All the cool kids are doing it

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This year marks a decade of schoolchildren visiting our national parks in the name of conservation through the renowned Kids in Parks initiative.

In fact, the number of learners and teachers who have benefited from the project to date, has long surpassed the 41 000 mark.
A three-day break from the classroom affords youngsters the opportunity to learn valuable lessons about natural and cultural heritage, at the same time instilling conservation values through environmental education. The programme highlights the importance of our national parks, teaches children about fauna and flora and also how to sustain our biodiversity.

The model sees that learners from grade five to seven, from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, participate every year. They have the opportunity to experience a wilderness field trip to the nearest park.

Every three years, SANParks chooses 15 different parks and invites about 7 500 learners and 300 teachers to receive a green education.
Maria Moate, manager of environmental education at SANParks, says that the programme is a life-changing experience for many of the children. “It is always a good feeling to witness kids leaving the park with stories to tell back home.” For many of them, it is their first trip to a national park. Some have never even been away from home.

During the first year only five parks participated. The West Coast, Marakele, Kgalagadi, and Garden Route (Knysna) and Golden Gate Highlands National Parks hosted it. The following year, 10 parks jumped at the opportunity.

Pick n Pay has been involved since the early stages and plays a pivotal role in this success. After the 2003 legislation phased out plastic shopping bags, Pick n Pay introduced green bags onto the market.

R1 from every R5 bag has gone to a special environmental fund, which now provides the financial backbone for Kids in Parks.

“For us it is an honour and a privilege to be involved in a sustainable programme that has an enormous impact on thousands of learners’ countrywide,” says Anna Dewhurst, Pick n Pay project manager.

Some of the basic items on a shopping list for 50 kids spending three days in a park include 195 pieces of chicken, 120 eggs, 36 loaves of sliced bread, 30 000ml of fruit juice, 18 litres of milk and 5kg of sugar. This is a sizable amount considering the fact that around 5 000 children access our national parks annually.

The department’ of environmental affairs and education also supports Kids in Parks and provides the bulk of the funding and food. All 19 national parks take turns to participate in the programme.

Kids in Parks enables children to learn through discovery and exciting activities, without the limitations of concrete walls. Hopefully the experience will remain in these inquisitive young minds and inspire them to choose conservation as a career.

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