Elne van Coller, second runner-up for Miss Earth, spent the whole of Thursday last week behaving more like a farmer than a beauty pageant contestant. Van Coller was carrying sand and performing other duties at Joe Solomon Primary school with Grade 3 learners teaching them how to make a vegetable garden. Van Coller says that after she was announced as Miss Earth’s second runner-up earlier this year, Nedbank gave her a vegetable plant nursery as a gift. Considering that she has been working at Joe Solomon earlier this year on other environmental projects, one of which included planting a tree for Arbour Week, she thought it best to donate her nursery to the school.
As she bends over to reach for a handful of sand, a Grade 3 learner helps her by holding the sand bag firmly where the sand is poured in. Looking at how well the children cooperate with her, it’s very hard to miss the bond she has with the children. There is much excitement, playfulness and laughter abuzz among the working and learning children. Just as the children get too noisy and are about to get carried away with mischief, Van Coller, with her gentle voice, calls them to refocus on the task of the day. Some hold the sandbags while others pour in the sand, whereafter other learners then take these sandbags with a wheelbarrow to the plant nursery for watering. It is a scorching day, which doesn’t make the work easier for Van Coller and her dedicated team of planters. However, the adage “many hands make light work” is proven to be true as the second group of Grade 3 learners come to relieve those who came to work previously. Van Coller explains that as the Grade 3 class is quite large, she has grouped them in groups of five, with each group helping for only 30 minutes before the next group comes to help.
The school already has a garden with vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, butternut and onions. These vegetables will be part of the school’s feeding scheme as the school provides its learners with food in the morning. However, Van Coller’s contribution to the school is significant because the plant nursery which she has donated will help keep birds out and not feed on the sprouting crops. In addition to this, she is also teaching the children how to prepare the sand, how to water the sand buckets and also how to plant the seeds into the sand so that they grow well. Van Coller says she hopes that this year’s learners will teach next year’s learners to do the same so that this becomes a ritual for the school. She also adds how encouraging it is for her to have the children ask her if they can take home some of the seeds to plant them in their own yards as they are performing this task. The Miss Earth participant says she is confident that with the skills she has passed on, they will plant seeds that grow at their homes. Van Coller says she decided to plant spinach because it is so easy to plant – not forgetting it’s delicious and its nutritious qualities are needed by growing children.
Adding that she has always been shy and wanted to break out of her shell when she entered the Miss Earth pageant, it was because she was passionate about conserving the environment and also wanted to use it as a platform to change the lives of others as she had always wanted to. Looking at her, with her bubbly demeanour, it’s hard to believe that she considers herself as a shy girl. The Miss Earth South Africa is a programme that aims to empower young South African women with the knowledge and platform to create a sustainable difference in our plight to combat the destruction of our natural heritage. The programme focuses on development, animals, climate change awareness, greening (planting of trees) and community development. Van Coller, whose eyes sparkle with joy and pride when she mentions Miss Earth, says she will be looking after the nursery plant at Joe Solomon for years to come, even after her term as Miss Earth’s runner-up has ended. It’s clear it was the right decision when she was chosen, as this is a cause she is passionate about and is willing to work hard for. – Pulane Choane