BY SEAN KELLY
Kariega Project's inaugural Mandela Day 10k Tree Challenge has come and gone. How did it go? What did we learn? Well...a lot. Despite our ambitious goal of 10 000 trees by 2020, we decided to start our first year with a modest 50 trees and 5 partners, spread across 3 disadvantaged communities in the greater Kenton area. That turned out to be a smart choice, even though the day unfolded with controlled chaos.
The paradigm of “adaptive development” advanced by Kariega Project rests upon the principle that beneficiaries and communities need to be self-organised. This approach is, in part, based upon the premise that when the 'donor' or NGO relinquishes control over an initiative or project to the beneficiaries, it is far more likely to be sustainable, with the beneficiary taking ownership of the project or initiative. With this principle in mind, during the Mandela Day 10k Tree Challenge, we placed the ball in our partners' courts. We allotted 10 trees to each partner organisation; it was then up to them to decide and facilitate the where, the what, and the who. We knew that for best effect, the trees should be planted along streets in the poorest parts of the communities. It was quite interesting to see that most of the groups decided to allot a portion of their trees to their respective community churches. In communities largely devoid of trees, the churches stand out as oasis of green. Our partners also opted to plant trees near libraries, clinics, a foster home, and (much to our relief) a small street segment.
The success of Mandela Day 10k Tree Challenge was also illustrated by two inconspicuous events. First, on Mandela Day, when residents saw their participating neighbours planting a tree in front of their house, they immediately asked if they too could join in the efforts, causing a rapid reshuffle of planting locations. Second, a couple of weeks later, two random pedestrians were seen fixing a tree support structure that been blown askew. These two events, although unassuming in and of themselves, shows that people (yes, even disadvantaged ones) spontaneously, and perhaps inherently, see the value in greening their community. It also gave them something to be a part of, even for a few hours. Importantly for Kariega Project, it proved that by selectively applying stressors or triggers, one can precipitate a development outcome that cannot be bought or taught. It also means that we have achieved our primary goal for Mandela Day 2014: building a solid foundation for Mandela Day 2015... and beyond.