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Monday, 28 June 2021

PhD graduand’s project makes a difference in community

INNOVATION: At Beleaf Aquaponics which is based at Belhar Community Centre, teachers are taught how to integrate the curriculum for Early Child Development (ECD) into their syllabus. INNOVATION: At Beleaf Aquaponics which is based at Belhar Community Centre, teachers are taught how to integrate the curriculum for Early Child Development (ECD) into their syllabus.

Department of Mechanical Engineering Senior Lecturer, Fareed Ismail, who will be graduating graduate with PhD in Mechanical Engineering during Smart Graduation on 29 June, has established the Beleaf Aquaponics project, which is making a difference in a Belhar community.

Ismail’s research is titled: It focused on how South Africa could reduce its dependency on a coal-powered industry, improve outdated agricultural methods, reduce poverty and create awareness of the use of renewable energy amongst low-income communities. He’s developed teaching materials for local teachers.

Ismail, who grew up in a low-income family in Grassy Park says at Beleaf Aquaponics which is based at Belhar Community Centre, teachers are taught how to integrate the curriculum for Early Child Development (ECD) into their syllabus. This pilot project spans across multiple disciplines such as renewable energy, new farming methods (aquaponics), education and training of community members and ECD. The project won the regional and national governmental awards for the most outstanding ECD programme in SA.    

About 125 toddlers are taught how to germinate seeds, plant seedlings and even how to harvest from the produce.  “The most outstanding feedback I got from the teachers was that after the toddlers come back from feeding the fish in the aquaponics system, they are much more relaxed and open to taking in knowledge,” Ismail continues.  

“These kids come from broken homes riddled with drug and domestic abuse. The centre and project have become a sanctuary to them.”

Ismail says the project provides food for the children and the harvest is sold to a local supplier. Albeit, done on a small scale, the educational value and growth are exceptional. Ismail concedes that the only way for this kind of project to succeed is to work with the “community tirelessly”.  “I had to train myself and the community about the technology. I had a lot of help from my students too. Most of them became more mature and passionate about the project over a short period of time,” says Ismail.

The engineering crusader grew up to become assertive, goal orientated and never subsides to any challenges or stumbling blocks in his way. “I am hopeful and committed to the project. I have started to bring science to the project and partnered with other institutes such as iThemba labs and Nanoenergy for Sustainable Development in Africa (NESDAF) where we are going to try and improve solar collector equipment by introducing new technology in the fields of nanoscience. This will result in the establishment of a centre of excellence at CPUT.”

Reflecting on his journey, Ismail says it was a long walk, full of trials and tribulations. “Nothing in life is easy, especially if you grew up in previously disadvantaged communities which were designed to fail.”

He is grateful to CPUT which has been very supportive of his research and “I am thankful for the URF awarded to me”. “Many of my colleagues have become interested in the project and some are now also doing projects within the community such as designing re-cycle equipment friendly for toddlers to use.”

Ismail adds: “I dream that if I can develop one struggling community to become sustainable and break the continuous derelict cycle of poverty, others will follow. This will only be possible through education, teaching and learning.”

Written by Aphiwe Boyce