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Taking the Mountain to the Kids

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The Pride Project, which is managed and co-ordinated by the Wilderness Foundation, was developed to fulfil the need for an environmental education outreach programme among disadvantaged youth from urban and rural areas. The various Pride Projects scattered throughout wilderness areas in South Africa introduce over 3000 previously disadvantaged, primary and senior learners to a one-day, entry-level outdoor experience every year. The experience has been proven to help stimulate the learners’ interest in their immediate natural environment and concern for its preservation and conservation.

The sustained funding of 70% of the Projects’ running costs has been achieved through the sale of spring water (through Woolworths) which carries the Wilderness Foundation logo. Further funding is gathered from the support of various schools and private enterprises which are passionate about the project. The Wilderness Foundation recognizes that the sustainability of South Africa’s wild lands and wilderness is dependant on its social and economic sustainability. The Pride Project helps to instil pride and responsibility among South Africa’s previously disadvantaged youth with regards to their natural heritage.

Topics discussed on the Pride trails include: the impact of water shortage, the importance of indigenous vegetation, the role of invasive alien plants, and the importance of keeping the natural areas clean and litter free.

The Pride trails are all led by young, voluntary guides from the surrounding communities. Their leadership skills are identified and nurtured through relevant training in guiding, safety and environmental issues.

To date, seventy youth volunteers have been groomed to run, and help manage the trails under the mentorship of trail co-ordinators. The youth benefit through the development of leadership, time-management and communication skills which has been shown to build self confidence, responsibility and maturity in them. These are vital attributes for securing future employment.

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The first Pride Project was launched in 1996 in partnership with the Wilderness Foundation, WWF – Table Mountain Fund and Woolworths. It was named after a butterfly called the ‘Table Mountain beauty/Mountain Pride’ – in acknowledgement of where the first trail took place. Since then, Pride has extended its wilderness trails to youth from the impoverished urban, rural and township communities of the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal. Pride Projects have been established in the Groendal, Boschberg and Stainbank Nature Reserves. To date, almost 30 000 youth have been reached through the Pride Projects.

Pride of Table Mountain

Tourists travel from across the world to come here and walk on it. It’s an intrinsic part of Cape Town’s identity and it’s one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It also casts a heavy shadow across the city. But imagine seeing Table Mountain in plain sight every day and never setting foot on it!

Through the PRIDE OF TABLE MOUNTAIN programme, over 25 000 children from the outlying areas of Cape Town have now had the opportunity to walk on the mountain and visit the world-famous gardens beneath it.

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Every second Saturday, from February to November buses fetch 40-50 children and take them to Kirstenbosch Gardens and then on to Table Mountain for a fun, educational walking excursion where they learn about fauna and flora. The messages of conservation, healthy living and biodiversity are clearly communicated.

Outings and routes are also arranged for partially sighted, blind and mentally challenged people who may have otherwise not been able to tour Kirstenbosch or hike on Table Mountain.

Sharon McCallum believes that the success of the project is largely driven by the leaders, whose dedication and commitment is infectious. “We wondered why our leaders joined and many of them have said that they had such an incredible experience when they visited that they wanted to share it with others.”

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The leadership programme is voluntary; there are 18 leaders, most of whom have been part of the programme for more than five years. Guides learn practical skills from how to give and deal with constructive criticism, to how to use leadership in everyday life.

“From Sipho, the eldest, who has been with Pride of Table Mountain for 18 years, to his 17-year-old son, who is the youngest and is now also a junior ranger volunteer, the programme inspires full allegiance from the Leaders. For many now, Pride is their life.

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Several of the leaders have gone on to take formal jobs in the eco-tourism industries and conservation. Some have opened their own nongovernmental organisations and continue the message of empowerment, conservation and overall pride in the natural beauty of South Africa.

The leaders develop confidence and also enjoy increased status in their communities. “In their township, people say ‘that man takes people on tours on Table Mountain’”. Table Mountain no longer looms in the distance and has been brought that much closer to home.