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Tree planting, traveling South Africa, new friends and more

Cassandre from France is doing her Event Coordination Internship with Greenpop, an environmental NGO in Cape Town. The six months internship is part of her masters’ degree in management at the NEOMA Business School in Paris. Her internship organization, Greenpop, runs planting and eco-education projects around southern Africa including environmental festivals. The Hogsback Festival of Trees is one of them. As part of Greenpop’s event team, Cassie spent two weeks working on the festival and exploring South Africa at the same time.

The festival is hosted by Terra-Khaya “Earth Home Project” with Greenpop hosting the tree planting days. It takes place just outside the town of Hogsback. During the festival, the aim is to plant as many trees as possible, rehabilitate wattle-invaded land, expand the habitat of the endangered Cape Parrot and Samango Monkey. Furthermore, it is held to enhance the abundance of life in our threatened forests and adjacent grasslands.

In September, after a few weeks of my Event Internship with Greenpop, I had the chance to be part of the Hogsback Festival of Trees in Terra-Khaya. With two other interns (Maren from the events team and Ruan from the Urban Greening department) and our Tree-E-O and founder, Misha, we spent the most amazing two weeks of my 6-months internship. Greenpop was not organizing the entire festival but our work was to facilitate the tree-planting days on both weekends during these two weeks.

On the Road

Hogsback is 1000 km from Cape Town, so it took our small team a two-day road trip to go there (and two to get back)… An ideal opportunity to explore South Africa! We left Cape Town on Thursday and began our road trip through the Garden Route. On a short stop in Plettenberg Bay, Ruan who is South African, told us more about surfing, waves, and sharks. After and a few hours of driving and singing in our “bakkie” (South African for pick-up truck), we finally arrived at the Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge. This place was really the best backpackers I have ever seen. It had many spots made for you to relax in nature, a big old tree, some waterfalls, and a Mexican dinner.

After a short night, we headed off at 7 am as we still had many kilometers to drive. We passed Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort. At a certain moment, the road began to get smaller and more winding, and we drove between huge mountains with a stunning sunset. Finally arrived in Hogsback, we quickly understood why this place was so reputed around South Africa. It was a magical place nestled quaintly in the mountains. I think you couldn’t feel any more peaceful than here.

Planting Days with the Students

During the first weekend, we hosted our first planting day with students from different schools. Our job was to facilitate the planting, make sure that the kids are okay, help them if necessary and do quality checks…

40 volunteers and 600 trees: we reached our goal by 1:00 pm! After some rest, we spent time with the students. They were very interested in learning about our way of life in Europe. Different from our office in Cape Town, we were only two foreigners at the festival. Maren and I felt very immersed in the festival vibe with only South Africans around us. On Sunday, we left for an 8 km hike around the festival site to stunning waterfalls.

A diverse Week

Our work during the week was quite different: a part of the volunteer’s team was preparing the next planting day (place all the trees, quality check the trees before planting them, prepare the tools) while Maren and I were picking up on the usual office work we had left in Cape Town. My office work mainly consists of scheduling school talks which promote Greenpop’s work and various festivals. Additionally, I’m doing research on possible faculty trips: build the program and find sponsors and relevant contacts.

During the week, we also spent 2 days in Grahamstown, hosting some school talks with Misha. These talks are dedicated to informing local students about how to be, what we call, an Active Citizen. Greenpop believes in getting active, not anxious about the future of our planet. They believe that positivity and action are the best ways to motivate change – big or small.

Become an Active Citizen with Greenpop and have a look at their various internship opportunities!

It was really interesting to learn more about Misha’s personal story with Greenpop and to spend time with the students. Furthermore, it was exciting to visit Grahamstown, a city which is really different from Cape Town which is way more developed, westernized and full of tourists. Grahamstown on the other hand, has damaged roads and houses, cows in the streets and no big buildings.

Back in Hogsback, we were glad to be united with our team again. Even if we had only been away for 48 hours, we missed spending time with them. It is crazy how we bonded so quickly with people that we didn’t know a week before. We became close friends and spent so many good times; drinking beers around the fireplace, playing drums and trying to form a new band (not a real success).

The last Weekend

On the last weekend, we hosted the second planting day. After having planted countless trees we were experts in teaching people how to plant a tree correctly…Goal reached by 2:00 pm. 1 400 trees were in the ground, which meant we had planted 2000 trees over the whole festival! “Unfortunately”, this amount made Misha win the bet we did on the road a few days ago when each of us was guessing how many trees we would plant. While I was betting on 500 trees, we all said he was crazy to think we could plant 2000 trees within just two planting days. However, he was finally right and we can be proud of this achievement.

The last night came too soon. However, it was such an amazing night, with lots of music and Misha as a DJ. On our last day, we went for a hike to the “Secret Waterfall” which was the most stunning place I have ever seen in my entire life. We were just on the Edge, overlooking a huge valley, and felt so impressed by this small part of our amazing world.

After almost two weeks we made our way back to Cape Town. Luckily our journey wasn’t over yet as we were spending a night in stunning Wilderness to get some rest before the last part of the road.

A life-changing experience

This experience has been extremely meaningful to me. Firstly, spending 2 weeks with just South Africans helped me to feel way more comfortable in Cape Town afterward: I’m not feeling like a tourist anymore. Additionally, I met so many beautiful people, with who we’re still sharing our lives on WhatsApp and who are visiting us as much as they can. As an event team, we also had the opportunity to see different sides of the Hogsback festival. We weren’t the actual organizers but we have spent most our time with the Terra-Khaya volunteers (the backpackers place hosting the festival) to help them with a smooth execution of the festival. In return, they helped us during the planting days. This experience changed my life in South Africa and I’m really glad to have been part of it as an Event Coordination Intern with Greenpop.

Interested in doing an Event Coordination Internship as well? Check out our different ones!

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