Local Heroes 2022: Classroom of sand dunes and swells for young beach enthusiasts
“Be the change you want to see in the world” — Mahatma Gandhi
This is the mantra that 2022 Local Hero winner Dean Knox lives by.
Knox, 44, has dedicated his life and business to teaching tomorrow’s local leaders to love the ocean and protect the rich coastal lifeline that borders the bustling Buffalo City.
“The greatest contribution you can make when working with people is to come with a positive attitude and positive energy — it’s infectious,” Knox said.
On Nahoon Beach scores of young schoolchildren have been involved in environmental programmes run by Knox’s eco-adventure and environmental organisation Jonginenge.
“The idea was to get kids learning in the outdoors and engaging with their natural surroundings in the hope that if they can enjoy themselves outdoors, they recognise the value of their environment and treat it more responsibly,” he said.
Knox studied teaching at East London’s former Rhodes University campus and would study during the semesters and spend the holidays as a lifeguard at Nahoon Beach.
“An appreciation of the environment was instilled in me by my family,” he said.
“I spent lots of time on the beaches and estuaries of the Wild Coast where I grew up.
“Teaching and adventure have been a part of me all my life so I worked together to mix those skills and create an environmental and educational service for children.”
The seed for Jonginenge was sown in 2005 when Knox, a teacher at Hudson Park, was allowed the opportunity to pilot the project while still teaching grade 6 pupils.
“The aim was to engage children with the environment in a positive way and instil the same appreciation I was fortunate enough to enjoy at the same age.”
The project set up offices at the East London Surf Lifesaving Club at Nahoon Beach where Knox said he was “already part of the furniture”, having served 12 seasons as a lifeguard since he started in 1989.
“In 2006, schools started contacting me and I made the decision to accept all the inquiries and ride that wave and see where it lead — and 17 years later we are still going strong.” he said.
Jonginenge employs 10 people, some of whom were taught by Knox, who share a love for the ocean and have the skills to facilitate and guide groups of beach learners. A young surfer involved in the Jonginenge outreach programme, Akron Sevelaphi, said he had learnt a great deal about the ocean.
We keep the ocean clean and it’s great to see the beach when there are no plastics and litter lying around. I’m pretty sure the fish are happy as well when they have the ocean with no plastics because if they eat the plastic, they will die.
Sevelaphi said: “We keep the ocean clean and it’s great to see the beach when there are no plastics and litter lying around. I’m pretty sure the fish are happy as well when they have the ocean with no plastics because if they eat the plastic, they will die.”
The Township Surf Project started in 2014 to teach children from the Nompumelelo township how to surf once a week.
“We try to be consistent so these kids can experience a meaningful change in their life and acquire swimming and surfing skills and become competent watermen.”
The programme runs on either a Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather, and the youths are taught to swim in the Nahoon River or play soccer on the beach before a meal and transport home.
“We brought 20 children down to the beach from our Nomphumelelo Beach Project with their boogie boards and taught them how to swim and surf in the shallows.
“Since 2015 we have run the project out of the income from our business. We try to make a meaningful impact for a few children and have just taken in a new group of eight- to 10-year-olds this year.
“In total, we have 13. We want to give the children a positive experience down at the beach.”
Knox was also one of the leading voices to speak out against the planned seismic blasting off the Wild Coast by oil giant Shell last December.
“I wanted to light the spark. You can’t stand back and wait for someone else to take action when something like that rolls along and threatens to flatten the environment of our coast.
“I believe in letting people know why it’s wrong.”
He was the first speaker at a small gathering of protesters at Nahoon Reef which snowballed into a global protest. He famously held up his surfboard with the words “Save the Wild Coast” painted in red across it.
“That morning I woke up and thought ‘I can do this battle’. I took my board and ran from the beach to the reef and arrived just in time to speak to the local gathering.”
Knox’s powerful speech was shared on social media in a video created by East London’s international deaf swimming champion Mark Roach, titled Save the Wild Coast, which racked up 79,841 views on YouTube.
Our planet has two lungs, one is green and one is blue. If there is one thing you need to stand up for in your lifetime, it is the Wild Coast.
Addressing a crowd of protesters close to Mermaid’s Pool parking lot, Knox had said: “Everything you see is protected. We can grow the groundswell of outrage that can be heard by the ministers.
“Our planet has two lungs, one is green and one is blue. If there is one thing you need to stand up for in your lifetime, it is the Wild Coast.”
Knox reflected on the event which ended with a mass protest across the South African coastline and an interim judgment from Eastern Cape judge Gerald Bloem in December which interdicted Shell from blasting on the Wild Coast.
It was a huge victory that set up a series of judgments against seismic blasting off the SA coast.
Knox said it was a demonstration of the power of social media for positive change to mobilise people to come together for a larger cause.
“Nahoon itself is pretty special. If you stand on the beach and look into the ocean, and if you look at the bush and the ocean, it is all protected.”
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