Meet Joseph Mugumbate, an ambassador for recycling and vegetable gardens in schools

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Joseph’s enthusiasm and energy are as boundless as his smile is broad. Make no mistake: despite his rather discreet demeanour, he very actively put his passion for a green future into action.

A  mathematics teacher at Waverley Girls’ High School in Johannesburg, South Africa,  Joseph was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in Johannesburg in 2014. This only strengthened his dedication to informing the youth about the climate crisis and fostering behavioural change.

In 2011 he initiated a paper recycling programme at his school. Still today, each classroom is equipped with a cardboard paper bin, and all pupils and teachers are encouraged to separate paper waste for recycling. The iniative is run in partnership with the company mpact, which provides the bins and a recycling container from which it collects the paper waste every month.

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Joseph’s ambition is to instill environment-friendly habits in the youth and make the pupils aware of the consequences of waste. He also enrolled the school as a Generation Earth Center with the formation of a Generation Earth Council comprising about 20 learners; every Wednesday, they meet to discuss climate change and propose personal or collective green initiatives.

In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, the recycling activity generates an average revenue of R300 per month to the school which is used for maintenance and other current expenditures. Joseph has approached several schools from the surroundings to embark on a similar initiative. But in the absence of a broader policy or even guidance from the authorities, adoption of recycling programmes is subject to the level of awareness and the will of the management and the teachers.

Outside the school, Joseph used to facilitate the collection of paper from a fuel station and a print shop. He never ceases to be surprised by the lack of information about and uptake of existing recycling avenues, especially when they come with financial benefits.
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Joseph also has a passion for sustainable agriculture and for promoting healthy food, particularly in urban and peri-urban settings. In collaboration with another South African Climate Leader, he started organic vegetable gardens at Waverley Girls’ High, Queens High and Sandrigham High, and relentlessly tries to enrol more schools in similar activities.
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Greenhouse at Waverley Girls’ High School, Johannesburg
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Joseph’s vision is that these gardens can serve many purposes: educational – teach children how to grow their own food in way that is efficient and that helps conserve the environment; health – promote healthy food through access to organic produce and a more diverse diet; economic – encourage entrepreneurship; social – for instance through schemes allowing parents with limited financial resources to do some community work at the school garden as an in-kind contribution to their children’s schooling fees.

In Joseph’s experience, schools are usually open to initiatives that benefit them, the community and the environnment. His dream is to take these green projects from the schools to the communities for a greater impact.
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An African Climate Reality Leader from South Africa, Joseph Mugumbate is part of a dynamic group of world-changers shaping the conversation on climate in forums ranging from family dinners to international summits. Together they are building a 21st-century movement for solutions to tackle climate change and foster environmental sustainability in Africa and world-wide.
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