Yolan Friedmann, EWT CEO


It is probably a coincidence but a wonderful opportunity that Youth Day/month in South Africa and World Environment Day are both celebrated in June. I say this not just for the obvious rhetoric that the youth are the future and therefore the best hope we have for saving our fragile environment from the havoc being reeked on it by the current generation; but more importantly, to highlight the critical opportunity that it gives us to both empower and protect the vulnerable, and in South Africa today, this includes both our youth and our environment. With all the problems facing both young people and our environment, what if solutions could assist both simultaneously? Here are two of my crazy suggestions that may just be able to achieve both….:

1. South Africa needs Kibbutzim. A kibbutz is a type of settlement that is unique to Israel. A collective community of people living together in mostly agricultural settlements. Not economically motivated, the residents of the communes share everything and work as members of a collective. In the early days, times were tough, everything was shared, and life was hard. The members all had different jobs in the community, either in agriculture or elsewhere. Some were in the kitchen, the kindergarten, or schooling children. Members lived in modest accommodation, and all meals were eaten in the dining hall with a strong sense of community. Since the 1980s, many kibbutzim have become privatised and have diversified away from their agricultural roots, largely into manufacturing. Companies on Kibbutzim account for about 10% of the country’s agricultural output, and many of these industrial pursuits have led to great successes. Activities include diamond cutting, manufacturing of drip irrigation equipment, and tourism, and skills development is offered for all these industries. Imagine if, in South Africa, unemployed youth could join a Kibbutz (called by another more appropriate local name) and learn valuable life skills and the meaning of common good; whilst developing valuable hard skills such as manufacturing, teaching, farming, or other artisanal/trade skills (motor trade, welding, boiler making, electrical, fitter, and turner). Imagine if they could contribute to the national targets for food security and contribute to building a better future for all, whilst learning invaluable skills, all at no cost to the taxpayer? And even better, if they did this whilst farming organically, and with regard for Sustainable Land Management (Farming for the Future principles) by conserving water, rotating crops, farming organically or with indigenous species, possibly applying permaculture principles and critically, giving value to land that developers currently eye for its potential as a coal mine, golf course, or fracking well due to it being ‘fallow’ and ‘useless’? Imagine what generation of caretakers we would be producing if this was an option for the 74% unemployed youth instead of crime, childbearing, or boredom?

2. South Africa needs better (and free) education for all young people. But the Fees must Fall campaign went about this all wrong. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven how thousands of students locally (and millions globally) have successfully managed to complete a year of university, all online. Why not give all willing and eager young South Africans access to FREE university education ONLINE? It is vastly cheaper to arm them all with an iPad and free data than trying to fund university fees as they stand, and qualifying students could easily be granted free access to a wide variety of online courses, the quality and diversity of which has vastly improved in the last year; with targets being set that speak to the need to pass and pass well for the next year to be unlocked. I will bet that most taxpayers would be delighted to see their contributions spent on this rather than a range of politically motivated demands that don’t actually move this generation forward. And how does our environment benefit? Well, having thousands of students learning from home (or Kibbutzim) saves countless carbon emissions, reduces transport costs and the need for accommodation, infrastructure, and wasted printing. Yes, universities need fee-paying students to keep them going, but for those who cannot pay fees, why not help them to study online for free?
These are just two suggestions of how supporting a better future for our youth can and should be, about finding solutions that also save the planet. After all, both the future of humanity and the planet depend on each other and the sooner we learn to think differently about how we save both, the better chance both may have,
I’d love to hear about other ideas, crazy or not, that could benefit both the youth and our environment – send them to ewt@ewt.org.za and let’s keep talking!