised coffers, because we WILL rise to the bait, and you know it. Rather focus your energy on building a future beautiful. It’s your responsibility, it’s my responsibility, it’s our responsibility.


Apish Thsethsa in Muizenberg, Cape Town ©David Peter Harris

Apish Thsethsa in Muizenberg, Cape Town ©David Peter Harris

Waves For Change, founded by Ashoka Fellow Tim Conibear in Masiphumelelo in 2011, is a project that provides surf therapy to young South Africans from violent communities. These are youths who are exposed to a myriad of problems, and who suffer from acute emotional/physical stress, which in turn fosters learning disabilities, behavioral problems and often times social exclusion, W4C aims to break this down by using surfing as a means of therapy. David met with Apish Thsethsa on a cold and stormy winter’s afternoon, before one of the sessions with the young kids to talk more about this amazing project and of course his journey to becoming one of the leaders of this award-winning programme, which started small with only 10 children in one community and now has around 250 children in three communities (Masiphumelelo, Lavender Hill and Monwabisi).   Seeing Apish interacting with the kids illustrates that they have a healthy respect for him. After taking shelter from the passing squalls and wind in my car, we spoke about the positive effects that surfing has on one’s self,

“Surfing changes your perception of life, where taking risks has consequences, when you catch a wave, you don’t just catch a wave, you have to have a vision of what you are going to do, are you going to go left or right, what are you going to do on the wave”,

this is something Apish thinks can be applied to our lives as we need to understand that all actions have consequences whether they are good or bad. “Waves for Change is a self development programme that uses surfing as its foundation”, in doing this Waves for Change is helping kids gain coping skills to deal with tragic events that are brought about through broken homes and broken backgrounds; it gives the kids a sense of belonging as well as being able to master a platform where they are trying new things and experiences, and the independence to make choices for themselves. “You are looking after yourself and surrounding yourself with a healthy environment”, adds Apish.

Why do you do what you do? “I was once a young kid, and I would like kids to follow the same path”,

Apish has been able to travel all around South Africa, as well as the UK to take part in a SUP (stand up Paddle) event and all of this has been possible because of surfing.

One tip? “Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu [a person is a person through other people], always be generous, self aware and conscious of what is happening and what you can do”

“Surfing changes your perception of life," says Apish Thsethsa ©David Peter Harris

“Surfing changes your perception of life,” says Apish Thsethsa ©David Peter Harris

Get in touch with Waves for Change and find out more about their active projects.

“It all started 9 years ago. I began agonising over why I had so many plastic shopping bags in my house, so I decided there and then to quit using them!” explodes Hayley McLellan with enthusiasm as we ordered our coffees.


I had arranged to meet her at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the Waterfront in Cape Town, to learn about her journey with the Rethink the Bag campaign which she initiated in 2010.


When entangled seals haul out onto this platform to rest, Aquarium staff attend to the dangerous task of releasing the animal from its trappings. © David Peter Harris

When entangled seals haul out onto this platform to rest, Aquarium staff attend to the dangerous task of releasing the animal from its trappings. © David Peter Harris

From where we were sitting we had a great view of Cape Town’s harbour, and the seal platform where disentanglement procedures are conducted on wild seals that become entangled in marine debris, specifically fishing line and box band strapping. When entangled seals haul out onto this platform to rest, Aquarium staff attend to the dangerous task of releasing the animal from its trappings. Hayley begins, “I have worked with animal care and behaviour since 1989. In 2009 I joined this Aquarium to take care of the African penguins and in 2010 I decided to develop a project out of my personal no- plastic shopping bag commitment. A year later I communicated my passion to our Director. He believed in the cause so much so that he committed to adopting it as an official Two Oceans Aquarium environmental campaign and the project was officially launched in March 2011.” The Aquarium staff joined her pledge to not bring plastic shopping bags into the building, rather choosing up-cycled reusable bags, often sourced from local community upliftment projects. Almost five years later, Rethink The Bag is an established project that aims to raise consciousness regarding the waste-stream which individuals produce, and promote education about the importance of banning the use of plastic shopping bags. In 2013 Hayley was appointed to a newly created position of Environmental Campaigner.


Why say NO to plastic shopping bags?


