28 September 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Recycle Swop Shop

I came across the Recycle Swop Shop a few years ago, when I was staying in the little town of Hermanus (you may recall me mentioning it - this is where the finest land-based sightings of whales in the whole entire world may be found).

There’s a backpacker’s place called Zoete Inval and the woman who runs it, a Canadian called Marilyn van der Velden (as the surname indicates, she married a South African) also started the Recycle Swop Shop.

To make a long story short, she saw the desperate poverty and lack of amenities in the township of Zwelihle. The children had no place to play. There was just the street and everything that flows up and down a street - adults, drunkards, cars, bicycles, dogs.

She also saw the trash lying around - a clear sign of people who have not grown up with beauty around them, and decided to merge the two issues.

The RSS, started in 2003 is a project just for children. They pick up glass and plastic bottles or tins, and on one day a week, they bring it to a specific place. In the case of Hermanus, it was the old airfield’s hangars and command centre that had been saved, and which are now being used as a place for children to hang out in.  There are kids from toddler through late teen, playing with toys or table tennis, pool and so on.

But one day a week, they bring packets of recyclables. These are carefully weighed, and a number written on a piece of paper which they take to the Swop Shop. Here they can ‘buy’ stuff. Balloons, balls, notebooks, toilet paper, toothbrush, clothes, facecloths, coloured pencils.

And afterwards, there is day-old bread from the local shop, slathered in peanut butter and syrup.

For some children it is the first time they have every bought anything of their very own, and the light in their faces will stay with you forever.

And best of all, the idea is spreading. Recycle Swop Shops are opening up all over the country. It’s heartwarming stuff, I tell you.

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