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28 Jun, 2023

Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA, one of the first multi-racial schools in southern Africa, has placed sustainability at the core of its vision. As it celebrates 60 years of existence this year, the school is accelerating its sustainability efforts; already achieving some key milestones in this journey. Key projects already underway include water purification and harvesting, greywater recycling, a bio-digester, and a permaculture garden. 

The school’s strategic intent is to be the leading school in Africa in sustainability education, with plans to go solar and go 100% off the national grid by 2030. Central to the school’s deeper commitment to environmental sustainability, is its aim to have sustainable practices embedded in all aspects of the curriculum and in the daily operations of the school ensuring minimal impact on the environment.

Commenting on the future, Jackie Otula, the Principal of the school said: “The current projects showcase our commitment to be the leading school in sustainability education and practices, promoting sound environmental practices and doubling our efforts to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals. We aim to be carbon neutral by 2030 and are excited by the journey ahead in driving our mission.”

As it pursues this vision, the school is already gaining the attention of key figures in society, with a recent visit by Eswatini Minister of Justice, Pholile Shakantu, who viewed the following current developments: 

Water Harvesting

Waterford Kamhlaba looks forward to being completely self-sustainable water-wise and having zero carbon emissions. Its top dam was the first dam built at the school, as the school grew larger the dam capacity was not sufficient to supply the needs of the school, so a second dam was built to increase the supply of water for the school. As well as the extra dam, sumps were built to capture the underground water that is pumped into the dams. The college also harvests rainwater from the larger roofs on campus including the classroom block, and the cafeteria. The harvested water is directed into the dams. The school’s tank capacity, which feeds the school with water of about 340,000 litres, has nineteen 10,000 litre tanks and one 150,000 litre storage tank. The school uses approximately 120,000 litres of water a day.

Bio Digester

The biodigester produces burnable biogas and a nutrient-rich slurry. The bio-digester was the result of a student-led project - funded by the students who won the Zayed Future Energy Prize in 2015. The function of this bio-digester is to use the left-over food from the school’s cafeteria to fuel the heating of water that is then used to wash dishes in the cafeteria kitchen. The food waste is fed into the bio-digester which is then broken down into a burnable gas. This gas fuels the gas geyser which heats the water used to wash dishes. A by-product of this process is liquid fertilizer, which we use in our vegetable garden. (Any extra food waste from the cafeteria is also used by the permaculture gardener to make fertilizer, and the balance is given to staff members to feed their dogs and pigs). This bio-digester serves as a producer of sustainable power, a responsible method of discarding our food waste, as well as an educational tool.

Permaculture Garden

The Waterford Kamhlaba community is doing its part to help make WK carbon-neutral. Boarding schools generate a lot of emissions; from the buses and cars bringing students to campus to the cooking of 3 meals a day, and the heating of water. But the College is helping to minimize emissions and provide life skills to the students, through the permaculture garden. 

The word permaculture means “permanent agriculture” in the sense that the whole point behind a permaculture garden is the circular economy. This is how it works: the school uses cardboard or even leaves to cover the soil in the garden and as this rots, they make fertile dark soil full of beneficial microorganisms to feed the vegetables. These prevent nutrients from being eroded away by wind and rain. Now, as the school uses the cardboard to cover and feed the soil it establishes rich loamy beds full of worms to turn the soil and make it fertile. This cover also suppresses weeds.

Nothing gets thrown away in the permaculture gardening process. The food remains from the college’s kitchen go into the bio-digester and are used to produce gas. This gas then goes back into the kitchen to be used for cooking. Similarly, the bio-digester also produces fertilizer for the garden, thereby maintaining as much energy within the system without increased external inputs. This is the circular economy.

The food remains from the kitchen have embedded energy and associated carbon cost in calculating a detailed carbon footprint and these carbon emissions get accounted for by the college. In order to mitigate these emissions, the establishment of organic permaculture gardens is essential. 

Waterford’s students work the garden on a weekly basis as part of the Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) program. The students learn how the garden works, and they do this under supervision. 

Energy and Education Hub

A Waterford Kamhlaba former student contributed funds to enable the building of an energy monitoring and education centre. The primary focus of the centre is the display of energy usage around the campus, made possible by the installation of monitoring hardware at 13 points around the campus. The centre also serves as a meeting point for staff and students to enable discussions centred around climate change and renewable energy.

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