Pebbles Project and Youth Day: an interview

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Youth Day is celebrated annually in South Africa on 16 June.

Menán van Heerden chats to Charmaine Gola, a fundraising and PR manager at Pebbles Project (Western Cape, South Africa), about the benefits of such an organisation for youth.

Charmaine, tell us more about Pebbles Project: when, why and by whom was it established?

In 2003, Sophia Warner, founder of Pebbles, came to South Africa from the United Kingdom with a 13-year background in special needs teaching. The Pebbles Project Trust was started in 2004 to respond to the needs of children living in wine farm communities in the Western Cape.

The organisation has grown from supporting 384 children in 2009, to over 1 400 children in 2015 – as well as their families – living on farms and in two townships in the Winelands area of the Western Cape.

Pebbles Project’s vision is to see that children of all capabilities from disadvantaged backgrounds are receiving quality education, and are living within strong family structures in safe homes and in healthy, well-functioning and sustainable communities.

In order to achieve this vision, Pebbles Project has five main pillars, the core pillar being education. The supporting pillars are health, nutrition, community and protection. By addressing the needs of the children in Somerset West, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, the Hemel-en-Aarde valley and Citrusdal, we are able to ensure that they have optimal capacity to learn.

The majority of our beneficiaries live on various farms in often challenging circumstances. Alcohol abuse, poverty, lack of access to education, and lack of health and other essential services all contribute to the reason why Pebbles exists.

Pebbles Project has five different programmes. What does each one entail, briefly?

Pebbles has five main pillars: education, health, nutrition, community and protection, with the core focus being on providing quality education. We understand that effective learning only takes place when several key factors that may affect the learning process, are addressed.

Our holistic, five-pillar approach allows us to assist children not only with their education, but also with other factors that could affect their ability to learn, thereby ensuring that the children are given the best chance of success. 

Educational programmes include the following: the Pebbles First Thousand Day (FTD) programme (3 months – 3 years) works with children in the Pebbles preschool centres, where they are assisted academically during this very critical developmental period. From here, children move on to the Pebbles Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme (3–5 years), where they are prepared to enter the formal schooling system.

Once children start their formal schooling, they join the Pebbles After-School Club (ASC) programme, where they benefit from additional educational assistance and other extramural programmes, until they complete their formal schooling. Our School Leavers programme (15–24 years) helps learners make the transition from school to work or to tertiary education.

Children who form part of the Pebbles Project programmes, therefore, receive educational support from birth until they enter the world of work, which ensures that they are supported throughout every step and phase of their education.

Their education is also supported by the Staff Training programme, the Special Educational Needs programme and the Maths and Literacy programme. There’s also a mobile toy library, a book/DVD library and a Computer Learning programme. Educational outings round off the comprehensive offering.

The health programmes encompass primary health care, wellness, dental health and treatment for pregnant mothers. All Pebbles children are cared for free of charge through the Owethu clinic.

The nutrition programmes include a top-of-the-range kitchen, which produces and distributes meals to our beneficiaries and other non-profit organisations, supported by growth and wellness monitoring by health professionals. 

Community programmes include building renovations, clean and safe water provision, forming action committees, providing weekend activities, product making and selling, parenting workshops and outdoor play areas.

The protection programmes are managed by social workers, whose remits range from facilitating parenting workshops to dealing with issues such as substance abuse and domestic violence or conflict, as well as creating safe and uplifting physical environments in which the children are able to thrive.

How can locals and foreigners get involved?

Everyone can get involved by either volunteering or donating once-off or on a recurring basis, through our sponsorship programmes. We also host fundraising events from time to time, and this is another way to get involved and support us in changing the lives of children and families in the Cape Winelands. Feel free to check out our website, www.pebblesproject.co.za, for more information.

What are the biggest challenges facing the youth on farms (and youth in general in South Africa) today?

Like with many youth in South Africa, crime, poverty, unequal educational opportunities, unemployment and drug abuse remain some of the troubling realities that young people face on the farms. While many youth face these problems, the lasting impact of apartheid is obvious, as the issues predominantly affect the black and coloured communities.

Are there enough Early Childhood Development programmes in South Africa? If not, what can be done to change this state of affairs? 

According to a Stats SA report released in 2018:

“[A] breakdown by monthly household income quintile revealed that close to half of the children in the lower household income quintile did not attend educational facilities, while 40% of the children in the highest household income quintile attended ECD facilities.”

It further affirmed what Pebbles Project believes in – that the first 1 000 days in a child’s life could hold the key to unlocking his/her lifelong potential. By the age of five, almost 90% of a child’s brain has developed. These are the formative years, where factors such as adequate healthcare, good nutrition, good quality childcare and nurturing, a clean and safe environment, and early learning and stimulation will, to a large extent, influence his/her future as an adult.

Sonja Giese, executive director of Ilifa Labantwana – an NGO working to promote ECD – and co-author of the South African early childhood review, stated in her 2016 report:

“There is great inequality in early learning opportunities for South African children. Children from wealthier families have better access to better quality early learning, and, therefore, have a better chance of succeeding in school and in life. Inequality in South Africa will never be addressed as long as we continue to have inequality in early life opportunity.”

While there may be many ECD programmes in South Africa, the bigger question we need to answer is whether these are accessible or not. A major factor is affordability, creating an issue for parents who want to send their kids to ECD facilities but simply cannot afford to. Costs are not regulated, and, as a result, the facilities are often expensive.

President Ramaphosa started on a good footing in his state of the nation address of 2019, when he mentioned the move to migrate responsibility for ECD centres from social development to basic education, and to proceed with this process towards two years of compulsory ECD for all children before they enter grade 1.

How will you be celebrating Youth Day?

Our After-School Club learners are spending their Youth Day giving back to residents of an old age home in Stellenbosch. They will spend some time creating cards and care packs for the residents of the home.

We are also hosting an After-School Club talent show, called “Pebbles Got Talent”, on 15 June, where our ASC beneficiaries will be going head to head, in order to be crowned winners of this exciting show. The communities are using this as an opportunity to raise funds for their children’s Christmas shoebox gifts at the end of the year.

Buro: MvH
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