Hitching a Ride with The Pebbles Project

The Pebbles Project was started in 2004, to help children and families in the winelands farming communities reaching from Somerset West to Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Citrusdal and beyond. The organisation emphasises education, despite dedicating itself to 5 respective pillars: health, nutrition, community, protection and education. Children simply cannot develop properly without each of these fundamentals. One Monday, we decided to hitch a ride with Hendrik, one of their fleet’s drivers, to experience an average morning on the frontlines of “Project Pebbles”. Arriving on Villiera Wine Estate to meet Hendrik at his van before 8am, it's a curt greet, a handshake and we're off... 

'With kids,' Hendrik tells us, 'it's really important to be on time, because their concentration depends on food!' 

We zip along the Brackenfell streets trying to beat the early morning traffic and arrive at a raw food market in record time. Without pausing, Hendrik is up, out and filling the car with crates of fruit. 'I used to work on the mines near Upington, so I'm used to lifting alone!' he tells us, with his hands and arms buried under crates. Apples, oranges and pears are loaded in and ready to go by the time we've worked out the cost of a cappuccino. Minutes later, we pull into Shiloh, an organisation that supplies cooked meals for the Pebbles Project (and many others). This kitchen-on-steroids is run by some passionate ladies who seem tuned in to the same hyper-frequency as Hendrik. We watch massive vats of beef, vegetables, spaghetti and tomato sauce being prepped and cooked, while slightly worried. It's all happening so fast, surely an accident is inevitable! But no, Hendrik calmly intercepts today's fare - fresh cabbage and beef stew - which he loads into the van with the ease of a giant. Left alone to inspect Shiloh's stock rooms, we find everything clean and ordered, and an impromptu taste test of the sauciest pastas seems appropriate... but just then, Hendrik pops round the corner; hungry kids will wait for no one!

Twenty minutes’ drive later we come to a sudden stop at Kaapzicht kids creche. Leaning against a gap in the window, we spy some little ones dancing inside their classroom, along with their teacher. For a cold July morning, this seems perfectly sensible! We want to join, but boxes of fruit and fresh stew need to be moved, so we warm up in a more helpful manner. The schools are on holiday now, so only 7 children are in today. Regardless, their door-to-door food service is a given. Hendrik tells us, 'Even if there are two kids here, I must still make sure they don't go hungry!' After enjoying three minutes of colouring in with the 2 year-olds, Hendrik points to his watch. We're off to the next farm; Koopmanskloof.

Driving past picturesque dams and entering the Koopmanskloof primary school yard, we realise there's a lot going on here. A cacophony of unknown noise, in fact. Have the little ones started hunting Egyptian geese for middagete? Entering the main hall, we discover the noise source - a kids' music club is visiting. Recorders, as we all know, are the most affordable instrument for introducing children to music notes, melody, timing and chorus. And these lucky kids, bless them, are trying it all out! With the food delivery complete, we bid Hendrik farewell, so we can chat to Mario, the Fairtrade Officer who runs the show here. Mario takes us on a school tour and we find ourselves moving at a snail's pace, captivated by the comic literature on the walls, covering everything from safety and hygiene to best learning practices for students and teachers.

Our chat is soon interrupted, by a chorus of kids praying. We silently move to find seats amongst them, as they try keep their eyes closed. They soon tuck in heartily, and the meal finishes with some raucous  laughter, the source of which remains a mystery. Finally, the stuffed, chuckling tots get up, and bounce off to their afternoon nap. Hungry ourselves now, we scramble off in search of a petrol station pie. 

Sitting in silence, eating next to the road, we wish we could do things like them every day... in a big happy team. 

We catch up with Hendrik in the afternoon. As well as delivering food, he is also a safety officer and has been busy checking the electricity, fencing and other potential hazards at a few schools. Impressed with this man's dedication to a younger generation, we ask what's next for him. 'Sometime in the future, when I have all the skills, I'm going to go set up the same kind of thing for the kids in my community in Upington. They really need to be taught and taken care of, by people who care for them.' 

We leave for home, not having seen all the tasks that occupy Hendrik's day. Yet this one morning has given us a huge understanding of The Pebbles Project way. It's one splash, but many ripples…