Blazing drums, lively dancers and jubilant voices marked the official opening of a new training centre which is set to provide vital empowerment training to members of local communities surrounding the Addo Elephant National Park.
The Phuhlisa Training centre, situated in the park's main camp, will provide the venue for training programmes and will serve as an information centre for a diverse group of beneficiaries.
Speaking at the ceremony on May 24, Cecilia Seko, training manager for the Invasive Species Control Unit (ISCU) based in SANParks' Pretoria headquarters, said that training centres were being set up in national parks to provide a service and facility for research, education, training and computer use for ISCU beneficiaries, Park staff and their children as well as surrounding communities.
Park Manager, Norman Johnson, paid tribute to the many hours of planning and development that saw the training centre come to fruition.
"Alien vegetation is one the biggest challenges that our country must tackle," said Johnson, putting the initiative in context and adding that the Working for Water project in the Park had started small in the mid 1990s but was now worth over R5 million.
A message from the Working for Water Programme national office, conveyed at the celebrations, stressed that environmental education is not merely a "nice-to-have" but rather an integral part of the socio-economic development processes required to ensure equality and a better quality of life for all.
It was highlighted that the collective wisdom of citizens, gained through education, would serve as the most compelling and successful strategy for environmental management.
The Addo Elephant National Park ISCU Working for Water project, funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs, currently employs 14 contractors with 168 workers from the Addo, Paterson and Kirkwood communities bordering the Park.
The project targets the invasive alien plants, such as black wattle and jointed cactus, which occur in the Addo Elephant National Park in order to ensure biodiversity is not threatened in the protected area.
Workers are employed for up to two years on the project and receive two days training for every month worked in order to promote skills development and ensure they will be able to source work once they exit the project.