“When you’ve been a teacher for over 40 years, you understand that education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty in farming communities.” So says Beatrix du Toit, principal of the Hoekstra Learning Centre situated in Paarl in the Western Cape.
Hoekstra learning centre provides kids from the Hoekstra Fruit Farms community with an after-school tutoring facility under the leadership of Du Toit. These are the kids of more than 300 agriworkers that work on the various farms of Hoekstra Fruit Exporters. The centre is situated on Estherdal farm in Northern Paarl.
There, over 40 learners from various Hoekstra Fruit Farms in the area gather from Monday to Friday to meet their favourite teacher, who assists them with their homework as well as additional learning material that she gives them. “The children are with me between half past two and four in the afternoon,” du Toit says.
Every weekday right after school, when the kids arrive at Estherdal farm, they are allowed a 30-minute relaxation time, during which they get to eat or play a bit. Thereafter it is back to the books.
The learners usually start with their homework and du Toit assists them with this. Then, once their homework has been finished, their teacher, who they fondly refer to as Mrs. Trix, starts an educational programme that she designed and that focusses largely on Mathematics, Afrikaans and English.“These are important subjects in school and many children fail them. The programme has been designed to better the overall marks of learners at school,” Du Toit explains.
The retired teacher makes sure that her program is in line with the school curriculum and with each individual child’s current schoolwork.
The Hoekstra Learning Centre successfully opened its doors on Monday, 9 October 2017. The driving force behind the project is the passionate Amla Nel, who started working at Hoekstra in 2010 as a wage clerk. The following year Nel was roped in to help at the farm’s day care centre, called Pinnnochio Play School.
She fell in love with working with the kids and wanted to do nothing else. “The daycare centre was a place where I could actively exercise my love for children and their development,” Nel says.
When Nel got actively involved in the day care centre she noticed how Du Toit would go to all the different Hoekstra farms to give the children after-school classes.
Du Toit used to visit a different farm every day and meet with the children in the Hoekstra pack houses to teach them. This, however, was never an ideal situation and Nel and a group of teachers decided that it would be better to have one dedicated teaching facility that all the children could go to. “The packhouses were not conducive for teaching learners and Du Toit often had difficulties handling the children,” Nel adds.
With a clear vision of what they wanted to do and what their learning centre would achieve, the group of women formulated a presentation to management.
Right away, their idea to have a dedicated learning centre for all the children was approved by senior management. During that time Hoekstra Fruit Farms had purchased a new farm that already had a daycare centre on the property. It was then decided to merge the two into one centre.
With the opening of the Hoekstra Learning Centre they hosted a celebration party and invited every school principal from the various schools the children attend.
According to Nel, the centre is divided into three parts: a classroom, a library and an educational playroom with educational toys. Hoekstra Learning Centre was recently equipped with five computers for learners to do school projects on. “Many children don’t have access to these sorts of facilities and struggle to do their projects. We wanted the learners to have an option of doing their research and projects at the centre,” Nel adds.
The CEO of Hoekstra Fruit Farms, Barend Mouton, says the reason why the project was so important to them was because learners in many schools don’t receive the dedicated attention they need, due to the number of learners per class. “We wanted to ensure that the learners have a fair chance at reaching their full potential,” Mouton explains.
“Our workers are extremely dedicated to Hoekstra Fruit Farms and work exceptionally hard. The cost of living is expensive, and we wanted to offer the centre to our workers as an employee benefit,” Mouton says.
Hoekstra Fruit Farms has a bursary programme for tertiary education, which they offer to deserving learners. “Part of why we started the centre was also to ensure that the children of our farm workers further their education with the help of our bursary programme,” Mouton says.
For the parents, the centre has lifted many loads. Many of them work long and laborious hours and they often don’t have the time or stamina to assist their children with homework.
Shaneeq Adams, a gr. 7 learner has been attending Du Toit’s classes since the centre opened. According to her mother Elsa Adams, who is also a teacher at the Pinnnochio Play School says her daughter used to struggle immensely with Mathematics while she was still in gr. 6. However, since attending Hoekstra Learning Centre her marks have improved. “I’m truly grateful that the classes are being offered to our children here on Hoekstra Farm at no charge. This is a rare opportunity for our kids to improve their marks and do well in school,” Elsa says.
Nel adds that it was important for them to make a difference in the lives of the learners. “We want the kids to know that just because their parents are farm workers doesn’t mean they have to be. There are many opportunities out there for them, but it starts with education,” she says.