Rural youth at the forefront of fighting climate change

RACR Participants at a climate change learning festival. Picture: Supplied

RACR Participants at a climate change learning festival. Picture: Supplied

Published Oct 28, 2022


By Imameleng Masitha, Kebelo Moratwe, Lindiwe Pakati, Amber Julius, and Keamogetswe Thomas

In the central Karoo, young people have joined forces with community-based organisations to fight the lived realities of climate change in their communities.

Jan Bostander, a senior citizen from Merweville whose office has started a community food garden where unemployed young people come together and make a living from it, said: “The youth are not working. Most of the town people are unemployed. They took a step and started growing their own food gardens where they sell their own foods to survive. After the situation worsened, the youth took up home gardening and started selling their produce.”

This is one of the initiatives young people in Merweville have come up with to educate others.

Other initiatives include using art to educate people about climate change, because it is hard to explain the terms to community members as some of them were not able to finish their schooling.

“Many people are uninformed, and big words scare them because most of them left school at Grade 1 and 2 and now work in farms,” said Johan Hendricks, 26.

Hendricks is passionate about educating rural communities about climate change and uses every opportunity to sketch pictures and break down information so that other young people and the community can better understand climate change without lagging behind.

A three-day learning festival was organised by the Rural Action for Climate Resilience project, which is a project that aims to build social, economic, and environmental resilience to climate change by partnering with rural community-based organisations and faith leaders. Young people were at the forefront of discussions and collaboration on building climate resilience in rural communities.

In South Africa, young people are most affected by unemployment, which reached its peak in 2022 at 35.3%, according to Statistics South Africa.

Franco Syners, a 20 year old from Graafwater, lives in a farm area where the community experiences a lot of droughts. This has caused job losses among young people as farmers have laid off workers due to droughts and water scarcity.

“The farmer puts in work for two days, and the other days you are off because there is not enough water,” said Syners.

Although he noticed the unemployment caused by the drought and water scarcity in his community, but before the RACR learning festival, he said he was unaware that it was driven by climate change.

Dimakatso Tsulo, 35, heads the Youth Bank programme in Dordrecht, Eastern Cape, which falls under youth development.

She said that the programme is designed by youth for youth. “They tackle social issues such as unemployment by supporting each other’s ideas and initiatives such as agriculture and entrepreneurship,” she added that climate change forms part of the initiatives. Tsulo often uses an example of the 2018 drought and how it affected the community.

“One thing that we leave behind is culture that contributes to climate change,” said Tsulo.

She said in 2018, The taps were only opened from 6am to 11am, and the same routine started the next day. However, due to the weather changes, the taps freeze, and women and girls are unable to access water for their families.

According to Social Change Assistance Trust director Joanne Harding, young people must have the strongest voice when it comes to climate change and have a strong voice.

“We need a good understanding of what is driving climate change and the responsibility of governance and local government communities to address and respond to climate change.”

Harding added that one of the requirements of the Rural Action for Climate Resilience programme is to encourage young people to participate in learning festivals and workshops to become more conscious of the impacts of climate change.

She said it is important to look at the opportunities in reversing climate change or adapting to climate change.

“So, I think making young people aware of the circular economy. There’s actually opportunity to potentially create a business out of the circular economy, using waste preventing waste getting into the landfill, to make things that people might want to consume or, to use in their households,” Harding added.

* This story was produced through the Youth Citizen Journalism Fellowship, an initiative of the Rural Action for Climate Resilience project, which is co-funded by the EU and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.