Opening Doors | Part 2

It’s been a year of positive changes happening in the winelands community. With three key arenas for transformation identified; Harm Reduction, Early Childhood Development, and Leadership and Skills, it feels like great strides forward are inevitable. In our previous post (read Part 1 HERE), we learnt about how the WTSA skills development programme is elevating the lives and livelihoods of some hardworking individuals. Today, we check out developments at another skills academy; the Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA), as well as paying a visit to an organisation that takes Early Childhood Development to new heights…

The PYDA is only in its fifth year of running, yet living up to its legacy of developing talented, previously disadvantaged 18-25 year olds for employment in the industry. We soon learn about Avuyile Maqolo; a recent graduate from PYDA’s Wine Sector training programme. Avuyile has also placed in the Top 15 tasters at the South African Wine Tasting Championships, out of nearly 200 participants! It is safe to say that Ayuvile’s career is set to soar from here. Feeling optimistic about the direction offered to our young adults in the industry, we set off to visit a children’s school, near Hermanus, that we have heard so much about.

We arrive at Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pre-School and a flurry of activity greets us, as we walk through the door. Kids look up, smiling from their desks, but not for too long... they are busy with colourful drawings that clearly require concentration and effort, which they don’t just give up for anybody! Outside, the lawn is a brilliant green, as the sun peers down into this gentle valley.

This neatly maintained building, on the grounds of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, has been a massive stepping stone for many a youngster from the communities nearby, we are told. Little Eli even took his very first steps here, after joining from Volmoed Farm when he was just eleven months old. 

The school is run by 4 ambitious teachers - Elzinda, Mendine, Ashlin and Emmie, all locals, as well as Zelda; a cleaning, cooking jill-of-all-trades. We are told that each of the adults have made lifelong friendships here, and it’s clearly the same for the kids. Showan and Jody are a legendary pair who found each other on the swings one day. One likes to think this bond will last long into their school careers.

The school was first built by Anthony Hamilton Russell, in 1996, as a daycare for the farm employees’ children. In 2013, the teachers decided to upgrade the facility, to an Early Childhood Development Centre. This meant the children were not only safe while their parents worked, but also able to learn valuable skills. The school quickly grew from 20 students to 48, who came from many nearby Hemel-en-Aarde and Zwelihle communities. We are quickly reassured though, regardless of what the future brings, that there will always a place for local-living kids, like twins Showan and Shannice.

Children who receive a quality-level of early childhood development have a much better chance of becoming constructive members of society. The years that these Hemel-en-Aarde kids spend talking, drawing, counting and playing in this classroom, will have an impact that lasts long beyond the here and now. Recently, four classrooms, three bathrooms, an office and an impressive industrial kitchen were built. This upgrade means the kids can now receive a homemade vitamin-rich breakfast and, when lunchtime rolls around, Zelda is their rockstar. Her special nutrition programme is monitored by Ukwanda, the Division of Human Nutrition from the University of Stellenbosch. She serves her little squadron hearty portions of meat and vegetables and, in return, we are amazed to see the kids come back for seconds just minutes after their first round!

As the afternoon wears on, it is pleasantly surprising to see toddlers sit unattended at the school’s Leapfrog Computers. They are completely captivated by the digital world and their still silence has us in awe. As a policy, all of the school’s students become computer literate from a very early age, thus arming them with real-world life skills before they are five! It’s no surprise their headteacher, Elzinda, makes a big fuss when her kids graduate and leave for big school. Sam and Renfred, graduated last year. Apparently, these chuckle brothers were a tight team throughout their pre-school career!

The dream, at Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pre-School, is to make their small campus more green and self-sufficient. There are further plans down the line for a food tunnel, to grow the school’s own vegetables, as well as a chicken coop. With more funding from the community, they are hoping to take on a previously-unemployed person, to create a vegetable garden in which the children can develop their own green thumbs. Meanwhile, within the school’s walls, they plan to funnel any further investment towards new software for their Leapfrog computers. One can only imagine the well-rounded characters this institution is going to develop in future. We hope and trust that all the help this school needs will come their way!

Uplifting and insightful stories of transformation are important, for the ongoing efforts our industry is making. If you have any leads for stories of individuals or organisations that you believe should come to light, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line. 

Thank you, in bounds!