A system built by people

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 This past winter two engineering students, Shalli Mbwette and John Twesige, chose to spend their required six-week academic internship at the Institute. Their task was to develop a working manual that captures and maps all the systems (energy, water, waste collection, wastewater and storm water) and all other technical information for these systems in the Lynedoch Eco-Village.

They did a tremendous job and the outcome will assist the Institute and village to keep capturing the valuable knowledge of our unique working environment. It was such a pleasure to have them with us and to get to know them better. They share their experiences with us.

Shalli’s story:

The SI, Sustainability Institute. A name I heard my colleague from the SI mention often while in Algeria. Too good to be true, only some of his words settled. But anxious not to be at home that summer, I was ready to take in some of those words and see for myself. Every time I would ask him what the SI was, it seemed as if he was saying a lot of things that don’t quite fit in one box. Sustainable systems, kids, amazing people, academics, wine farms, farmers. How can those things fit in one place?

Ultimately came the time to experience the SI – July 29th, 2018. I arrived in Stellenbosch for my internship with the Sustainability Institute. The internship was to last for six weeks. An enthusiastic SI staff member, Brad, came to pick me up at the airport. The man that would later be a colleague, a friend, a big brother – family. He arrived with his wife; this should have been my first alert of what the SI was about, but clueless, I didn’t pick it up. My SI colleague I met in Algeria, Phumlani, was there to welcome me to my new home with groceries and wine, which should have been my second alert of what the SI was about – giving and caring.

The next morning, I was taken on an overwhelming tour of the Institute; this should have been my third alert of what the SI is – overwhelming. I met my supervisor, Faan Swiegers, a humble and honest living-with-nature type of guy he seemed. Not yet knowing the amazing jokes that the future three musketeers (me, Faan and John, the other intern) will live to tell, I met him at his favourite place in the world, the Biolytix system. The place scared me a little, I was so used to theory in the past months, that being exposed to a first-hand practical system, gave me the jitters. This should have been my fourth alert of what the SI is about – practical sustainability.

At the SI our main role was to translate Faan’s understanding and practices into a technical manual and guide. In a more elaborate language, as interns we were tasked with mapping the water, waste and energy systems using Auto CAD, creating a technical manual and tour guide manual to assist the staff when taking visitors through the different systems at the SI. In the first week with Faan, he spoke a lot about the water systems, but as an energy expert, I wasn’t quite sure where I would be of help. So, I kept referring to John, who was arriving just a week later. Later I came to learn that not everything learnt in a classroom makes you an expert, something I knew theoretically.  This should have been my fifth alert of what the SI is about – building expertise.

This was also very evident from the different staff members coming from different backgrounds, whose lives were transformed by the expertise learned. One that was very inspiring was Mr. Mavesto, who came from challenging circumstances and now experiences joy and purpose through his work. You could see this from the cleanliness and vibrancy of the recycling centre he started or as he walked from office to office and house to house collecting and sorting waste with Tanzanian musician Diamond’s music playing loud on his phone as he walked past with his assistant from Malawi, Saidi.  This should have been my sixth alert of what the SI is about – diversity.

See all the alerts I have shared are to help capture my stay, give you a glimpse of what the SI was and is for me; SI is family, giving, caring, loving, community, practical sustainability, sustainable systems, building expertise, diversity and much more. All in one box! The big picture of the SI is an international living and learning centre for sustainability and sustainable development. A closer look reveals that it’s the different communities and spirits that make it the Sustainability Institute. I believe we need more places like the SI throughout the African continent, to bridge the gender, economic and social gap. And, thus, lead to a more sustainable Africa for now and future generations.


My host Lydia’s daughter was always curious to help!

John (left) and Phumlani (right).

John’s story:

I am John Twesige, a Ugandan by nationality and student of MSc in Water Science Management and Policy at Pan African University of Water and Energy Sciences (PAUWES) Tlemcen, Algeria. As a water expert, my main focus is water governance, water resource management and water scarcity hitches. My goal is to contribute to the collective effort of providing science-driven solutions and making sure every drop of water is utilised fully and efficiently, as this will minimise wastage and preserve the ecosystems vital for water resources protection.

I came to The Sustainability Institute for a six-week internship requirement for our study program. As interns we were tasked with developing a working manual that captures all the systems (energy, water, waste collection, wastewater and storm water) and all other technical information for these systems in the Lynedoch Eco-Village. This documentation helped in profiling the required information for record keeping and providing technical solutions for workers and experts who desire to develop the same systems in other areas. The internship enriched my knowledge and skills, as I observed, assessed and drafted technically grounded solutions that are sustainable and cost effective in the long run. As improvements or alterations are made in future, the manual can easily be updated.

My experience at the Sustainability Institute was filled with knowledge expansion, adventuring, building strong connections and making new friendships away from the classroom environment. Therefore, I urge that living sustainably should be at the top of our ‘to-do list’ when it comes to living in a more environmentally and eco-friendly way on the earth.  Fortunately, Lynedoch Eco-Village has sustainable systems that give hope for the future in maintaining an eco-balance without resource depletion. These stretch across energy, water, waste collection and recycling, wastewater, indigenous food gardens, and many other sustainable initiatives. My recommendation to people is that every entity should be involved in this world’s most dynamic science initiatives, which create sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, and healthier life for people everywhere.

Besides the internship, I had such wonderful and memorable experiences during my stay in Stellenbosch, like site seeing in Pringle Bay, the City Sightseeing Tour, the Zeitz Mocca Museum, the Two Oceans Aquarium and the V&A Waterfront. Without forgetting the famous trademark of Stellenbosch, characterised by different wines and traditional wine routes spanning from 1700. It was hard to believe that there were any other local drinks apart from the wine cultivated on the vast wine farms in the area. Cape Town as a city is different from other cities I know, and I loved it. I loved the culture, the people, and the ancient art of some structures in the city, not forgetting the informal settlements (townships).

This place has been stunning, and it created a feeling in me like a home far away from home.

John, Thabo, Shalli and Faan at Thabo’s house. Thabo assists Faan with maintaining the village systems.