As Hayley says in the documentary Baggage, “South Africans use approximately 8 billion plastic shopping bags annually and, if not responsibly disposed of, these can float down our rivers or travel down storm water drains on their way to the sea. The wind is another efficient transporter, even from landfill sites. In an anaerobic landfill (where there is no oxygen), plastic bags can remain for up to 1000 years. In 2004 South Africa introduced a “controversial” levy to curb plastic shopping bag consumption. Statistics show that plastic bag use has, however, not decreased and it’s unclear what has happened to the money raised by the levy. Between 2004 and 2014 over R1.2 billion was raised, but only R200 million was spent on environmental issues (Look here for an analysis on  the plastic bag levy in South Africa). Plastic which reaches the ocean is often caught up in one of the five major ocean currents, or gyres, and exists in the oceans for many, many years. Being naturally curious, animals will investigate what comes their way and very often fall prey to a variety of plastic items which are mistaken for food. As a result, many hundreds of species of sea life consume non-biodegradable plastic material.”

Through the Rethink the Bag campaign, successful strategic partnerships have been formed with groups that share Hayley’s commitment to a healthy environment. As a result quite a few milestones have been reached. In July 2014, Greyton became the first town in the Western Cape – and the whole of South Africa – to commit to the process of banning single-use plastic bags in their community, setting the emblematic date of 3 July International bag-free day to activate the movement. Greyton also hosts an annual Trash to Treasure Festival, a celebration of a trash site turned into a treasure and fun site for all, adults and children alike. In October 2015 Port Elizabeth claimed the first plastic shopping bag free high school, D.F. Malherbe. As a result of engagement initiated by Hayley, Spar Western Cape launched their own unique plastic packaging reduction campaign called “It’s our plastic, it’s our problem”, which also endorses the awareness and education objectives of Rethink The Bag.


How do we reduce our plastic “addiction”?

According to Hayley, an optimal plastic reduction strategy involves a holistic approach that addresses all variables and offers positive alternatives, acknowledgement and reinforcement.

“It’s counterproductive to put people in a situation where they have no education and no choice. Educating about the consequences of living as a ‘take-make-waste’ society begins the necessary process of behavioural change. If people do not know what impact their living is having, then why would they consider changing their ways? Further to that, showing communities how to live differently to benefit both people and nature is essential as it becomes easier when we know the how. We are, essentially, also nature and nature does not waste.”

Hayley McLellan started Rethink the Bag in 2010. In March 2011, it was launched as an initiative of the Two Ocean Aquarium ©David Peter Harris

Hayley McLellan started Rethink the Bag in 2010. In March 2011, it was launched as an initiative of the Two Ocean Aquarium ©David Peter Harris

What eco-tip would you like to share?

“Of course my plea to everyone is to stop using plastic bags and sign the petition! This is my personal campaign and it fuels my passion for the environment. However, there is a long list of little actions that anyone can take and it’s important to commit to whatever fits with your lifestyle. This way you’ll set yourself up for success and feel empowered as little actions really do mount up. It’s not only about the choices you make but, importantly, your attitude. The one thing we all have absolute command over is our attitude; our attitude determines our words and our actions, so make yours count.”


Before we parted, Hayley shared a last bit with me. “The mantra to climb Kilimanjaro is two words, ‘Pole Pole’ which means ‘slowly slowly’. If you want to create a sustainable journey, you want to go ‘Pole Pole’ – each person making a difference doing what they can. Just not too slowly as the earth is crying out for our immediate care…” Banning single-use plastic shopping bags is currently a worldwide movement with a growing list of countries committing to this action. Most recent is Mauritius who joined the crusade on 1 January 2016.


I often walk on the beach, picking up plastic trash and wondering how it got there; I am sure I am not the only one coming home with lots of trash collected in public places. So, join RTB’s pledge, sign this petition and let your actions count. Follow Rethink the Bag on their Facebook page.

Vote with your wallet in true Eco Atlas style and support places that are using biodegradable packaging


 "The earth is crying out for our immediate care", we all agree with Hayley. Two Ocean Aquarium, Cape Town ©David Peter Harris

“The earth is crying out for our immediate care”, we all agree with Hayley. Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town ©David Peter Harris


(This copy has been written as a collaboration between Hayley and myself, for which I am very grateful.)


