21 July 2014 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

FreshStart's Smutsville Recycle Swop Shop

For six- to 16-years-olds in Sedgefield’s Smutsville township, rubbish is currency, thanks to an innovative swop shop that’s empowering young people to help themselves.

Children running with excitement to be first in line at the FreshStart Recycle Swop Shop. Image courtesy of Bomber Webb of The Edge

'Every month at the Smutsville Recycle Swop Shop, we have hundreds of trading opportunities, with children coming in with a total of up to a ton of recyclable material that would otherwise be on the streets and in the landfills in the area. This earns them " mula", or points, that they can swop for a range of items at our shop,' explains project leader Jennifer Tooley.

Initiated in March 2014 and run by not-for-profit organisation  FreshStart Sedgefield, the Smutsville Swop Shop is based on the successful model pioneered in Hermanus in 2003. 'We have 500 children registered as collectors and about 200 children actively trade in a week,' says Jennifer, who has been impressed by the way the community from Sedgefield's Smutsville township has responded to the initiative.

It’s helping children help themselves; it’s changing young people’s mindsets.

The kids are generally proud to show off how much they have collected. Image courtesy of Bomber Webb of The Edge

The rubbish each child brings weekly is weighed, and points, known as ‘ mula’, are given per kilogram of plastic, glass, paper or cans deposited. Each child’s ‘mula’ may either be redeemed the same day or saved until the child has accumulated enough for larger purchases. 'But it is the child’s decision as to how they use it,' explains Jennifer, adding that parents aren’t allowed into the shop.

The children can use their mula to buy things like second-hand clothing, toys, sports equipment, bedding, books, pens and pencils, as well as new stationery items needed for school. 'Our most popular products are toiletries, with children using their mula for toilet soap, facecloths, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorants and toilet paper,' says Jennifer. 'Incomes in this area are low and people don’t realise that many school and personal items we take for granted are actually luxury items for these kids.'

She believes the project works because it’s truly empowering. 'It’s helping children help themselves; it’s changing young people’s mindsets, from ones of entitlement to ones of reward through effort, and it’s good for the environment.'

Local ladies made 100 beanies for the swop shop and the children can't wait for this delivery to be put on the shelves. Image courtesy of Anthony Tooley

While it took about eight months of consensus building and agreement on what was needed and how best to run the project, Jennifer believes that most people are happy with how it’s operating now.

There are 10 volunteers from the Smutsville community who assist at the swop shop sessions. 'We observe the children during each session and those showing real energy and enthusiasm are chosen to become part of an upcycling team, where they are taught skills that will enable them to start earning a living later on in life,' explains Jennifer. The first of these skills-training programmes has begun to teach learners how to use a special loom to produce scarves, beanies and leggings.

As the 'real' value of the reward items in the shop is higher than the value of the materials the children bring in, 'ensuring we have the stock in the recycle swop shop (both second-hand and new goods) to keep the children motivated is one of our biggest challenges', says Jennifer. As a result, gifts and donations are critical to the success of the Smutsville Recycle Swop Shop, and '100% of what is gifted to the project, be it time or goods, goes to the children'.

Children also get to do fun things at the FreshStart Recycle Swop Shop

Jennifer believes that by moving into upcycling, the project will be better able to fund itself, making it more sustainable. 'We have already started the first upcycling project to enable people to start their own businesses and generate income. Eventually, we'd like to see all schools in the greater area have similar programmes, with each town having one or two core upcycling projects.' Materials that they can't currently upcycle are taken to a locally owned recycling company.

Not only are the streets of Smutsville cleaner as a result of the swop shop, but the project is also gradually instilling a sense of pride in the appearance of the township. 'We’re also giving people hope for better futures. We really do care for the children of Smutsville and will go the extra mile for them.'

The shop is located at the Sedgefield Primary School in Smutsville; it operates from 1pm to 5pm every Wednesday during school terms.

Impressive queues of kids lining up with their bags of rubbish. Image courtesy of Bomber Webb of The Edge

I was in Knysna at the invitation of Fine Places (a PR company) in anticipation of the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival (which ran from 3 to 14 July 2014). 

Category: Responsible Tourism

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