When Sheree Adonis (20) graduated from high school in 2015, she had dreams of finding a job and starting a career. But job opportunities in her home town of Mamre, a community living about 30 kilometers north of the City of Cape Town, were few and far between. Despite applying for jobs via the internet, newspapers and over the phone, she had no luck in securing employment. She didn’t know at the time that putting her name down on the jobs list at a local library would change her fate two years later.

In 2018, Sheree got a call from the City of Cape Town’s sub-council to notify her about the employment opportunity offered by the Greater Cape Town Water Fund to join an all-women team to clear invasive plants on the Atlantis Aquifer.

As Cape Town faced a devastating drought, The Greater Cape Town Water Fund had begun working with the private sector, authorities, NGOs and communities to increase water security across Cape Town’s water supply system which serves over 4 million people. To do this it had identified that huge areas covered by invasive plants, such as Australian Acacias would need to be cleared. Invasive plants consume more water than the native Fynbos vegetation, preventing rainwater from entering the aquifer and recharging the water system.

Kick-started with an investment of $150 000 by the Coca-Cola Foundation, along with Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages and The Nature Conservancy, and other partners, the Greater Cape Town Water Fund aimed to clear invasive plants in the Atlantis area of the Western Cape and restore the Atlantis aquifer, one Cape Town’s most important and strategic water resource assets.

Sheree was employed as one of 12 women to clear invasive alien vegetation in the aquifer’s primary recharge zone.

“When I first got the call, I was so scared,” she recalls. “I was thinking: ‘I’m a woman, how am I going to do a man’s job?’.”

On the first day on the job she was given equipment to begin clearing the thirsty invader plants, including a hand saw.

“It is physical work and that first day everything was aching – my back and my feet – but I’ve become fit over the months and now I feel so proud that I can do this job.”

The Nature Conservancy partnered with the Coca-Cola Foundation to co-fund the mentorship programme which sees mentor contractors, such as Japie Samuels, training women to undertake invasive plant clearing. These mentorship contracts are based on available funding and are time-bound with specific deliverables, such as number of hectares to be cleared.

Sheree has shown leadership potential and will undergo a year-long mentorship programme which will help her to learn how to establish and manage a small business. As part of the development process, she has now been promoted to supervisor of the all-women team to build experience and leadership skills. She hopes to complete the training successfully and then register a business which can then bid for invasive plant clearing contracts. In turn, Sheree hopes to employ more women over the next few years, having learnt the skills to manage a successful business.

“The important thing to keep in mind is that in order for female contractors to succeed, they need to be able to lead a team,” says Louise Stafford, Director of Water Funds South Africa at The Nature Conservancy. “We are working hard to assist Sheree to develop these skills.”

The team will also learn how to undertake wetland rehabilitation.

Adds Sheree: “I feel so excited – this is a chance of a lifetime, you don’t get chances like this every day.”

Over time, the Atlantis aquifer pilot project will be scaled up to priority catchments in the Western Cape Water Supply System to secure water supply. The Fund will help catalyse a significant increase in aquifer recharge to help boost water availability by restoring natural vegetation cover on a large scale.

By December 2019, through Sheree and her team’s work, the Water Fund will have replenished at least 60,000,000 litres of water to the Atlantis aquifer by clearing 100 hectares of invasive plants in the aquifer’s primary recharge zone. This will have a positive impact on more than 70,000 people in Witzands and Silverstroom as well as alleviate pressure and increase water security across Cape Town’s water supply system.

Sheree said that having extra income has helped relieve the struggle for money at home and enables her to contribute towards groceries for the family and provide for her nine-month old daughter. “I hope to be the best parent she will ever have,” she adds.

More than this she feels the programme has given her confidence in her abilities. “To young girls out there I would say: ‘You don’t have to stay where you are. You don’t have to lose hope when you can’t find a job’.”