Andy Horn at his office in Cape Town ©David Peter Harris

Andy Horn at his office in Cape Town ©David Peter Harris




An architect with a profound appreciation for nature, Andy Horn established his practice in 1998, Eco Design – Architects and Consultants. Sustainable design is key to his work and the studio has led the way for the Green Building Movement in the South Africa and it has received a number of international sustainable building awards. We were lucky  to meet him at his studio in Cape Town.

“Things in nature are cyclical and we must build in holistic ways, using natural resources in harmony with nature; water should be harvested from the rain, used efficiently and recycled. Energy should come from the sun. Structures should be built with non-toxic or moon phase harvested timber or bamboo rather than steel and concrete. Walls can be made with natural and recycled materials like, earth block, cob, rammed earth, stone, urbanite, straw bale, hemp-lime, sandbag and timber. Roofing insulation can come from nature where roofs are planted and insulated with healthy natural materials like wool, cork or recycled paper. Finishes should be non-toxic; like healthy breathing natural plasters, and zero V.O.C paints. “

Different shades

There are different shades of green and you can do your bit, starting at home with energy efficient appliances and LED lights moving on to more renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and biogas, we need to look at energy saving as an investment over time rather than simply the up-front cost. Conscious design means being aware of where resources come from so that we can shift our building industry towards more post-carbon based types of construction.

“What makes me do what I do? I couldn’t do it any other way; once your eyes are open they’re open, and I can’t stand by and not act on one’s convictions. Also, it’s a great field to be in, you meet interesting people, get to work on amazing projects and you have to be extra creative.”


 Get in touch with Andy Horn by visiting his website and find out more about past and current projects and the principles inspiring his work.


Paul Talliard, founder of Hands of Honour, in his office in Ottery, Cape Town ©David Peter Harris

Paul Talliard, founder of Hands of Honour, in his office in Ottery, Cape Town ©David Peter Harris


“I was one of the first black firemen in South Africa; I had a great wage, a stunning life. Then, I got introduced to crack cocaine; within a year, I lost everything”. This is how Paul Talliard, founder of Hands of Honour, commenced his story. We were sitting in his temporary office in Ottery, a house offered as a work space; and in a business-like fashion, he closed his Twitter page (not without first retweeting some breaking news). I couldn’t believe what that bright smile and drive could hide; yet, I was ready to listen. I sat on the couch as he turned off his computer; we had each other’s undivided attention.

“I ended up on the street. Then one day I was walking on Muizenberg beach, looking for food; I saw myself hunting in a bin and I decided that I had reached the tipping point; I would turn my life around. The same afternoon I went to chat to the Soup Kitchen management about my intention, and they decided to help me. In two months I was clean. One day, the lady who ran the Kitchen came to me and asked me to address the other guys and inspire them with my story. In a Soup kitchen, men and women are separated; I looked up and there were 150 men in that room, right there, and I found myself standing in front of who I used to be. I told them “Everybody who wants to change their lives stay behind today and we’ll have a little chat.” Only eight men stayed, but it was a great chance to connect. We started meeting every week, and in a short time the number grew to 50 men, who were committed to getting off the street. We worked on a little project together – fixing a widow’s home, and then I decided to register us as an NPO, Hands of Honour.

I had hands, but I needed to find some work to keep those hands busy, to avoid them getting back on the street.” Paul looked around the room, and then back at me, smiling, and  said

“It’s like getting dressed for a party, with no party to go to”.

I will remember this analogy forever, as sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we don’t know whether we’re getting up for success, or disaster.

Hands of Honour’s Constitution states that the “Hands” need to give back to the community for every paid project accomplished. “I was introduced to the concept of social enterprise. I started attending courses and applying for grants and, believe it or not, things started happening.”

One day, Paul received a phone call from a corporate, which donated 500 Christmas trees that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. “We sold those Christmas trees at markets, and we made a profit of R8000. One Saturday morning, I took half of our profit, got t-shirts and brushes for my guys with the plan to paint a school in Steenberg which had not been painted in years. When my 60 guys pitched up, I couldn’t believe my eyes.” This is how Hands of Honour’s up-cycling formula took off. The NPO establishes relationships with the corporate sector, which donates its obsolete stock. Hands of Honour up-cycles the stock into value; 50% sale provide salaries for the “Hands”, while the other half is used for projects to turn negative spaces into positive ones that benefit the community.  To this day, Paul and his Hands have handled many big projects, from turning a Drug Den into a Community factory that makes school uniforms, upgrading an early literacy centre for rural children to regular community clean-ups and the latest Book Nook. These community-driven projects lead to a drastic drop in crime rates in the area “This happens when communities take ownership of the projects in the area”, Paul says.

Hands of Honour turns waste into value. Its up-cycling formula guarantees salaries as well as funding community projects ©David Peter Harris

Hands of Honour turns waste into value. Its up-cycling formula guarantees salaries as well as funding community projects ©David Peter Harris

Hands of Honour also addresses a social problem found in Soup Kitchens; unemployment and social grants create a generational issue, ingrained in the social texture with heavy reliance on handouts. “I see whole generations coming through the Kitchen, when nobody should grow up in one”, Paul tells me, in a concerned tone.

While the social welfare policy in South Africa is formulated on the principles and needs of empowering individuals and closing the poverty gap, there is an active discussion to determine the extent to which these measures reap sustainable effects or just perpetuate what is called welfare dependency’.

Addressing social and economic marginalization is not an easy task. With the unemployment rate swinging between 25% and 36,1% (with the latter including people who have stopped looking for work) (Reuters, July 2015), and one quarter of the population currently receiving grants, Paul’s words brought home a special kind of awareness. I am not against grants, but social assistance alone cannot be intended to work miracles – what is desperately needed are measures to bring down the marginalization of the “unemployable” while triggering economic inclusion, skill development and training; only then we can look at poverty reduction and empowerment as measurable, real goals. Otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for disaster.

Hands of Honour sets out to solve the issue with a Job Training Programme that provides skills and confidence to those members of society who have ‘checked out’, that have stopped trying. “I tell my guys that they can’t depend on anybody, nobody owes them anything; they have to work to make a living; by doing that they build confidence and function like positive role models for their families”.

Our time together was almost up, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the ripple effect Paul himself had created, in his life, in the lives of men considered unemployable, his guys, and their communities. It seemed like a rhetoric question, but I had to ask him what drives him.

“My passion is to see what I see now; one of my guys pulling into the Soup Kitchen, not to eat a meal, but to be inspirational to other people. I was 46 when I walked into a Soup Kitchen, and I had a second chance; I want everybody to have one too. “

Before leaving, he added

“When you reach out to others, you find yourself healing and your success growing. As you bring hope to other people, something inside you changes too. Give to receive and you will see that what you reap is magical indeed.”

The special kind of awareness Paul made me picture over our long chat belongs to all those people who, like me, have been lucky enough to never worry about their next meal, a bed to sleep on, what clothes to wear, or even a hug. However, I have committed to be aware of my daily actions, and the little or big impact I can make, even when shopping for a wooden bench, or a reading nook. While we are waiting for the social assistance framework and policy to up their game in the far away Government rooms, there is so much we can do, as a groundswell movement. I left Paul’s office with a great “awareness-in-action” mindset.



 ©David Peter Harris

If you have donations that these Honourable Hands can turn into value, please get in touch with Paul. Check out their Eco Atlas page and look at their growing range of products, before going on your online shopping portal.


Spoiler alert, this copy contains quite a few hyperlinks, for ease of reference :)


Over the weekend, Eco Atlas shared the beautiful space facilitated by Greenpop in collaboration with Rocking the Daisies – we activated in the Green Village, alongside some vibrant organizations, businesses and individuals that are committed to steering consumer choices towards a sustainable future.

The Green Village, Hemp Stage and TEDx Cape Town tent were fully solar powered by MLT (that provided a solar charger for phones), in collaboration with Sunshine Cinema.

Being one of the most anticipated music events of the year, and being on its tenth edition (#decadeofdaisies), RTD 2016 attracted roughly 22000 eager festival goers; in this context, the Green Village provided a really cosy, relaxed and carbon-neutral platform for people to get together in creative ways and to foster interesting discussions; from early morning yoga, ecobrick making and fun recycling activities with Sustainable Brothers and Sisters (one of RTD Environmental Partners, together with Hemporium and Greenpop), hula hoop workshops with Hoop Flow Love, green shopping with Printed Truth, Hemporium and the Green Co-Op, board games with 100 in 1 day Cape Town, to  #makeyouown toothpaste sessions and video recording moments with us- all with a terrific music line-up! Up-cycled Reliance Compost bags made comfy cushions for the pallet couches scattered around the village.

