Denisha Anand is an active player in the transformation of the environmental education and conservation ecosystem through her work as an educator, researcher, postgraduate student, and now, manager of a biodiversity agreement site at the Princess Vlei Wetlands in the heart of the Cape Flats.
Her groundbreaking socio-environmental practice takes a radical people-centred approach to conservation, especially in the context of the community’s economic disadvantages, fostering a reconnection between the people and their natural environment. With the belief that the rehabilitation of natural spaces can do wonders for a community, she has strived to create safe spaces in which people can coexist with both nature and each other.
This strongly held belief stems from a key experience that Anand had while serving as an environmental educator in Lavender Hill, an area mostly made of concrete, with little plant life occurring naturally.
In her words, she “witnessed first-hand how, regardless of the socioeconomic environment that the learners grew up in, there was a very obvious, innate connection to the natural world that could be brought to the forefront through environmental awareness and practice.”
It struck her that no matter how geographically distant people were from nature, there would always be a deep affinity for the environment to be found within. This epiphany led her to reframe the way in which she thought about conservation, especially in disadvantaged communities, which many have sidelined as lost causes in terms of biodiversity.
“I realised that a connection to nature is something we’re all born with. Although our socioeconomic status may have an impact on how available natural spaces are to us, if we are given the opportunity to reengage communities with these spaces by increasing accessibility and using methods that foster reconnection and custodianship, we can truly create socio-ecological webs that will preserve and conserve biodiversity for years to come,” she says.
Anand has since founded the Princess Vlei Guardians project, working with local schools to encourage the youth to rekindle their relationship with the natural world through conservation and art initiatives. Ultimately, through her work Anand is teaching a new generation a way to not only take responsibility for nature but also to reframe the way they see themselves. — Cayleigh Bright