Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Partnership with the Sustainable Seas Trust by Mike Vilimek and Julie Cook

When I first embarked on my internship as a Marine Biologist in South Africa with the NGO the Sustainable Seas Trust, I was hoping to find a magical piece of paradise by the coast where I could work and be surrounded by amazing people. I finally found my paradise when I landed in Hamburg, and encountered those amazing people as I met the community members and those wonderful folks working with the Keiskamma Trust. Though working for an environmental conservation organization and not directly with the Trust, another Canadian colleague (Julie Cook) and I were immediately accepted with open arms by the Trust, which is truly integrated and involved in every part of the community, from health to education and art, and even to my NGO’s domain, the natural environment and its conservation. My role whilst in Hamburg was to try and assess the utilization and dependence upon the shellfish resources by the community. During my stay, the Trust provided me with invaluable assistance and shared freely in their experiences and knowledge of the people and the region, accumulated over 10 years of working alongside community members and striving to uplift those in dire circumstances. We were also given the opportunity to share our knowledge and experiences, and one of my most cherished moments during my six months in South Africa was interacting with the children while we gave a presentation at the after-care program at the primary school in Hamburg, and seeing the pride in their eyes as they told me “Hamburg is beautiful!” and took pledges to keep it so in the future.

I was often amazed over the 2 months that I lived in Hamburg at how much was taking place within this little, hard-to-reach community, from current and future development of the town centre, to the wide-ranging and exciting initiatives that are currently run by the Trust. These things could only happen thanks to the passion and dedication of the members of the Keiskamma Trust. Another of my fondest memories of South Africa was participating in the Capoeira classes. I can remember being very intimidated at first by the intensity and high skill level of the capoeiristas, as they were clearly passionate about what they do, and felt even more intimidation after I learned that most of them have been doing it for nearly 10 years! But I could not have been more wrong, their kindness shining through once you looked beyond those tough-looking exteriors, and I could not have asked for better friends during my stay in Hamburg.

Given the positive nature of many in Hamburg and the beautiful surroundings, it is often easy to forget that many people in the town and the surrounding areas live with high unemployment, little income and face a whole host of other challenges on a daily basis. The Trust and its members work extremely hard to help to sustain the community, but they face a lot of challenges as well. Working for a NGO for six months, I learned that one can never have too many resources at your disposal, and often it’s a lack of resources that’s the rule rather than the exception, and many good projects suffer for that lack. I would encourage anyone reading this to lend a helping hand in any way they can, whether it is through donating time or resources to the Keiskamma Trust, or helping to spread news of the good work they do. The people there are truly exceptional and I witnessed first-hand the positive impacts of their programmes within the community. I plan to return to Hamburg when I am finished with my studies and I assure you that you would have the experience of a lifetime spending several months there!


Michael Vilimek

(Intern for the Sustainable Seas Trust and Master of Science, Candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada)

During her stay, Julie Cook (Community Education Officer) did the following Blog:

Mundo of Julie

Sustainable Seas Trust's website: