KwaZulu-Natal Branch Manager
Before joining Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) almost 20 years ago, Bharathi Tugh was a teacher in a small community in Chatsworth in Durban. As a special needs teacher, she was frustrated that there was no specific curriculum to help the learners in her care. “It was an opportunity to introduce permaculture as a subject for these learners,” she says.
“It was the turning point to revolutionise the curriculum because the children were not just growing food.” These skills enabled graduates with special needs to find jobs on the open labour market, in nurseries and at botanical gardens.
In 2005, Bharathi was named the best special needs teacher in the country but she knew she could have a greater impact. The curriculum she developed is recognised by the government, and has strongly influenced FTFA’s EduPlant programme which in its decades of existence has reached thousands of learners and teachers.
“I knew I was making a difference in the school space but because I was school-based, my reach was limited. Outside of that space, my reach is unlimited,” says Bharathi, who is now the KwaZulu-Natal Branch Manager for FTFA. Engaging with schools and communities is not simply dropping off resources and leaving, she says. “By the time we exit, they are so well equipped to work the land. We want it to become a life-long skill, like intergenerational wealth, that is passed down.”
Ultimately, this is how South Africa and its communities will see tangible benefits. “This is what resonates with my soul,” she says. “I could see the change right at the beginning of my career. I took one step towards a community and it was returned multi-fold.”
Trees and Carbon Administrator
Five years ago, Thando Jafta was unemployed. “But I didn’t just want to sit around at home and do nothing, which is why I started volunteering at organisations,” she says. She began volunteering at Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) in 2016 and before she began working at the organisation, she says she didn’t know much about food gardening. “But I was curious about what FTFA was doing, I wanted to know how to sustain a garden. It excited me.”
Today, she is one of the organisation’s administrators, in the Trees and Carbon department. In this role, she engages with beneficiaries, ensuring that the administration behind their projects is in order and runs smoothly.
“I enjoy it so much – dealing with beneficiaries, interacting with them, knowing what they are doing, what they like. If I haven’t spoken to anybody during the course of the day, it feels as though I haven’t done my job,” she jokes. Thando also has a remarkable ability with languages and speaks seven – Setswana, Sesotho, Sepedi, Isixhosa, Isizulu, Xitsonga and English. This enables her to talk to people across South Africa.
A vital part of her job is passion, says the 40-year-old. “If you love what you’re doing, the work day is great.” Passion and a drive to motivate others is also what pushes FTFA and its staff to help as many people as possible, she says. “FTFA is a people motivator, and I see the organisation helping even more people in the future, training more youth and sustaining more gardens.”
Annunzietta Nyangala joined Food & Trees for Africa more than 20 years ago. “It really resonated with my vision of sustainable development,” she says. The mother of three has worked on organic farms around the world, as a carer, and even as a veterinary nurse assistant. “If you have a passion for development, you just want to see it happening, whether it is working with women, youth, or helping people with substance abuse,” she says.
Annunzietta has worked in various roles at FTFA, including General Manager and sitting in on Board Meetings, but has been an Ecopreneur since 2012. This freelance lifestyle gives her the freedom to approach sustainable development wherever she sees the need. “We need to be open-minded about what sustainable development is: Not everyone wants to garden. Some want to sew and bake, I think we should let people have the opportunity to share what they already know.”
This drive is something she wants to impart to her daughters: “God comes first, but next is life skills.” She thanks FTFA for giving her the confidence and skills to help people in her community. “My time with FTFA over the years has greatly developed me. Personally, Jeunesse (Park, FTFA’s founder) groomed me to be the person I am today, and I still thank her for it,” she says.
“She saw what was in me. Like an artist or sculptor, she saw my potential.”
Head of Programmes
Robyn Hills has loved plants and trees since she was a small child, and has been with Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) since 2009. Having started as an Ecopreneur, she is now the Head of Programmes at the organisation. As part of this job, she is in charge of fundraising.
“Without support from the outside, we can’t grow the positive effects of community gardens, tree planting and herb gardens in under-resourced communities,” she explains. To help realise those benefits, the organisation needs money and someone needs to ask for it.
She smiles and says that many people struggle to talk about money, but she isn’t one of them. “You need to be really comfortable asking for money. I am because it is not for myself,” she explains, saying that she is disconnected from the emotional process of asking for money.
“I know it is translating into some of the best fertiliser in the country and that’s going to lead to higher income for small-scale producers,” she says. “If you know where the money is coming from and where it is going, you feel comfortable asking for it.”
In the future, she would love to see FTFA helping even more people establish gardens and plant trees, and she knows that her job is vital in achieving that. “Without money, without resources, we can’t protect our natural environment, and empower women in those natural environments to grow food, share seeds and their indigenous knowledge”.
If you would like to donate to FTFA this Women’s Month, please click here.