“Everybody is so nice and relaxed around here, smiling at each other” was a comment I overheard between conversations. A young girl came to ask me where she could throw some organic matter. Wow!

After 3 days of great talks, chats and music, it was an obvious choice to dedicate this chapter to all the Everyday Change Makers whose paths we were lucky enough to cross. The present challenges make an interesting background for innovative solutions and creative collaborations. It is you guys who make sure the future is decorated with sincere respect for each other, our environment and its beings.

I would like to extend my gratitude to all the people who have been working behind the scenes, from all the sponsors, production teams to the cleaning and security staff that looked after us, made sure everybody was safe, had clean toilets, and that Cloof Wine Estate was clean after everybody left, KUDOS to all of you!

I certainly have a few suggestions for the RTDs to come, like a more sustainable number of visitors as well as a music line up that calls and favours the integration that is so needed.

When I walked back to my car on Sunday, most people had already left. The landscape had changed from makeshift camps to an apocalyptic scene; a desolated valley filled with  trash and unwanted goods scattered everywhere. I was particularly saddened at the number of 5lt water bottles left behind, lying in the sun.

It dawned on me that I had spent three days in a green bubble, with resourceful people who organized daily clean ups showing respect for natural resources and each other while listening to good music. I am not demonizing all the other festival goers;  I believe that the challenge ahead is to spread this caring vibe over the different music stages, age groups and (green or not) villages.

Challenge accepted :)

our video is coming soon


Everyday Change Makers/Rocking the Daisies 2015 ©David Peter Harris


Everyday Change Makers/Rocking the Daisies 2015 ©David Peter Harris

Everyday Change Makers/Rocking the Daisies 2015 ©David Peter Harris


p.s we’re editing our video, it will be available soon :)



Dumisile Mqadi and I sat on the rooftop terrace of Happy Hippo, the funky eco-friendly backpackers in downtown Durban.   Dumi has been working for Happy Hippo and its sister lodge, Hippo Hide, for more than 6 years. She started off as a cleaning lady, but that was only the beginning.   “One day, I walked past Michelle Brooks’ office while I was carrying the laundry. Michelle came to me and asked me if I wanted to try and work downstairs at reception. I thought she was joking, so I said “No”, giggling. She told me I should try it out for a month and see how it was; I didn’t believe her, but I saw my name on the schedule for the next month and I saw that I had been put down as a receptionist for some days, and others as a cleaner. I just wanted to quit; I was scared and shy, I wanted to stay at home; I didn’t know what to say. I felt I was not educated enough, I was just a cleaning lady.”

Dumi's contagious smile breaks through her shyness ©David Peter Harris

Dumi’s contagious smile breaks through her shyness ©David Peter Harris

“I did eventually go, and my first shift as a receptionist was at Hippo Hide – I had a night shift, and as all first days I wasn’t too sure about how things worked, and there was nobody to tell me how I was doing. In the morning, Mike (Brooks) came and welcomed me to my new job. He told me he trusted me and he didn’t want to hang around because he knew I would be shy to help people in front of him. After two months, Michelle asked me if she could put me reception full time, but I said I wanted to go back to work as a cleaning lady. I was still very scared and I thought I belonged to that job only. My colleagues in the office were amazing because they treated me as equal and wanted to assist me and help me with any requests, so I chose to stay instead. I owe it to them where I am now; they helped me stick to it and grow confidence.”

“I am not going to lie; I am still very shy and scared. I still feel like I am new here and not educated to do this; our teamwork helps me overcome my insecurities.”   “Any tips to empowerment I would like to share? We all come from different families, but respect is universal. When you’re unsure, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, I can’t stress that enough. Be humble and accept being lead and not leading sometime. If you want to do something, you have to fight for it, you can’t sit around but work for a better future.”

