Tracy Whitehead is a second year volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium – someone we have discovered is a real environmental changemaker. Tracy has been inspired to reduce and eliminate disposable plastic from her life and is actively encouraging others to do the same.
Enter the Put Foot Rally, an annual roadtrip spanning thousands of kilometres across Southern Africa. This month-long journey is about having ridiculous amounts of fun and doing good in the process – delivering school shoes to impoverished children who in most cases, have never owned a new pair of shoes, or any new item of clothing for that matter.
This intense journey covered 9 400km, and spanned countries. 140 teams started, but 114 teams finished. Tracy was a member of one of these teams, and this was her experience.
My plastic-free journey
I recently ventured off into Africa with the Put Foot Rally and I have to admit, this was a huge experience. Along the way we explored, adventured, partied, absorbed and experienced… and I came back changed through all of this.
The trip took us from Cape Town, to Namibia - inland then out to the coast, back inland to Etosha and then across into Botswana. A night spent sleeping under the stars in a salt pan, up to Zambia and Livingstone for a couple of days, all the way east through Zambia to Malawi and finally on to Lake Malawi for the finish. Making our way home we went back through Zambia, down into Zimbabwe and spent the most amazing 24 hours doing a ferry crossing down Lake Kariba. Then off to Hwange Game Reserve, back into Botswana and slowly south back home. About 9 400km in just a month. An amazing journey.
My personal goal for the Rally was to go plastic-free - a tough challenge, as the event itself and some of the guest camps were still making use of disposable plastics. I told myself - this is going to change!
EcoBricks on the road
Along the route, I tried to turn as much of the unavoidable waste into Ecobricks as possible - a skill passed on to me by Hayley McLellan at the Two Oceans Aquarium. This turned into a fun challenge – three day's waste from two people squeezed into an Ecobrick made from a discarded Steri Stumpie bottle.
I was amazed at how low-impact these EcoBricks are; this got me motivated to try to encourage everyone else to do the same. I have no idea how many I reached, but I’m glad about the few people I was able to encourage to pick up this habit.
The type of person who enters the Rally is generally conscious of their surroundings and those they share it with, so this should be they type of action that will appeal to them. I plan on tackling this challenge and inspiring change at future Put Foot Rallies.
Plarn from plastic bags
In Malawi, I met a group of ladies making crochet items out of old T-shirts and realised they were the perfect group to work with plastic. Sadly this beautiful area, Cape McClear, was showing signs of plastic pollution - everything seems to be sold in thin blue plastic bags. These were on the streets and in the water of the lake.
I sat with these ladies and tried to explain, which proved tough as no-one spoke English, but with a few old shopping bags, scissors and a bunch of crochet hooks, we understood each other by example and I left them happily planning – or should I say “plarning”. I left my original "bag bag" with them as a guide, much to their delight, and I hope to visit again next time and see their progress – they are far more skilled than I could hope to be with a crochet hook.
While chatting to them, bags blew down the street and I sent the small kids who were gathered around, to go off and collect them. I could see then that it dawned on them what we can achieve. It was a very special day.
My Put Foot Rally experience
Throughout the trip I was faced with the dichotomy of beautiful nature, and terrible pollution. The landscapes of Botswana were the most tarnished by plastic pollution, and ignorance about the dangers it poses was immense - I was laughed at a couple of times for turning down a plastic bag in stores.
The towns and roads of Zambia were mostly amazingly clean, as was Malawi – beautiful landscapes and villages, with only a few exceptions. Generally I was pleasantly surprised.
On top of my plastic-free journey, the time spent with the local children and presenting them with new shoes, the main cause of the Put Foot Rally, became an absolutely emotional experience for me.
The people of Africa are amazing and I was humbled to be there. I met so many beautiful locals and the kids are just so special.
At the beginning of this incredible experience the Rally organiser, Daryn, said that this would make a lasting impact on us that could not be explained or described - who would have believed that? I now know this first hand. Very special indeed. I have entered again for 2019!
Thank you Hayley and Rethink the Bag for your encouragement and making me aware of the issues facing our environment!
Follow Tracy's footsteps
The Two Oceans Aquarium has several active campaigns targeting the most harmful disposable items that affect our environment and oceans. Most notably, our flagship campaign, Rethink the Bag, is currently empowering communities to say "no" to single-use shopping bags, and change to economically and environmentally sustainable reusable options.
If you want to know how to live a completely plastic-free life, or just want some tips on how to reduce your footprint, the Two Oceans Aquarium's blog has information about everything, from green living tips, making EcoBricks and reusable alternatives to plastic items to sustainable gifts and beach cleanups.
To take part in the next Put Foot Rally, or support the Put Foot Foundation in raising funds for their cause, please look up their website for details.