In Water Crisis, Teacher Turns Her School Green
In the midst of the great Cape water crisis, a Catholic school teacher has found a way of providing a teaching moment and turning her school green, as MANDLA ZIBI reports.
If children are taught to take ownership of something “then they will have a better understanding of taking care of things”.
This is the philosophy of Corne Wagenaar-Adriaanse, a teacher at St Mary’s Primary School in Gardens, Cape Town.
Ms Wagenaar-Adriaanse is the inspiration behind the Catholic school’s gardening project which has seen learners bring in bottles of grey water from home to water the plants in the school yard on a regular basis.
St Mary’s is one of many examples of Catholic schools heeding the call by Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town for Catholics to save water in the midst of a Western Cape water-shortage crisis.
We Need to Save Water
“I started taking notice of the garden by the middle of last year, which was my first year at St Mary’s. At first I concentrated on finding water sources — for instance dripping pipes and aircon drips — which I then used to water the plants with,” explained Ms Wagenaar-Adriaanse.
“Very soon, all the plants started to sprout new leaves and bud more flowers. As the water crisis became worse we started looking at other ways to keep the garden alive with recycled water and the idea was born to ask for grey water.”
The art teacher said they used the same kind of plastic bottles which her class makes art with.
“Last year’s Grade 7 class made an ottoman completely from recycled materials. I think it opens the leaners’ minds to look at objects in a different way in the future.”
Contrary to expectations, most plants can handle grey water, Ms Wagenaar-Adriaanse said. “It depends on what chemicals are in the grey water. We use grey water collected at home by the kids which usually is bath and shower water. It has a low content of soap in it and then we rotate the watering of the plants with the cleaner water from the aircon drip,” she said.
Her plan for the school garden was a conscious affair. “I focused first on the plants we had. We spent time cleaning the front garden, pulling out weeds and picking up litter. Then we had compost brought in to fertilise the soil. I really wish to start our own compost heap and teach the children about how to make one and how to maintain it,” said the teacher.
And, We’re Gardening
Her efforts led to widening the garden area of the school. “While taking care of a small patch of garden near our front entrance, I replanted many of the scrubs and thereby could spread what we had available to us,” Ms Wagenaar-Adriaanse said.
She is now motivating her pupils to bring seeds to school to use not only for teaching germination but also to actually plant them.
“Plants take time to grow and taking care of the garden is physical work, so the project is a slow and patient one,” she said.
“I also have a few students who joined a ‘Care for Nature Project’ which spends time every Wednesday after school in the garden. I discuss this with the students at every class session and remind them of the importance of saving water and of taking care of nature,” she said.
Working with children has its magical and rewarding moments, she said. “Some days when we work, a little person comes to ask what we are doing and if they can help. I always say yes and find something for them to help with.”
Even rinsing a cloth during art classes is done in a bucket and the water is then “thrown on the plants”, she said, adding: “The kids enjoy doing that.”
Ms Wagenaar-Adriaanse said she had lent her support to a local carpenter by having a bench made which fits into a corner of the school quad where the kids can sit.
Of the quad, she said: “We still need to fill it with soil and plants, but gardening is slow and patient — but as rewarding as teaching.”