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By Elinor Dürr and Viktoria Keding
NaDEET – the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust – was initiated in August 2002 by a group of concerned citizens who felt there was a lack of environmental education opportunities in southern Namibia. Due partly to the successes of tourism in the past ten years and partly to the lack of financial resources, average Namibians, especially young people, have never experienced the Namib Desert.
Most centre-based environmental education programmes in this country tend to address one main issue: wildlife conservation. A visit to these centres exposes young people to challenging issues concerning wildlife, exploring topics such as livestock farming methods, deforestation, hunting/poaching and tourism.
NaDEET feels that although these topics are important, there is still a serious lack of appropriate environmental education programmes that teach young people how to address the basic everyday environmental concerns: food, water and shelter.
Young people are faced with energy and water problems, yet some environmental education centres are guilty of wasting their own energy and water resources. For example, most EE Centres have no water-saving technology or methods. Food is often prepared over a wood fire, thus contributing to deforestation. Electricity is provided by NamPower or a generator without the programme participants’ awareness of where the fuel comes from. This raises the question of how ‘environmental’ are environmental education centres.
NaDEET’s emphasis is on creating learning opportunities that can be applied in everyday life. We believe that having school children live in a sustainable manner is much more valuable than just hearing about it in a classroom setting.
Our philosophy is not only to teach sustainable living, but to practise it. The Centre is built in such a way that all ‘living’ activities, such as cooking, cleaning and giving shelter, are practised using sustainable or alternative energy resources. This concept forms an integral part of the programme. We provide all our food, water and shelter using the most cost-effective alternative energy sources. To date, no fossil fuels have been used at the NaDEET Centre for cooking, lighting or heating water.
The first school to visit the Centre in 2005 was the De Duine Secondary School environmental club comprising 29 children. Yet surprisingly, even though NaDEET is the only environmental education centre in the south, only 20% of the groups visiting the centre are from the south. Sixty per cent of our learners come from Windhoek, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay and 10% from the Omaheke Region. One school group from Ondangwa made the 2 000-km round trip to visit us.
The centre and programme are run by Viktoria Keding, a qualified environmental educator who is the only paid member of staff. Three voluntary trustees, Elinor Dürr, Christiane Berker and Dorothé Klein, ensure the optimal use of available funds and assist where possible with logistical and fundraising matters. A Polytechnic student doing his or her six-monthly in-service training helps Viktoria. This ensures the practical application of our aims towards capacity building.
NaDEET has space and equipment for 40 children, allowing one whole school class at a time the opportunity to visit the Centre. NaDEET provides accommodation and all food, while learners bring their own bedding. Ablutions comprise long-drop toilets and bucket showers, allowing for instant water monitoring and saving. At the NaDEET Centre we use an average of 11.5 litres of water per person per day, including water used for activities such as cooking, cleaning, showering and drinking (compared to the average Windhoek resident who uses this amount or more for a daily bath!).
Except when it rains or there are thick clouds overhead, meals are cooked on the solar deck, using solar cookers and solar ovens, allowing for instant lessons in energy utilisation and alternative energy sources. Initially most students are sceptical that food cooked for forty people while standing in the hot sun will actually taste good. They are invariably pleasantly surprised.
The week-long programme takes place mostly outdoors to adhere to our philosophy of hands-on experiential learning. A particular highlight is a three-hour dune walk where students learn that the desert is alive with green trees, bushes, animals and insects. Educators, youth groups, church groups and learners from grades 3 to 12 are all welcome. The most receptive children have been from Grades 6 and 7, as the lessons taught at NaDEET are part of their school curriculum and they are interested in learning more about solar energy, water and the ecosystem.
Although the cost of hosting one student for the course is close to N$125, groups are expected to pay what they can. A nominal fee of N$3 per person is charged so that the centre can be accessible to all income groups. Learners are expected to cover their own transport costs.
We currently receive some funding from local grant-making organisations such as the Namibia Nature Foundation and the Go Green Fund, Nedbank’s social responsibility fund. We have also received some funding from UNESCO.
For the rest of our finances we rely solely on goodwill and donations. Various Namibian businesses have been more than generous in assisting with goods ‘in kind’. To name a few, Cymot gave us all our crockery and tables, Gräber donated our chairs, OBECO gave us basins and old geysers, Valco Pipes donated water meters, Salz Gossow donated cement for our office building and the NaDEET vehicle runs on Dunlop Tyres.
NaDEET is in its third year of operation. The year 2003 saw the Centre built and attended by four groups. In 2004 it was visited by seventeen groups, usually for a four-night programme. We currently have twenty-two groups booked for the 2005 year, with many schools returning year after year.
With NaDEET’s holistic approach to the environment (including the social environment) and its integral philosophy of sustainable living as a way of life, this project can only lay a foundation and support the formal school curriculum the learners are exposed to in the classroom. It is therefore essential that cross-cutting aims and objectives are addressed through the ministries of Environment & Tourism and Education so that learners and teachers alike are exposed to the principles of sustainable living for more than just the four-day visit at the NaDEET Centre.
Without knowledge and skills, and most importantly, the values to want to protect the environment, young people will not be able to contribute positively to developing a sustainable Namibia. If we wish to carry on living in this great country with its rich and diverse resources, it is up to each and every one of us to support projects such as NaDEET.
NaDEET │PO Box 31017│Pionierspark – Windhoek │NAMIBIA
Tel: +264 (0)63 693 012 │Fax: +264 (0)63 693 013 │Email: email@example.com
Trust Certificate No : T168/2003
This article appeared in the 2005/6 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.