Primary and secondary schools in Namakgale outside Phalaborwa have become the latest learning institutions to venture into the Eco-Schools programme. An international programme to teach environmental awareness, there are about 10,000 Eco-Schools worldwide in 27 countries. The programme encourages the participation of entire communities in sustainable living guidelines.
South Africa joined the Eco-Schools programme in 2003. The Botanical Society, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa fund schools that focus on three biome-related nodes due to their locations. A 'grassland' node is located near Haenertsburg, a 'succulent karoo' node near Calvinia and a 'fynbos' node near Port Elizabeth.
The Palabora Mining Company has provided funds to get the Eco-Schools project underway in the Phalaborwa area. The seven schools registered in the region will form a 'bird' node under the leadership of Joe Peu of BirdLife South Africa.
The schools are provided with a toolkit on registration, which includes a booklet to help plan learning activities around designated international environmental days and other activities such as Birding Big Day.
With a bird focus, the Namakgale learners will enter into activities such as birding trips, starting a feeding area and researching endangered species such as the ground hornbill. Other schools around the country have planted water-wise indigenous gardens and foods, conserved water and energy, become involved in recycling projects and learnt about local conservation activities.
Many of the Eco-Schools represent poor communities that use the natural environment for basics such as food, fuel, building material, medicine or water.