I was always told that we teach by example. “Practice what you preach,” I was told. I learned through the years that my son was (is) a sponge, and he learns from my actions. So, when I heard about the Swop Shops of the Western Cape in South Africa, it just made sense. What a fantastic way to teach children how to care about their community while learning about economics and civic responsibility.
The Swop (trade) shop concept asks children in low income communities to collect trash in their neighborhood. They take shopping bags full of recyclable trash to their local Swop shop, usually once a week, and trade the bags for points. The entire project is funded with donations and staffed with volunteers. The ‘shop’ is nothing fancy even an old shipping container will do, but judging by the smiles on the little faces it is a paradise of goodies.
Each child is issued with a card which keeps a record of their points. When they bring in the recyclables, the bags are weighed, and points are recorded on the card. Children can trade on the same day or save for a larger item. A child in the Hermanusshop was able to trade for an entire school uniform by collecting plastic bottles. The most common items in the shops are school supplies, coloring books, story books, clothing, household cleaning products, toiletries, basic food items and small toys. A bag of tins could be enough for a bar of soap, two bags of recyclable trash could be traded for a pencil etc. Larger items such as toys or clothing ‘cost’ more, and the children might need to save for it. A T-shirt would typically trade for four bags of tins, because the tins are a bit heavier. Some children arrive at the shops carrying only one bag whereas others may arrive with shopping carts stuffed with bags.
The initiative is growing and there are now many Recycle Swop Shops in the Western Cape:
Hermanus – meets every Wednesday in the Hermanus township of Zwelihle. The children meet at the Hou Moed (Chin Up) Center. This shop was founded by Jan and Marilyn van der Velde in 2002. They run a local lodge called Zoete Inval Travellers’ Lodge.
Tel: +27 (0) 28 312 1242
Contact: Marilyn van der Velden
Gansbaai – meets every Tuesday in the Masakhane township and has been operating since November of 2007. It is run by White Shark Project volunteers. White Shark Projects is a White Shark Cage Diving Company in Gansbaai. This shop has taken it one step further. If children collect 10 or more bags of recyclable trash a month they qualify for an excursion. The shop collects an average of 500kgs (1,100 pounds) of recyclable trash a week!!
Tel +27 (0)28 3841774
Contact person: Charmaine Beukes
Knysna – the Knysna shop is still very new and was only launched late in 2010. Again the organizers are thinking bigger by offering older participants (over 18’s) an opportunity to trade their recyclables for literary programs, computer courses or skill courses such as welding. The shop is also heavily dependent on donations from international and national contributors as well as volunteer staff. The younger children are able to swop/trade for the same items as that in Gansbaai and Hermanus. The Knysna initiative is being driven by Sue Swain, the Biomimicry facilitator who heads the Knysna Municipality’s ‘Knysna Turns to Nature’ campaign and EDGE of AFRICA in conjunction with the Knysna Economic Development Agency (KEDA) and Knysna Tourism. They meet every Wednesday.
Edge of Africa
Tel +27 (44) 3820122
Contact person: Dayne Davey
The Swop Shops are teaching the children about social development, social responsibility and social upliftment. As Charmaine from the Gansbaai White Shark Projects Swop Shop writes:
‘They learn that it’s important to recycle resources and at the same time, they learn to care for their environment by picking up litter. Not only does their village look nicer, but they also earn something through this care. Conservation, they see, has many values.’
More shops are found in the towns of :
For a full list of the shops and initiatives spread across the Western Cape Province please visit the following website.
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Author: Principle writer – Celeste Wilson
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