Effecting Real Change From The Grassroots
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Workers on the historic Meerlust Wine Estate and the neighbouring Compagniesdrift Bottling and Storage facility near Stellenbosch have long benefitted from projects and programmes to uplift and develop themselves and their families.

Compagniesdrift is a black empowerment business funded by the Meerlust owners, Myburgh Family Trust.  Part of this intervention was a crèche on the farm and access to schooling for the workers’ children.

However, management began to realise that while the financial investment in this area was significant, there didn’t seem to be a real impact on the ground. Compagniesdrift Managing Director, Ilse Ruthford continues: “We felt that our children needed a bigger environment to operate in than our close knit farm community, and perhaps a different and broader approach to their basic education.” So they approached the Sustainability Institute nearby that was already running a crèche for other farm workers’ children, and asked to get involved.

Enter Naledi Mabeba, Principal of the Lynedoch Early Learning Centre at the Sustainability Institute: “Children must be given a chance to breathe, not just be fed and clothed,” she says, explaining the multi-faceted approach the Montessori Programme takes at their crèche where children from a very young age are stimulated and nurtured through experiential learning. The crèche is divided into two sections, one for 0-3 years and another for 3-6 years with a low teacher: pupil ratio to ensure that each child receives the attention he/she needs. This is so much more than a child-minding facility, in every corner children are peacefully building puzzles, listening to stories, and learning interactively about the world they live in, both in the classroom and outside in the beautiful, lush playground.

Workers’ children are transported to and from the facility every day where they are given two healthy meals and a snack, arriving back  just as their parents finish work.

Continuing with their desire to broaden the children’s educational experience, management was instrumental in supporting the opening of a Spark Academy on the property next door to the Early Learning Centre.

Spark schools are a network of private primary schools in the Gauteng area offering an alternative form of education in the form of “blended learning” combining traditional classroom teaching with technology-based learning and interactive group work. They opened the first Cape-based Spark school in January 2016 and workers’ children from both the Meerlust Farm and Compagniesdrift attend there.

The school day is simply divided into Numeracy, Literacy and Physical Education. All knowledge and development is channelled through these classes. Children are divided up into groups of 4 or 5 and given tasks aimed at their level of progress. The teacher moves around the classroom giving attention to each group and helping particular children who might be struggling to grasp a concept.

Spark Schools have an extended school day which begins at 07.45 each day, finishing at 15.00 for the younger grades and 16.00 for the higher grades. While this might seem long, both homework and physical exercise are included in this period, so when the child arrives home at the end of the day, it’s time to simply relax, play and spend time with the family.

In an effort to educate parents about what their children are doing at school so that they can be supportive at home, each parent has to complete 30 hours of ‘community service’ per year. This would include attending parent meetings, helping with class activities such as cutting out shapes and providing the school with essentials such as tissues and plasters.

Currently all the children from the farm receive bursaries that cover the cost of their education. However, parents have to pay a nominal fee and, for the primary school pupils, they need to buy their school uniforms and provide a healthy packed lunch each day.

 “Meerlust is very serious about our children’s education,” says Ilse. “We realise that by investing in their education they will become better parents themselves, and if they do choose to stay on the farm, they will have the potential to do a better skilled job and enjoy the challenge, the remuneration and the job satisfaction that comes with it.

Janine Waterboer grew up on the Meerlust farm, starting her career as a cleaner. When Compagniesdrift was started 7 years ago, she became a cleaner there. It wasn’t long before she was promoted to receptionist and today she is a Logistical Co-ordinator for a facility that serves 42 wine producers and stores up to 2 million bottles of wine at any given time.

Her son, Wilton (11), attends Spark Academy. His mother has noticed a huge difference in him since he started attending the school: “He was never very happy at his old school, but now he is much more positive. He also takes part more and is much more confident. The other day he helped raise money for sports equipment by taking part in a raffle. He used to be too shy to approach people, but now he does it easily. He is always excited to go to school and when he comes home, he loves to tell me what he did during the day.” Janine says he has also made good friends with boys from other farms and enjoys playing soccer.

The school also encourages children to think big. They hosted a University Day recently where pupils were encouraged to dream about their future career. Wilton loves fast cars and dreams of becoming a racing car driver, or maybe a soccer star … we will have to wait and see.




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Meerlust Estate Baden Powell Drive P.O. Box 7121 , Stellenbosch, 7599, South Africa