Louise Matschke, Education & Training Manager at the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET) writes about environmental education in Cape Town.

The metropolitan city of Cape Town, in South Africa, is known for its two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Table Mountain and Robben Island; the only two sites in the world that are in view of each other. It is probably less known for its third and largest heritage site, the Cape Floristic Region, which is one of the most richly diverse floral areas in the world, with over 70% of its 9000 floral species occurring nowhere else on the planet. 

People living in and visiting this unique city are blessed with outdoor opportunities in the mountains or the many beaches on the Atlantic seaboard, as well as a mosaic of nature reserves scattered around the city. Despite all the natural beauty and outdoor areas, there is a noted increase in the disconnection with the natural environment amongst the urbanised youth. 

This disconnection and the problems that arise from it are referred to as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ (NDD), a term coined by Richard Louv (2005) in his book Last Child in the Woods. Some of the causes of NDD are the increased use of electronics leading to inactivity in children, decreased time spent on unstructured, creative outdoor play and restricted access to outdoor spaces. 

There are many consequences of NDD, from physical and emotional ailments to destructive behaviours towards others and the natural environment. In South Africa, over 50% of the youth live in poverty, with children in Cape Town’s informal settlements experiencing eight or more traumatic incidents per year related to poverty, substance abuse and violence; relative to the five events in a lifetime experienced by their western counterparts. 

So, what is the solution? According to Richard Louv, a good dose of ‘Vitamin N’ (nature) is the answer; in other words, to reconnect with nature. The Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET) seeks to recon-nect the youth of Cape Town with the natural environ-ment at various stages of their development, in what we call the ‘Crèche-to-Career’ model constituting our three main focus areas: 

  • environmental education 
  • training and development 
  • the Nature Care Fund 

CTEET provides safe and easy access to the natural environment and opportunities to reconnect with the fauna and flora by providing a variety of immersive outdoor experiences for young people. Through this reconnection, not only does a love for the natural environment develop, but Environmental Champions are created.  CTEET was established in 2001 to provide environmen-tal education outdoor camps but on realising that our reach was limited, we expanded and our programmes now include: 

Day programmes: offering programmes for children from as young as four years old but also addressing the need to run curriculum-linked programmes to support their formal school education. This also includes doing outreach programmes at the schools, assisting with environmental topics within the curriculum and celebrations of environmental days e.g. Arbour Day or the International Day of Biodiversity. 

Overnight camps: offered at three sites across Cape Town, these programmes are tailor-made for the groups but focus heavily on reconnecting children with nature and helping them to develop a passion for and understanding of the natural environment. We also align these programmes, when required, to the national curriculum as well as having strong teamwork elements. The camps enable the children to get close to nature and sometimes we get feedback that makes us realise exactly how the experi-ence can impact on a person: 

“Thank you that I could experience nature with you. I learned new things. I really learned a lot about plants and animals and enjoyed being with you. Where I live when you come outside you smell cop-per wire burning and you see people being shot. It is peaceful and quiet here and it’s not like this at home” (Grade 10 learner) 

Eco-Schools programme: CTEET supports over 50 schools on the International Eco-Schools pro-gramme, assisting with lesson plan development, whole-school environmental planning, the imple-mentation of environmental projects and the development of eco-clubs. Many of our Eco-Schools are based in low income communities. 

Conservation Leadership Programme: This programme was born out of a desire to have a prolonged impact on youth who are passionate about the natural environment and who would like to play a role in effecting change in their homes and communities. Children are brought onto the programme when in Grade 6 (11-12 years of age) and through regular interactions are nurtured over the remaining 7 years of their schooling career. This ‘nurturing’ is achieved through a variety of interventions such as community action, hiking and camping in wilderness areas and camping trips to conservation areas throughout South Africa. The intention is to mould a select group of young people who will be more environmentally conscious. This, coupled with career guidance and knowledge sharing, will help us grow the conservation leaders of the future. Our first in-take of youth is currently in Grade 10, and they are taking an active role in mentoring the newest recruits on the programme. One of the participants, Rivaldo de Stories, was a quiet young boy when he joined us in 2013 but he is now confidently writing and performing rap songs with environmental content and taking a stand against bullying that has affected him for years. 

“CLP made me a better person and leader. It taught me how to appreciate and love nature and also other people.” (Rivaldo de Stories) 

The next step in the process is where we engage with out-of-school youth who are unemployed and considered to be at risk. Since 2007, CTEET has provided skills development and training programmes that have ena-bled participants to gain a year of workplace experience as well as receive formal training in nature conser-vation and environmental management. This holistic approach has been hugely successful with 88% of participants completing the programmes and an astounding 86% finding post-programme employment. 

“CTEET made a huge impact on my life. CTEET gave me a second chance at life, they believed in me.” (Kashiefa Anthony) 

Despite not completing her schooling, Kashiefa successfully completed two training programmes and is now permanently employed in nature conservation with the municipality. 

“It was a great stepping stone. Just what I needed to guide me in my journey as a conservationist” (Thurlo Marco) 

Having joined us straight after High school, Thurlo successfully completed two training years with us and is now employed on a CTEET conservation project and is mentoring the newest participants of the training programme. 

There are many success stories from the work we have done but there is one person’s story that we would like to share. 

Melvin Booysen was born and raised in Cassablanca, a low income suburb in Cape Town. His first contact with CTEET was an overnight camp with us after which he became the president of the school’s eco-club, at one of the Eco-Schools supported by CTEET. On completion of his schooling, Melvin joined our Nature Conservation training programme, going on to complete his Environmental Management programme in year two. Melvin is now permanently employed by one of CTEET’s partners. This is what he has to say of the experience: 

“This training changed my life because all the experi-ence helped me to get a permanent job. They [CTEET] gave me the opportunity and I took it open handed and I am still studying hard to go where I want to be. I see myself as a manager – or higher than a manager – one day.  I am really glad that I am doing Nature Conservation and also to give back to the community doing Envi-ronmental Education with our future generations where we can change their minds, so that they can help with nature conservation.” 

The Nature Care Fund supports conservation activities in Cape Town and is the final piece in the Crèche-to-Career model. The fund is structured to invest and dis-burse monies from private individuals, corporate com-panies, friends groups and other bodies towards nature conservation projects and works to uphold the Cape Town Biodiversity Network a network of conservation areas focusing on the conservation of biodi-versity and ecological processes and maintenance of ecosystem functioning. Since the inception of the Nature Care Fund in 2007, over 30 projects have been run, directing R35million to conservation, conserving 400ha of endangered vegetation, protecting 75 threatened species and providing jobs for over 240 people.  CTEET continues to conserve Cape Town’s endemic and endangered fauna and flora whilst reconnecting the city’s youth to nature, in essence Changing Lives Through Nature. 


World Heritage Sites as per the UNESCO website whc.unesco.org/en/list 

Louv, Richard. (2005) Last child in the woods :saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 

Waves for Change Intake Survey, 2015 (250 respondents); Waves for Change Case Studies, 2015 (100 re-spondents) 

Louv, Richard. (2016) Vitamin N : the essential guide to a nature-rich life. London, Atlantic Books 


Louise Matsche can be contacted at louisem@cteet.co.za

This article was published in NAEE’s journal, Environmental Education [Vol 116].  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.

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