Laerskool Kempton Park scoops top project award

Laerskool Kempton Park (LKP) in Ekurhuleni, has just been awarded the Tanzanite Award in the 2019 GDE Service Excellence Awards - sub-category: Best Project - for their innovative INMED AquaponicsTM system and sensory garden.

Laerskool Kempton Park (LKP), a full-service primary school in Kempton Park in Ekurhuleni, has just been awarded the Tanzanite Award in the 2019 GDE Service Excellence Awards – sub-category: Best Project – for their innovative INMED AquaponicsTM system and sensory garden.

Adoree Louw, Project Manager at the school says she is over the moon that the project has received this prestigious recognition. “Our school serves a community characterised by challenging socio-economic circumstances. Two years ago we realised we needed to find a better, more sustainable solution to feed our learners.” LKP is a full-service school incorporating learners with special educational needs into mainstream education. “Many of our learners rely on the school for their only hot nutritious meal of the day,” Louw adds. “Our learners simply did not have the funds for this and neither did the school qualify for Departmental funding for the feeding programme.”

Ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking was required. Louw says it was at that point they spoke to Air Products, who had already sponsored a small play area for LKP learners. “They introduced us to the INMED South Africa team, who showed us how aquaponics could work in the school environment,” says Louw.

“The synergy was good for LKP, as the school was also keen to introduce aquaponics as a technical subject for learners expanding on adaptive agriculture.”

Aquaponics is an innovative food production technique that combines aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (soilless crop production in water) in a closed symbiotic system. It produces at least 10 times more harvests year-round than traditional farming in the same space, uses 90% less water, requires no chemical fertilizers or pesticides and is attractive to youth who face staggering unemployment rates and have become disillusioned with farming.

INMED has developed a simplified, modular system that can be tailored to any space constraints and adapted to the needs of individuals with disabilities.

The team at Laerskool Kempton Park (L-R): Principal André Page, Philemon Mothua and Adoreé Louw.

“This outstanding project at Kempton Park is a prime example of how aquaponics can address the intertwined issues of food security, malnutrition, climate-change adaptation and skills development for sustainable incomes,” notes Dr. Linda Pfeiffer, founder and CEO of INMED Partnerships for Children, an international NGO that has pioneered the use of school-based aquaponics to improve the nutrition and food security of children in disadvantaged communities in South Africa for more than 10 years. “We are so grateful to Air Products, who has championed INMED Aquaponics in South Africa from the very beginning.”

Following the announcement, Arthi Govender, Chairperson of the corporate social investment (CSI) Committee at Air Products commented: “We are extremely proud of Laerskool Kempton Park, and in particular Mr Page and Ms Louw who have embraced the aquaponics system with enthusiasm. The award is testimony to the commitment to the project – it is definitely one of the greatest success stories as far as our beneficiaries are concerned. Our focus at Air Products is on the youth and education and this project addresses these objectives. It is heartwarming to see the recognition for a project where we are involved.”

Laerskool Kempton Park is the third school where INMED South Africa and Air Products have implemented aquaponics programmes. Launched in 2017, the LKP project includes teacher and cafeteria worker training, classroom education and technical assistance. The system at LKP is a custom size tailored to the school grounds consisting of three fish tanks and five grow beds.

The grow beds were designed with special flooring to allow wheelchair-dependent students to easily participate in the planting and harvesting activities, as well as the care and feeding of the fish. A special addition to the project was the sensory garden—featuring a barefoot walking path of various textures, water and sound walls, fragrant fruit trees and vines, brightly coloured plants and garden toys. It has become a particularly effective teaching tool and therapeutic resource for students with disabilities. INMED South Africa was responsible for the construction and establishment of the infrastructure and Air Products provided much-needed capital.

(L-R): Robert Richardson – Managing Director of Air Products South Africa (Pty) Ltd, André Page – Principal of Laerskool Kempton Park, Unathi Sihlahla – INMED South Africa Programmes Director and Arthi Govender – General Manager: Marketing and Communications Air Products.

Louw says over the last two years they have managed to produce vegetables all year, and the project is operated with the assistance of learners from the school. A new addition to the project is the introduction of catfish (barbel) into the system. The fish are currently being harvested for the school’s feeding scheme with excess donated to families in need. The school is also selling fish and vegetables to the local community.

“This is such a positive way to give the learners invaluable practical experience in the production of food, as well as how it can generate income and help the community. It is a truly win-win situation,” says Louw. The full-service learners also benefit from activities involving the aquaponics system to explain curriculum outcomes on a practical level, while the sensory garden provides sensory stimulation for the sensory-deprived learners. “We are so proud that the school has also got to a point where it can manage and run the programme independently, which is really our ultimate aim.”

Says Janet Ogilvie, Operations Manager for INMED South Africa: “We have introduced a system to grow food which is quick, energy efficient, environmentally friendly and chemical free. It has also planted the seeds in the minds of this community and these learners showing them how this same system can be adapted and replicated on a small scale at home.”