Moving Forward in South Africa09-14-23 | Department

Moving Forward in South Africa

Kidlinks World, Inc.
by David Watts, ASLA, PLA, Cal Poly San Louis Obispo Associate Professor

Cal Poly, San Louis Obispo, Associate Professor, David Watts and his landscape architecture students have worked over the years with Kidlinks World, Inc. in South Africa to design/build in various spaces including schools.
Students and children also work within the community to develop spaces that are practical and useful. Some of the projects include playground maintenance and vegetable gardens.

The Kidlinks World, Inc. is a charitable non-profit organization founded in 2004 by Liza Lightfoot, who has brought multiple opportunities to Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, Associate Professor, David Watts, ASLA, PLA and the department's landscape architecture students. The charity's work has promoted to cultural understanding and awareness of many socio-economic realities affecting vulnerable children in South Africa today. Watts organized an international service-learning internship for my students and involved with Kidlinks World. The combination of a design/build experience as an opportunity for the students to address social justice and build community capacity for the children and families there. The internship travel lasts approximately for three weeks with 12 or more student participants.

The Kidlinks World projects shared ranging from playgrounds to food gardens to a more recent campground laid out for a community in the Baviaanskloof Valley. Work has taken place in a combination of urban and rural landscapes. One of the first projects was an active nature playground with a food garden that was built for a small-town public school in Kei Mouth. A large tree trunk climber, sandbox, balancing tree branches, a stage, and additional swings that were the most favorite play element. It had a significant impact on children and the students from Cal Poly. The principal from Ikhwili Primary School reported higher enrollment, increased attendance, and better classroom participation because of the design and construction of the playground.
Another internship project was the Ratang Bana Orphanage that supports over 460 children and located in the middle of Alexandra Township just outside Johannesburg. The design/build of the playground and food garden had very limited vernacular resource materials to create and construct a variety of play design elements. The student team brought together musical instruments, physical climbers, swings, and including a seating area for the "grannies" to accomplish the designed children's activities. Over the years, there have been multiple times that student teams have worked there and contributed to the on-going maintenance of the playground and food garden. Feedback from student journal entries have communicated how proud they were of the undertaken projects and their personal achievement of success. Returning home to the States has been evident of how the work in South Africa impacted each of the students.
Since COVID had put an impact on travel it's now exciting to look ahead and bring students back soon to South Africa. We know that Kidlinks and Liza will have some exciting new projects ahead and able to partner together in the future.