Transforming schools to be more holistic
Janna Kretzmar is set on transforming disadvantaged schools with holistic education. The Earth Child Project works with 3500 learners in eight underprivileged schools in the Western Cape. The project uses yoga, meditation, organic vegetable gardens, worm farms and hiking in nature to teach the children how to live in healthy relationship with themselves and the planet. “I believe that more than just academic education is needed to support children to be happy, healthy, successful human beings,” Janna notes. Through meaningful, long-term collaborations with other organisations, Janna hopes to spread the concept of changemaking to the children themselves. The aim is to “inspire a new generation of healthy, confident and conscious young leaders”.
After traveling and working on an ecovillage in South America for a year, Janna Kretzmar arrived back in Cape Town at the beginning of 2006 with her heart set on one thing: to find a way to transform our schools.
Her subsequent experience volunteering at an underprivileged primary school in Cape Town taught her valuable lessons, chiefly the importance of sustainability. “I saw many NGOs come in to do workshops at the school that year, but when they left, the overworked teachers didn’t have the capacity to implement what was learnt,” Janna explains. “I realised that the key to success was to have a long-term plan and a dedicated facilitator to work with the school.”
The following year she found a volunteer from within the community to pioneer this concept, and her efforts attracted the attention and sponsorship of the Earthchild clothing brand, which gave the project its name.
“I looked around and saw all the challenges and problems we were facing in South Africa and globally, and I really wanted to get to the root causes,” Janna reveals. The cause that she discovered was disconnection. “We’ve lost connection to ourselves, to each other, and to the earth.” Janna wanted to offer children practical tools to reconnect. “As a species, we have the capacity to live in a more balanced, peaceful and harmonious way with each other and with the natural world. If we can support children to connect these things, then they will be better able to care for and protect them.”
The Earthchild Project offers holistic education to complement the school curriculum. They use yoga, meditation, organic vegetable gardens, worm farms and hiking in nature to teach the children how to live in healthy relationship with themselves and the planet. They also run after-school eco-clubs and holiday camps to supplement the learning.
“I believe that more than just academic education is needed to support children to be happy, healthy, successful human beings and changemakers,” Janna notes. “Children need to learn to take care of their bodies, hearts and minds, plus their community, plus their environment. This is what the Earthchild Project aims to teach.”
Part of the fulltime facilitators’ job is to partner with organisations who are already experts in their particular areas, and to continue with the lessons learned from these partnerships. For example, a partnership with an international creative agency resulted in facilitators not only being trained in creative teaching methodologies, but being trained as trainers, to teach others how to do the same. “This creates sustainable change that will benefit future generations of learners,” Janna reveals. Collaborations with other organisations help with everything from training to fundraising to creating ambassadors for the cause.
Perhaps the most important partnerships are with the schools themselves. The teachers and principals grow to see the Earthchild Project as an integral part of the children’s education, as proven when they were the only outside project invited back to the schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The school recognised the physical, emotional and psychological benefits of the programme that the children needed to cope with the pressure of the situation,” Janna explains.
The Earth Child Project currently has fourteen fulltime staff members working with 3500 learners in eight underprivileged schools in the Western Cape.
Graduates demonstrate that the project prevents school dropouts, drug use and teen pregnancy.
“The children learn to value their bodies and their lives, so they turn away from harmful behaviour towards wellbeing,” Janna asserts.
The sustainability of Janna’s vision is evident in the Earthchild Project’s Alumni High School Leadership Training Programme, an organic extension of the project that grew when graduates of the project came back wanting to continue their involvement, and to give back to younger generations.
“It’s an incredibly inspiring addition to our team and to our programmes over the past few years,” Janna reflects. “We had to respond to these incredible young leaders coming back wanting more.” Some of the children who started yoga classes when they were six years old are now young leaders working at the Earthchild Project.
Dreams of a Changemaker
In the true spirit of a team player, Janna modestly attributes the success of the Earthchild Project to the staff. “They are the ones who are working and building every day to achieve positive change on the ground,” she points out. But knowing that she spearheaded such a meaningful project is gratifying. “Seeing the positive feedback from the project is so rewarding,” Janna confides. “It energises, drives and inspires me to do more.”
Her greatest dream is to spread the concept of changemaking to the children themselves. “The Earthchild Project aims to inspire a new generation of healthy, confident and conscious young leaders,” Janna says proudly. And what could be more powerful than that?
GET IN TOUCH WITH THIS CHANGEMAKER
“It’s easier than you think to make small changes. And those small changes can grow and grow and grow and create something really incredible!”