For children living in the deeply rural Winterberg Conservancy in the Eastern Cape, sustainable quality education is considered a privilege. For the past 25 years, however, the Winterberg School Trust has made it their mission to bring education closer to the kids of agri-workers in this region.
Today the private school and non-profit organisation educates 140 children.
The Winterberg School Trust (WST) was born out of the needs expressed by the community. With no public transport and located over 40 km from the closest town, Tarkastad, the organisation has become the only source of education.
According to Joanne King, WST project coordinator, they are committed to the sustainable empowerment and development of children, parents and educators in the Winterberg community.
“We believe that literacy is of the utmost importance and is at the heart of our curriculum,” says King.
The school offers classes from early childhood development to grade 12. The key focus of the curriculum from grade R to grade 5 is maths and literacy in English and isiXhosa. The learners are taught in their mother tongue in preschool. In grade 1 they begin the transition to learning in English.
“Computer lessons are offered to learners from grade R to grade 5. These classes form a necessary part of the curriculum to align our learners with the growing need for technology in society. Remedial lessons are provided for the many learners who struggle in various areas,” says King.
The senior learners are also given access to the school’s library for projects and are assisted with their homework where necessary.
“Post grade 12 learners are then observed and offered further studying opportunities, hospitality courses or other job opportunities. We are truly a ‘cradle to career’ educational trust,” King added.
She says they transport the learners to and from the school and rely on private funding to keep the school operational. WST also runs a sustainability fund with the help of local farmers in the area.
“We are a private school. Thus we depend on private donations from corporates, private trusts and generous individuals to operate. Our farmers are hugely supportive of the initiative. They each donated a cow in calf [a pregnant cow] and run a herd for us as part of our sustainability fund.”
Once the pregnant cows give birth to the calves, WST raises a few of them and sells the others for a profit. They continue to inseminate the cows and sell calves in order to finance the needs of the school.
Apart from the school, WST hosts quarterly workshops for agri-workers on essential topics like financial management, abuse, foetal alcohol syndrome, family maths and literacy. A parent governing body also meets regularly with the parents to discuss their needs.
As a way of earning an income, the initiative runs a skills development project named Luncedo for unemployed women. WST initiated it 18 years ago by providing sewing and pottery classes for the women in the farming district.
“Luncedo has successfully been operating as a business for 18 years. The ladies run their business themselves now and produce amazing crafts, which they sell to various outlets and private visitors to our district. They also sew the school tracksuits and the business is growing rapidly,” King excitedly explains.
The organisation’s hard work has seen many successes. The reading level of the children has improved and the school attendance rate is 100%. One of their former students, Joseph Mngeni, is a third year BCom student at Rhodes University.
“The agri-workers are very grateful for the opportunities the WST provides for their children. The WST has certainly brought the community together – farmers and parents work together to empower the community and pave the way for a brighter future for their children.”