A GREAT new project, the development of an environmental education centre at Sumcay, on the Swartkops River near Perseverance, has been launched. Sumcay is an acronym for Scripture Union and YMCA, the venerable institutions which started this campsite over more than 30 years ago.
Sumcay’s first eight cabins were built with broken bricks donated by local builders, which were captured in mesh and plastered over for the walls. These cabins are still standing strong today, exemplifying the spirit of community, financial accountability and environmental care which have underpinned Sumcay from the start.
Tucked away on a bend of the river across from the Swartkops Nature Reserve, the campsite offers tranquility and spiritual retreat in the presence of nature.
Tim and Isobel Douglas-Jones, well known in church, community outreach and nature conservation circles, have been appointed to co-ordinate the environmental education centre project, in liaison with Sumcay committee members Mike Roote and Mike Perks.
The first thing they did was to spread the word about the project, and to seek comment from a range of different parties including the metro, and mainstream and township NGOs. Suggestions were submitted and sieved through – and initial plans have now been drawn up by an architect.
As soon as all the necessary funding has been secured, construction will begin.
Although its accommodation tariffs are low, strong demand, full beds and sound financial management have allowed Sumcay to remain self-sufficient through the years.
The aim is to use the same model with the new centre, coupled with the pledge that "no-one will be deprived of environmental learning in this critical time of global change”.
An excellent starting point for the new centre is its location, easily accessible to a wide range of schools from marginalised as well as more privileged communities. These schools will be the main users of the centre but, as Tim says, if a school from Kareedouw or Jansenville wants to bus its kids in, they will also be welcome.
The centre will be geared around the theme of "the impact of urbanisation on the environment”. Two sub-themes will be water and, of course, the Swartkops River. Sumcay is situated on the river’s confluence of tidal salt water and outgoing fresh water, making for an extra fascinating dynamic to study, along with matters like water quality and fish life.
Doubling as symbolic representation and practical work station, a wetland waterway will be created around the north and west sides of the centre. As the plans explain, the students will move through an opening in a packed-earth wall, across a bridge, under which this waterway will flow, "into a new environment”.
The Karoo farmhouse style building will include a custom made contour model of the area, which can be lowered from the ceiling, a comprehensive suite of equipment for electronic presentations and five satellite rooms for focus on sub-themes. The building will be eco- friendly – with rainwater harvesting, septic tanks for the toilets, green construction materials, and natural and renewable heating and cooling methodologies.
Waste recycling will link outside with a permaculture gardening system and will form a third sub-theme, grouped together with waste management and pollution issues. The other two sub-themes will be indigenous plants and animals, and climate change and sustainable development.
When the students are finished for the day there is canoeing and an obstacle course to enjoy. The rambling Sumcay property is linked now to the adjoining Waterways property so there are 17ha to have fun in.
Nature trails, a bird hide and a green chapel overlooking the river are three other exciting projects which will be linked to the environmental centre.
There has been great support from the metro, Tim notes. Conservation officer Clyde Scott has already donated 50 indigenous trees, and has pledged to continue to match in this way every alien bluegum and rooikrantz that the Sumcay management fells.
Looking about the site this week under the guidance of Sumcay manager Hanco correct Koen, a cold wind bending the gums above us, the possibilities seemed limitless. This is a little known corner of our metro, but it has huge potential and it could be a paradise.
This new centre will be a huge asset for our metro, I believe.
The project is about "looking after God’s Earth”, Tim says: "It’s a morality issue and a Christian issue.”