The solar cooking and sustainability workshop at NaDEET (by Reinhold Mangundu)
28 August 2018
It’s inspiring to know that many people and organisations are increasingly taking initiative to conserve and protect our environment. Today various efforts are in place to ensure we achieve the type of sustainability we want for humanity as well as for our planet. It is however important to ask ourselves the following question: can we really regard ourselves as sustainability champions, when the things we preach are not the things we do? Listen to the story of NaDEET, a sustainability haven teaching people to live up to the concept of ‘’practice what you preach’’ in the dry red sands of the Namib Desert.
On the 13th to the 17th of August 2018, I attended a sustainability workshop at the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust. The workshop brought together twenty eight aspiring young eco-entrepreneurs, educators and activists from all spheres of the country with an interest in sustainability. Located about 100 km south of the famous Sossusvlei, NaDEET is situated in a dune valley within Namib Rand Nature reserve. The centre primarily aims to promote first-hand information about sustainable living, biodiversity and the balance between humans and the environment.
During the first day of the workshop, participants were introduced to the concept of sustainable energy and its importance to our everyday lives. NaDEET has an amazing solar deck designed to perfectly explain this concept. On the solar deck are solar ovens and a parabolic solar cooker which have been responsible for preparing the meals at the centre for the past 15 years. Every day we would enjoy a delicious meal that we ourselves prepared using energy from the sun, and this includes our first double-decker pizza! It’s absolutely incredible to know that we have so much free energy at our disposal that we could harness without emitting carbon emissions in the air nor having to damage our beautiful ecosystems and biodiversity. Sustainable energy is carbon free and is energy that could serve our current needs without compromising the future generations to meet theirs. Through interactive lessons on renewable energy, NaDEET reminded us that solar energy could be the way forward to our energy needs in Namibia as well as for many other countries in world. This is urgently needed in order to move away from the burning of fossil fuels. For this to materialise, Namibia needs concrete development strategies to ensure that solar energy is accessible and affordable to the people. It is for this reason that we need constant interventions on government polices to ensure redistribution of finance and skills in the manufacturing sector, in order to expand on infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all.
NaDEET also reminded us that nature in its capacity has the ability to solve some of the unsustainable problems we are dealing with; given it has sufficient time to regenerate. Nature does not understand waste, waste emitted by one natural process is used by another. The waste management process at NaDEET shows us how to apply this to our everyday lives at household level. Sustainability needs to be applied in our kitchen because this is where we mostly utilise water, energy and produce a lot of waste. Different waste sorting bins are found in their kitchen, were different waste is sorted e.g. cooked and uncooked food turned into compost for their vegetable garden and paper used to make fireballs which are used for cooking on an energy efficient stove. The energy efficient stoves are metal containers of paint recycled in stoves which are relatively faster when it comes to cooking in comparison to our traditional open fires. The energy efficient stove uses little or no wood at all, he wood is replaced by the fire balls. These fire balls are made from all papers soaked in water and at times, wood chips are added to solidify the balls. It is so inspiring to have learned that in the group was a young man who has been making pencils from recycled paper (as an alternative to deforestation to manufacture paper). This shows that for us to achieve long term sustainability, young people need to be equipped with a similar lens through which they are able to identify and apply innovative solutions to solve our global problems.
What is even more astonishing is the power of the beetle, around the centre, the beetle is the main decomposer and it keeps things going down the dry pit toilets. This is also a reminder that as technology becomes more and more advanced, much of the material we dispose in the environment is non-degradable and because of that, we need to rethink our production and consumption patterns. The processes of nature can no longer break down some of these materials like plastics, cans and bottles and this has now led to a serious threat to the environment and it’s inhabitants.
Have we ever wondered how much potable water we flush down the toilet every day? Or the amount of potable water that could have been conserved to cater for the ever increasing population in our cities or towns? Let’s have a look at Windhoek: for the past few years, we have been facing water shortages as a result of unavoidable climate change and increased population. Fluctuations in rainfall over the years made it difficult to predict for the future and we can only expect this to worsen over the years. NaDEET teaches us to be very cautious and conservative in using water in our homes at all times, regardless of water shortages or not. It taught us that despite the ability of some of us to pay sky rocketing water bills resulting from the luxurious lives we choose to live, we will never control nature and thus, there will be nothing we can do when the skies decide to stop pouring or when we run low on our underground water (take a look at Cape Town). The centre runs on a 5000 litre tank, containing water pumped with solar energy from a nearby underground borehole but as their way of being conservative, the centre always aims to use about 20 litres of water per day. There are currently dry pit toilets which do not require any flushing, showers consisting of a bucket system and tippy taps which enable the user to use as little water as possible. This is very sustainable if we have to compare it to our fancy showers at home, bath tubs filled with water and outdoor (often uncovered) swimming pools always filled with water even in our dry times.
In addition, the centre reconnects people to nature through its surrounding beautiful landscapes of red sand giving life to small organisations of mammals, reptiles and birds. Walks in the dunes immediately transform you into a barefooted scientist, allowing you to track down and explore the desert plants and animals. At night, the dry and unpolluted atmosphere allows you to explore the beautiful Milky Way and thousands of bright colourful stars up in the sky. In the cities, stars are relatively few in numbers because of light pollution. This beautiful sight reassures us that nature is beautiful and it’s unlike any other creation we have seen. It reminds us that we need to solidify our efforts in guarding this beauty as this has always been our responsibility.
Overall, the workshop significantly exposed us to the principles of sustainability and the importance of nature conservation. It reminded us that there is no other threat to this planet than thinking someone else will save it for us. It capacitated us as young people to remind and capacitate others to take responsibility in shifting their own behaviours in order to achieve the type of sustainability we want for humanity and our planet.