Cruising through Khayelitsha on a canoe

 
 
 

Who goes canoeing through a township? For Siyanda Sopangisa, it’s a natural progression from his days of swimming in Khayelitsha’s wetlands. The waters were an integral part of his childhood. But over time, he watched as the river filled with trash. “The wetlands I knew as a young boy were gone,” Sopangisa says. He didn’t despair. Instead, Sopangisa saw an opportunity. Not only would he restore the river – he’d do it from a boat.

After watching a video on canoeing, Sopangisa knew he wanted to bring the sport to his hometown. With his brother Akhona, he founded the Khayelitsha Canoe Club – the first of its kind in a South African township. But before they could go paddling, they had to clear the wetlands. “It took us close to two years to clean up the debris that people were throwing,” Sopangisa says. They removed everything from tyres to bathtubs. At the same time, they grew their club from just two canoes to 20, inviting children from the community to take to the water. Since 2013, Sopangisa’s initiative has developed into weekly paddling sessions with nearly 40 kids. As they splash through the water, the children remove whatever litter makes its way in.

“These kids are not only learning to paddle but also to protect the environment,” Sopangisa says. They’ve become more aware of the ecosystem, showing their friends and family how to look after the wetlands. “It’s incredible to see these kids come out of their shells and enjoy the outdoors,” Sopangisa says. “There’s so much people can learn from their surroundings.” Thanks to him, kids can do more than admire nature. They can hop in a canoe, and paddle their way to a blooming future.