Written by: Catherine Browne
It is with a warm heart and a tingling of excitement that I share with you the realisation of a magical project. It’s taken some time but we’re finally there. But let’s start at the beginning.
Last year a Botanical Society of South Africa member met me while volunteering and we got chatting. She volunteers and is very involved with the Athlone School for the Blind Zisukanya Early Childhood Development Centre and had a dream of starting up a fragrance/sensory garden as the playground was rather bare and she had a great desire to expose learners to biodiversity and the wonders of nature.
The Botanical Society decided this was an awesome opportunity to give back and support special-needs youth. Many learners at the school come from areas without green spaces and, by creating this sensory garden, the plants will stimulate, excite, offer aesthetic value and educational opportunities and exposure to biodiversity – not only to the learners but also to the school’s staff and families.
The vision for this project is to promote a love of nature, to educate about biodiversity through fun and relevant activities, to celebrate biodiversity by looking at interactive and engaging lessons, and to provide a safe and aesthetic setting for staff and students to embrace nature.
The Athlone School for the Blind is a public school situated in Bellville South. The school provides education and residential care for blind and visually impaired children from disadvantaged communities.
The Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre was developed in partnership with the Steadman Trust and currently has two classes with learners ranging from 3-5 years old, with varying degrees of visual impairment. These kids are full of laughter and energy, and they are inquisitive about everything. Their excitement and giggles are contagious and their interest in new things is inspiring.
The dream to develop a multi-functional garden was the brainchild of an amazingly passionate individual and Botanical Society member. Teaming up with her and the hard-working staff of the school, this idea was discussed and, after careful planning, the ball got rolling. This was to be a place where the children could play freely and enjoy picnics and lessons; a pretty garden where they, along with their parents and school staff, could appreciate beauty and tranquillity. But most importantly it was to be a sensory garden where the children could use all of their senses and be stimulated. Perhaps this project also will awaken the future farmers and landscapers within the children, and will serve to educate everyone about healthy eating, recycling and sustainable living practises, amongst other things.
As things progressed and the story was shared, so partnerships were formed and generous contributions made to facilitate the successful outcome of an amazing addition to the centre. I have been visiting the school and doing simple environmental education lessons with them. We’ve potted little spekboom plants, which have more than doubled in size and will be planted out into the garden soon.
We have painted rocks with biodiversity images to brighten the flower beds. We have installed recycling bins in the classroom and garden, and the little ones are figuring out and practising how to use them. The Botanical Society of South Africa has also donated a starter garden tools set for the garden, for maintenance and use in hands-on lessons.
Passion sharing and environmental education are close to our hearts, and little green fingers can change the world. The garden was installed in January 2016 and will be officially launched next week, perfectly timed just after Valentine’s Day as we celebrate ‘loving nature’. We are all excited and looking forward to this initiative growing and the project potentially expanding.
The Botanical Society of South Africa extends our heart-felt thanks to MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, which sponsored picnic benches and resources; the Rotary Club of Kirstenbosch which set up seed funds for flowerbeds; the Redhatters bridge club for their monetary donation; Urban Harvest, which installed the flowerbeds and managed the process; Miss Earth South Africa for facilitating the recycling bins donation; Waste Plan for the donation of outdoor recycling bins; Reliance Compost and the Pole Yard. Together we are enabling passion sharing and learning so that others may experience opportunities.
Support the Botanical Society of South Africa and MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, who are working together to make a difference, by getting a MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet card and making the Botanical Society your beneficiary. You can further support the society and initiatives like this one by becoming a member or making a donation.