By Linda Henderson
It’s the middle of spring but nowhere is there a sign of new life in the dusty rural settlement that once was the bustling railway connection that freighted thousands of tons of produce and passengers to various destinations across the country. Run down railway houses with face brick verandas scatter the countryside as a reminder of the modest lifestyle that formerly sustained a bustling community of proud railway artisans. Conductors, stokers, wheel tappers and engine drivers reared families here and watered and fed with coal the puffing steam giants that crossed the Karoo and drove the economy of a nation. Klipplaat once wore a contented smile.
But that was long ago and things have changed.
Left behind in the wake of circumstances are the families of employees who were once part of this system. Some stranded as a result of poor education systems, others caught in the net of poverty
For cynics and sceptics this dry area is not the place where you would expect to teach fishermen to fish, but for the children of the Five Loaves Two Fish Remedial Reading Clinic at the Brandovale Primary School in Klipplaat near Jansenville this is exactly what the charitable outcome of the Summit Game Auction, that was recently hosted in Graaff- Reinet, has meant. The auction raised substantial funds to cover the running costs of the clinic for at least a year ,giving meaning to the reference of the fish and bread symbol that every little bit given in faith is multiplied and blessed.
In a crowded school staffed by 11 teachers that educate 445 children from grade R-7, reading proficiency is often the hurdle that halts further opportunities for educational progress.
Mr Jacobs, the inspiring and committed headmaster of the school, explains that the pressure on teachers to comply with the curriculum coverage in overcrowded classrooms can in some part be blamed for the poor reading proficiency in some classes.
“With all the pressure on teachers to sweep through the syllabus and all the admin involved there is very little time to cement the foundation stages of reading leaving little time to assist children who are straying behind. The sad part is that there are no remedial classes in state-funded schools so those who cannot cope simply stay behind”.
It was the awareness of this situation that led local farmer’s wife Fiona Hobson to intervene. With the support of some empathetic neighbours she started a remedial reading project here in 2009 to facilitate reading competency.
Mrs Bruiners, a retired teacher and Mrs Williams, a teacher in training, were appointed as full time educators to facilitate reading for strugglers who are identified by their grade teachers.
One cannot miss the dedication to their cause when you visit their reading laboratory. Walls are covered by phonics boards and children enthusiastically participate in the activities offered by the teachers. It’s so inspiring to witness true dedication and enthusiasm and how different our schools could be if that was the conventional mode of operation in every class.
“I believe the Outcome Based Education system is to blame for this problem,’ says Mrs Bruiners. ‘Children were never taught sounds and phonics and were simply left in the lurch. Now we teach them the basics and cement the foundation stages of reading in their mother tongue so they find it much easier”.
Haydn Krige, a founder member of the Summit Group of game breeders, is a true philanthropist and explains why he donated the funds raised for charity at the game auction to this project.
“Many of our farm labourers have their roots in Klipplaat. Some of them were born here or have parents who have retired here. This is the place they call home. Sadly the statistics of poor education and lack of skilled training have hampered their opportunities in the open labour market. Our workforce plays a very important role in the success of our enterprises and I believe it’s our duty and plain common decency to support them in as meaningful a way as is possible. Literacy and reading are the cornerstones of education and development and I’m very happy to facilitate that process to make life easier for them”.
Hennie Barnard, another member of the Summit Group agrees with this sentiment. “We need to start with charity at home. These are our people and their welfare is important to us. Many of these kids have achieved success in society and it makes us proud to think that they come from this humble background”.
Warrick Barnard, CEO of Woody Cape Wildlife, a game operation near Grahamstown, was the buyer of the charity lot at the Summit Game auction.
“Yes, I paid a generous amount for the capture net donated by De Dam Capture nets but I did it with good intentions. It’s so inspiring to see how well the funds are being utilised and what a difference it will make to the lives of these kids. This goes a long way to nation building. We need to hold hands to make this a better country and it makes me proud to be part of it”.
The Eastern Cape is fast becoming the destination of choice with game producers and if this generosity of heart is a measure of their community spirit they have a bright future.