Inspiring people to re-imagine their relationship to their world

Finding Elders and Friends in Nature

Mbali Marais
Published on

Guardians For Nature
Youth Day South Africa June 16th.

“The best part of the day was when I hugged and told my secrets to the tree” general consensus after our youth connection day. Please support our work and donate. Thank you

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The elements provided Return To Origin trainee Leaders, in the Indigenous Knowledge Leadership Program, and 13 young people aged between 7 and 13 a beautiful day at the Vlei in Muizenberg. Part of the sandvlei nature reserve, calm waters, grassy verges dotted with mantatoka trees, perfect for climbing and hiding. It is the only functioning estuary on the False Bay coast of Cape Town today. Over looked by the Muizenberg moutain and surrounded by a peaceful natural lake the mouth of which connects to the Atlantic Ocean provided the perfect setting for our Youth Connection day and Youth Day- honoring youth in South Africa.
After a breakfast of muffins, bananas and warm milk the youth were ready to jump in and we began with a round of singing and welcoming the young people led by Lindsay Burch, trainee leader.

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Lindsay Burch trainee leader, guided the youth through a simple but powerful ceremony of giving and receiving, suggesting that sometimes even when we have nothing there is always nature ready to give back, and what we get back may not be what we want but it may surprise us in a positive way. Lindsay also made the connections to the food, and how all our food was provided by nature, something that many of us also forget. How a muffin is made and the many hands required to bring it to our table. It is always magical to watch a child have an ahha moment and there were a few!
Based on the interviews after the day we were surprised and moved by the childrens sharing of what they had received from their day in Nature.

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Together we made a small mound of earth by a tree and created a bountiful display of flowers, fruits and seeds, and we sang our praises for nature and each pod led by their leaders spent time speaking stories of hope at the mound, including sharing about unkindness, violence that they had witnessed in their communities. It was an outpouring that was unexpected, but we were ready, having worked with this group before and being aware of the trouble in their community. They chose to speak in nature and their heavy burdens were palpable. Burdens that no child should be carrying. Maybe a small burdens was left there, for one day anyway!
Afterwards we sang and danced together and the burdens lifted if only for a few minutes.

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Arnoldt Michaels trainee Leader, invited them to make connections to a special tree. And I am grateful for the healing power of trees that for millenium have provided us with support, shade, strength, fruit, oxygen warmth, food and I see them as ancient grandmothers and grandfathers( that will be our next youth connection day) Today though they were guided to see the tree as a special friend, or elder that they could talk to share their secrets with, spend time with when they felt alone or they did not have a place or person where they could express themselves. “Now go hug a tree” and they did and hugged and hugged ….it took a long time to call them back.

More song more dance more acting out, and we laughed.

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Back to the hall for lunch. Angelique Michaels, trainee leader invited them to make masks of glad, happy or joy. They dived into the paints and beads and pieces of art we had provided, and they were quiet and still and focused and some wanted to make two. Afterwards each child came on stage with their pods and their leaders and gave a short performance holding their “joy” masks and we joined them in their joy. And yes- we finished with a song!

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We were later joined by Shaun Solomons who lives and works in their community and they shared with us all the process of the mask and named them. Many spoke of their “happy “ mask as being a grandfather and grandmother. I am reminded again and again of the everwidening gap between youth and elders and the wisdom that has been lost when our elders pass, a whole library dies with them. But more importantly the role of elder in our communities as an essential support for our young people especially at troubled times. Poverty, illness and violence is taking out our youth and we must provide them with opportunities for a rights of passage before they initiate themselves into gangs, violence and drugs. The connection to youth and nature is a start. What you love you protect, and we can only hope that through all they have come through they will love themselves enough to know that being born is validation enough and to protect each other and their rich heritage. “the best part of the day was when I hugged and told my secrets to the tree” was the general consensus. Yay!!!!! And a good day was had by all.

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