Many years of saving, planning and hard work has resulted in an impressive new community centre for the Merwida wine farm in Rawsonville.

“As far as I know, Fairtrade is the only accreditation organisation that actually gives money back to the workers,” explains farm owner Pierre van der Merwe. “So when we got our accreditation in 2009 and the premium money started coming in, we started dreaming about what we would like to achieve that would benefit all who live and work here.”

Merwida is a large farm, with different communities living at different locations around the farm. But they all have similar needs, so a community centre seemed the most effective way of meeting those needs.

Planning began in 2011 as the Joint Body Committee began to formulate the needs of the 160 farm workers and their families, and figure out how to raise funds. The premiums they received back from retailers who sold their wines was substantial but not enough to cover the costs of a R7millon building project, so one of their main customers, Co-op, agreed to match their efforts. The farm itself donated the land, undertook the electrical work and the earthmoving operations.

Over the next 5 years they watched their bank account grow and formed a clear plan for their centre. A location was picked in the middle of the farm and the necessary application procedures started. In 2017 building started and the project gained momentum.

On Thursday, 24 May everyone gathered to witness the opening of this professionally designed space. It consists of four classrooms for the crèche and aftercare, a clinic, ablution facilities, a computer room, a catering kitchen, a board room and several offices. The show piece is of course a large hall that can be used for functions, religious services, weddings, dance classes and meetings.

Pictured are Pierre van der Merwe (farm owner), staff and pupils of the Sonstraaltjie Creche who are now using the facilities of the centre.

The Community Centre Manager is former school teacher, Norman Herrings. He is from nearby Worcester and has vast experience in dealing with both primary and high school children: “Our aim is to equip our pre-schoolers for primary school, and then once they are at school we want to keep them ahead of the pack by helping them with homework and providing a safe and stimulating environment for them to enjoy.”

The first children arrive at the centre at 07.00 and the last one is picked up at around 18.00 in the evening. During that time the children are fed nutritious meals and are cared for by qualified staff, many of whom also live on the farm.

Anton Adams is the chairman of the Joint Body who manages the Fairtrade funds. He grew up on the farm, his father still works on the farm and he has been employed there for 13 years. His wife also works on the farm and their 2 children will benefit greatly from the new Community Centre: “We are very proud of this building, it is a privilege for us and it will make our lives better. Now we don’t have to waste time and money getting to the clinic, because the clinic is right here. And our children will be looked after every day, and we can make money hiring out our hall for functions.”

“We have many plans for this space,” says Norman, “From art classes to conflict management, adult education to primary healthcare courses – this is just the beginning!”

- Julia Moore