Deon is the Urban Greening Manager at Greenpop, and his job is to coordinate their Urban Greening Programme (UGP). To give you some background on what Greenpop does and how they’ve created a ‘treevolution’ across South Africa, it all started with a simple goal: to plant 1000 trees in one month. Founded in 2010 by Misha Teasdale, his partner Lauren O’Donnell and their friend Jeremy Hewitt, they collectively realised the need for an organisation which connects people to the planet. After nine years of growth, Greenpop has made it their mission to conserve and restore ecosystems for a better future.

Deon says, “our UGP is centred around planting trees at under-greened schools and community centres in Cape Town; however, from the end of 2018, partly because of the 2016-2018 drought, we have branched out to fynbos. The biggest shift is that our focus is now on installing outdoor biodiversity classrooms at ten sites in under-greened areas of Cape Town, whereas before, we were working with hundreds of sites exclusively planting trees. The programme, which runs over a period of three years at each site, incorporates six to seven plant days; each accompanied by a unique eco-educational workshop as well as the planting of +/- 200 plants. For us, it’s important that learners assist in the planting, and even the landscaping, as it will get them intimately acquainted with the 50 species of plants being planted over the entire period. At the end of the programme, the gardens will contain 1200 endemic plants, five trees, benches, signs, walkways, seating for a whole class, and in some sites, murals and a blackboard. He continues, “fynbos is under severe stress and can only be successfully conserved with the help of the community. Through this programme, we are not only trying to reconnect people with their natural heritage but also help to “green” urban spaces, providing a stepping stone for pollinators to move through and preserve the wonderful flora of this place we call home.”

What are some of the challenges that Greenpop faces?

Deon says, “we are a small NPO. With only 12 employees, it can restrict the scope of things an organisation is able to do.” As you can imagine, Greenpop’s purpose is a long-term investment which has a handful of benefits. For example, environmental, social, economic and symbolic benefits. In order to protect and restore biodiversity, everyone needs to make a difference and lead a green lifestyle.

How do you overcome these challenges as an organisation?

Social media is their biggest help. “We have a large social media presence, which truly amplifies one’s reach. We also enthusiastically collaborate and synergise with other organisations, and we’re certainly not shy about asking for help, especially seeing that we’re working towards such an amazing cause.”

How is Greenpop making a difference in South Africa?

“Our aim is to connect people with nature through getting folks to become active (and not anxious) in their communities, in their everyday lives, whilst also providing them with two amazing outlets for their altruistic and other positive impulses: Reforest Fest, which takes place in the Platbos Indigenous Forest, as well as our Festival of Action in the Southern Cape.” He continues, “at Reforest Fest, which was attended by around 1400 people over two weekends, we aim to clear alien trees on the fringes of the forest as well as expand the range of the forest with trees grown in the forest nursery. This year we planted 9800 trees, although the event offered much more – local bands, yoga, TED Talks, forest walks, various food stalls and a whole host of other activities. People get the opportunity to learn, play, party in a familiar and fun setting, but also to give back by helping to restore this ancient forest.”

(If you want to learn more about Reforest Fest, visit: www.reforestfest.com)

“The Festival of Action, which takes place in Eden in the Southern Cape, runs over a period of three weeks and is divided into three sessions. For the first and second sessions, we invite learners aged 13 to 18, and for the third week, we extend this invitation to older folk as well. Each session is chock-a-block full of various workshops, ranging from natural building to beekeeping, to urban greening, to alien vegetation clearing, to plant-based cooking, to reforestation and so much more.” He continues, “here we have a week to enter into dialogue with the learners over various environmentally related topics, and we’re also able to be more community focused. We have various events happening on each evening as well, ranging from talent shows to quiz nights, to a farewell party complete with local bands on the last night of each session. The Festival of Action is truly a remarkable event and has worked to change so many opinions for the good, and create a safe space for a host of discussions to take place, which would not usually be the case back home, all in a beautiful setting; it’s camping with a cause.

If you want to learn more about Festival of Action, visitwww.festivalofaction.com.

You can also read more about our involvement with other reforestation and capacity building endeavours in Southern and Sub-Saharan Africa on our website: www.greenpop.org)

Any words of encouragement for communities who are in need of hope?  

Deon encourages people to get active and act in situations. “Do not underestimate the power of the individual. Speak through your actions and continually engage in discussions and dialogues. Cape Town managed to beat Day Zero, which was only possible through continual dialogue and clear goals.” At the end of the day, we’re working towards a green future. Join the ‘treevolution’ and let’s work together.