Seyisi Primary is a shining example of the benefits of a Permaculture Starter Pack (PSP) from Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA). Based in Kwazakhele in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), the school’s permaculture project is a decade old and still thriving.
“When I first came to Seyisi in 2012, there was a big dumping site area of 800 x 40m, full of stony ground. But it was fenced, so we cleaned it and started our school garden there,” explains teacher Nomonde Ntsundwana. “Using FTFA’s permaculture lessons and techniques, we have worked on it ever since.”
Nomonde’s relationship with FTFA began in 2011, when her school in Motherwell received 50 trees. “When I moved to Seyisi the next year, I contacted FTFA again and they donated indigenous and food trees to the school and the community,” she says. “Planting these trees helped the entire community to appreciate their importance.”
Healthy bodies, healthy minds
The school permaculture garden provides fresh organic vegetables, to supplement the school nutrition programme. “It’s really important for us, because at least twice a week the children get healthy organic spring onion, kale, spinach, or other vegetables,” says Nomonde.
The PSP provided by FTFA has greatly benefitted the school’s learners and the community. “Plant identification helps the children learn what is good to plant. Intercropping, like planting herbs with some of our vegetables, provides knowledge about things like natural insect repellents and antibiotics. This provides a lot of benefits for disadvantaged communities like ours. The learners gain so much knowledge that they would not have if this garden was not part of their environment.”
The integration of the PSP content into the curriculum has enhanced learning experiences. “Integrating classroom learning and practical skills in the garden is really important, like learning how to propagate plants from leaves, or stems, or rhizomes. It happens naturally with such a good garden,” says Nomonde. “The science club also integrates our work in the garden; I always say our garden is our living laboratory where we do our experiments.”
PSP has laid the foundations for further projects
Converting an eyesore space into a thriving garden by applying the permaculture principles has enabled Seyisi to establish further projects. A worm farm uses kitchen and garden waste to produce organic fertiliser, while Spekboom propagation offers multiple benefits. “Checkers asked us to grow 100 Spekboom to donate to their customers. In return, they gave us money for our garden. The Spekbooms absorb a lot of carbon. We also use them as windbreaks because this is such a windy city!” expands Nomonde.
The PSP intervention and participation in the EduPlant programme have empowered her to become a mentor to other schools, leading to skills transfer in Port Elizabeth. “We run workshops, showing them planting, herbs, and other skills we have learnt from FTFA’s permaculture workshops. One of the most important skills is the fertilising method, using some trees to create liquid fertilisers. This is really helpful with our very stony soil,” says Nomonde.
The EduPlant programme focuses on developing schools across the country and has given learners the chance to attend workshops, participate in the national competition, and travel interprovincially, with Nomonde saying, “For our learners to get the opportunity to travel out of their home province is a special thing”.
A decade of memories
After a decade of using permaculture techniques in the school garden, Nomonde has many fond memories. “I was teaching in Motherwell for 22 years in a nice area with many benefits, but coming to Seyisi was a huge breakthrough. I was presented with what looked like an impossible task, when I saw the state of the soil where we wanted to start the garden. For me this has been a process of ‘possibilising’ impossibilities!”
Nomonde has also attended a Permaculture Design Course after Seyisi was a category winner at the 2016 EduPlant Finals; illustrating how the collective support and contribution by FTFA has resulted in sustained success at the school. Seyisi Primary School went on to win the Mentoring Category of the 2020 EduPlant Finals – the highest achievement in the EduPlant programme!
One particular moment stands out for Nomonde: overhearing a former student talking to his friend. “They walked past the school and he said, ‘I used to go to this school. But when I was here, I never thought this area could look so beautiful.’ That was so fulfilling. I feel like at least I have made some change in the community that will continue after I am gone. People will keep the school garden going, the trees will still be there, and the information is there for the learners.”
Donate now if you are interested in helping to bring food security to schools and communities across South Africa, or contact us for more information about PSP applicants and funding options through Food & Trees for Africa.