“I am so proud of what I have done; I wish I could do more now”. Dumi is planning to further her education, and she is pondering whether to study Tourism or Education. “I always thank Michelle and Mike for seeing the potential in me.”   “Deep rivers run quiet”, says Haruki Murakami, and Dumi is a reminder that the humble choices we make every day build up to a better self and a better community.

Catch a lovely sunset from The Globe - rooftop bar at Happy Hippo accommodation, ©David Peter Harris

Catch a lovely sunset from The Globe – rooftop bar at Happy Hippo accommodation, ©David Peter Harris


Abonga Tom and Sizwe Nyuka Mlenzana, at Ekasi Garden Headquarters, Vusamanzi Primary School, Khayelitsha. ©David Peter Harris

Abonga Tom and Sizwe Nyuka Mlenzana, at Ekasi Garden Headquarters, Vusamanzi Primary School, Khayelitsha. ©David Peter Harris



The creative heart of Site C in Khayelitsha  is a vibrant group of young peeps. They all share a common passion,  positive leadership and commitment to bring about innovation, hope and positive change, starting from their community. One of the Change Makers episodes featured Xolisa Bangani and Ikhaya Garden, the vegetable garden at Isikhokelo Primary School that is spearheading the movement to make “gardening cool”. Ekasi Project Green is a brother organization, based at Vusamanzi Primary School. It was started in September 2014 by six friends, who took inspiration from their makhulu’s garden in the Eastern Cape, with the idea of guaranteeing a healthy diet for the students. We met up with Abonga Tom and Sizwe Nyuka Mlenzana, who have been friends since they were kids. In the ten years I have lived in Cape Town, this was my second trip to Khayelitsha.

Why Ekasi?

“Young people like to believe in what they see, they watch us and want to get involved. Ekasi is a role model, by doing we motivate children to explore their talent and creativity. Our passion is fueled by the difference we see we’re making and the excitement of the students at Vusamanzi Primary School when they come running to help and play”.

The overall influx of bad news coverage is acting like a counter agent to change, and this is why Sizwe, Abonga and friends are joining forces.



Samkelo and Asange stand by their vegetable garden. They took up gardening since Ekasi started.©David Peter Harris



“A tip for Social Innovators? Be ambitious, self-confident, patient, safe and most of all, free your mind and stay positive. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else but stay focused.”

Ekasi is also working in partnership with Slow Food Youth Network, an organisation from Italy that promotes good, clean, fair food with a focus on sustainability. “Slow Food Youth Network is very supportive in everything we do, from the WE LOVE OUR SEEDS workshop and Funky Vegetable Festival we organized here in Khayelitsha. We also volunteer for the organisation and presented Slow Food in Good Food and Wine at CTICC”, Sizwe tells me .

Sizwe recently returned from France, where  he attended the 3rd Eating City Summer Campus, alongside 42 people from all over the world. The Campus offered a global platform where participants could discuss the impacts of food system on  natural elements, identify the problems and also come up with solutions. They wrote a declaration which will be presented in Milan this October in the event called Terra Madre Giovani – We Feed the Planet and again in Paris at the COP21 summit to Ban Ki Moon the general secretary of the UN. Sizwe tells me “What I learnt is that as young people we need to be involved in this movement because young people are the future we need to be part of the solution when it comes to climate change, food sovereignty and sustainable ways of living”. 

While I was writing this post, I scrolled down my news feeds, and I stumbled upon an article on the TED page. “Leadership Advice from the Dalai Lama”, some of my personal favourite keywords had come up and I couldn’t ignore it.  One of the quotes seemed fit to show the collectiveness of Ekasi Garden’s story.

 “Don’t be discouraged by the terrible news we hear; in reality, that reflects a small portion of the human story. Beneath the ugly tip of that glacier lies a vast reservoir of sensitivity and kindness.”

Ekasi Garden and Ikhaya Garden are hosting an Eat In event on the 26th September 2015, from 9.30am until 1.00pm, at Moses Mabhida Library, Site C, Khayelitsha. The event, supported by Slow Food Youth Network, emphasizes the a story behind every pot. Eat In is about making friends and celebrating food; different chefs will be showcasing their recipes, telling their stories about their food and their culture, tradition and environment. 

Get in touch with Ekasi Garden via their Eco Atlas page.