Learning from learners

Launched in South Africa in 2003, the Girls and Boys Education Movement is a United Nations Children’s Fund initiative that has been incorporated into the national programme of the department of basic education. Its aim is to provide young people with leadership skills and platforms to contribute to their communities and the environment.

The movement has fast gained popularity among learners, with 2?500 clubs set up in 29 districts. “Learners join voluntarily and take the initiative to start projects in their communities. They receive support from their teachers and the education department, as well as the resources and tools to run their projects,” says national project manager Eric Mlambo.

Many clubs have chosen to tackle climate-change awareness and energy efficiency. Members educate their peers in schools about the importance of recycling, reducing waste and saving electricity. They encourage them to take that knowledge back to their communities.

Vegetable gardens are a key part of the movement’s environmental initiatives. They not only help provide food for members, but learners also sell the produce to their communities to raise funds for their clubs.

Levy Ngobeni, a matriculant at Masana High School in Mpumalanga, is successfully running environmental campaigns in his hometown. “It’s a great initiative for school kids because they’re not only helping the environment but earning some money in return,” he says. Ngobeni was one of three members of the movement selected to participate in the 2009 UN climate change conference held in Denmark.

Four other club members attended the International Youth Conference in Brazil last June, where they drafted a charter calling on governments to take action on climate change. Mlambo says the clubs are not simply groups of kids planting cabbages or picking up sweet wrappers.

“Learners have demonstrated that they have the confidence and ability to engage with their local municipalities, businesses and non-governmental organisations. They plan and execute their projects well, and demand to be taken seriously,” he says. Other projects run by the clubs include sexual awareness campaigns, sanitary provision and education for female students, as well as academic mentoring.

The Greening the Future judging panel commended the mentoring approach. “By using children to educate their peers, the clubs are reaching a broad and critical part of society,” the judges said. “It is also encouraging to see the buy-in it has received from the education department and the communities where the clubs operate.”

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