If you grew up in the 90s, you may remember Captain Planet and the Planeteers: the animated series about the superhero and his team of five youth from around the world, whose job was to defend the earth against various disasters, and educate mankind to prevent these from happening again. Climate change and environmental/conservation issues are a Global topic at the moment. South Africa is facing its worst drought in 23 years (City Press, 19 January 2016), with the worst affected areas being Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, Free State, Eastern Cape, and the Karoo. It only makes sense therefore, that this first article in the series of IkamvaYouth’s “ Ikamvanite Careers Spotlight”, we focus in on our very own superheroes, whose passion is also to defend and protect the earth: Alumni in the Environmental sciences/management field. We caught up with two of them, to find out more about what inspired their interest in pursuing this field.

Nolwazi Hlongwane, who matriculated in 2010 is one such alumni. She joined IkamvaYouth Chesterville in 2008, and has completed her BSc Honours in Environmental Sciences at the University of KwaZulu Natal. She is now doing her Masters degree in Ecological Sciences, also at UKZN. Here’s what she had to say about what inspired her to pursue Environmental studies:

Different environmental crises that were documented in the media motivated me to choose this career path. I wanted to understand different environmental forces and processes that are occurring in the environment as a whole and to understand what we as the youth of this country can do to save biodiversity for future generations to come. Well, as a high school pupil back in 2009 I didn’t understand much about environmental process taking place in the world we live in and what drives the great environmental changes we are experiencing today. I was just in love with nature and just curious about different environmental catastrophes documented in different media platforms and a bit of knowledge gained in geography and life sciences.

We also asked her to share some insight into the current water crisis, and share some tips for what we ordinary South Africans can do:

it is a global issue that needs to be dealt with by all parties… What we can do as South African citizens is to educate people about different environmental issues created by us, that are causing all these natural disasters such as drought and how we can live in a more sustainable way that does not harm the environment… Government needs to intervene and work with scientists in different fields… and to encourage the public to save water

Another Ikamvanite doing amazing things is in the  field of Environmental studies field is Sinethemba Kameni (also one of our board members), who matriculated in 2005, and has an honours degree in Materials Engineering from UCT. Sinethemba shares one of the highlights of his career, while working at Nampak:  

I worked on Homecare products e.g. your Handy Andy packaging materials. Most of these packs are made from recycled materials e.g. HDPE or PET materials. When I joined we were using 100% virgin material. I asked myself, why? As I knew, technically we can add a percentage of recycled materials and still achieve the same functionality. Plus we can save on cost. Furthermore, we had a strategy, Vision 2020, which is all about responsible sourcing and halving our pack materials by 2020. In 2015 we were sitting at about 17% although we should be at about 25%, so we were behind. That gave me the drive and a mission to contribute, and millions of Rands were saved. Besides the fact that what I did was aligned to my work goals, I am also passionate about the “green” concept. It’s just the right thing to do. I believe there is so much we can do and contribute to the world.

We also asked Sinethemba to share some pearls of wisdom, with regards to what can be done to contribute to saving water. Here’s what he had to say:

Water is one of our key resources. I believe educational programmes on how to save water, can go a long way. Global warming is real. Shower for 5 mins, use a glass of water when brushing teeth, ensure the tap is closed after using… these are small but big impact steps one can take at home level to contribute.

This drought impacts not just on rural areas and farmers, but those of us in urban areas are also feeling its crippling effects, most notably through the significant increases in staple food items. As Nolwazi and Sinethemba have noted, we are all called to action to play our part in saving water. Education is noted by many in the field as the key to addressing climate change and environmental conservation issues. Yes, on an individual level, by equipping people with the knowledge and understanding of what they can do (e.g. reducing water consumption & waste, maintaining pipes & taps, planting trees, etc), but also on a broader level. Educational institutions and organisations have a huge role to play in developing environmental managers and scientists such as Sinethemba and Nolwazi, who will go on to make significant contributions to the field, and indeed, the world.

IkamvaYouth is so proud to have played a part in ensuring that these superheroes get to where they are in their careers. We hope they serve as inspiration for other Ikamvanites, not only those who are currently pursuing their studies in the field, but also those who are still in school, to consider careers in the environmental management/science field, and also become real-life Planeteers!