Pebbles – an educational cornerstone in the winelands

Children in farming communities often face educational obstacles as well as lack of support and encouragement to achieve success. Charmaine Gola from the Pebbles Project spoke to Jeandré du Preez about how this non-profit organisation endeavours to ensure that every child it works with becomes a constructive contributor to society.

The Pebbles Project is the brainchild of Sophia Warner, who left Surrey, England, for South Africa’s sunny winelands in 2003. This decision changed not only her life, but those of many others.

Soon after her arrival here, she identified a need for educational support on farms in the winelands. With her 13-year background in special needs teaching, Sophia particularly wanted to use educational support to address the barriers faced by children with foetal alcohol syndrome. She established the Pebbles Project the following year and in 2005, it opened five crèches to offer support to farm workers’ children.

“Villeria Wines in Stellenbosch was one of the first farms on which we rolled out this project. We currently provide educational support on 18 farms in the Boland and four crèches in surrounding townships,” says PR coordinator Charmaine Gola.

“Given that many of the workers and their children stay on farms, we worked closely with farmers to assist us with the upliftment of their farm worker communities and their children’s education. Most were supportive and provided us with buildings we could transform into early childhood development centres, crèches or after- school care facilities.”

Early chiildhood development programme

The Pebbles Project believes that a child, particularly one with special needs, who receives support and education at an early age is likely to achieve more at school, be better-adjusted and become a success in adulthood.

“That’s why we started the crèches,” explains Charmaine. “They provide a safe learning environment where the children’s skills and abilities are developed through creative play and stimulating activities.

“Typically, these children lack educational toys. That’s why we introduced the mobile Toy Library programme a few years ago. This provides age-appropriate toys to younger children in crèches. In addition to taking out a toy or a book, they learn important life skills such as responsibility. These toys are also parent-child interactive and this encourages parents to play an active role in their children’s development.”

Because optimal learning can take place only when children are sufficiently nourished, Pebbles started a nutrition programme in July 2014. The children receive breakfast, lunch and two snacks daily. To ensure that they receive the necessary nutritional intake, Pebbles works closely with a dietician to develop a menu.

After-school club programme
As the project progressed, Sophia and her team identified older children on farms who needed educational support. This sparked the idea of opening an after-school club programme. “Many children would come home from school and remain idle on the farm with no supervision or educational support. With this programme, we offer a variety of activities and homework support to develop functionally literate and numerate learners,” says Charmaine.

The programme is well-resourced, with mathematics and literacy tutors who provide assistance with homework and exam preparation. It has also expanded to include new educational support programmes such as the FACET-mobile learning centres, which were donated by the For Africa’s Children Every Time (FACET) Foundation. Each mobile learning centre has a book and DVD library as well as a computer bus that drives around fortnightly to serve the various farms.

Through the mobile library, children have the opportunity to develop their literacy and receive help on research for school projects. Study guides are also available. The computer bus has eight laptops, a modem and printer. Through it, the children and their parents have access to computer training.

“If parents are confident in using a computer, they can engage with their children on a different level. We want to encourage parents to play an active role in their children’s upbringing,” Charmaine explains.

Changing lives for the better
The Pebbles Project has had a positive impact on the lives of close to 1 000 children and the success of the organisation speaks for itself. “We currently have a child who is studying towards a teaching degree at Stellenbosch University. This young man comes from a single-parent home where his mother is a vineyard worker.

“He attended our after-school club and showed that with the necessary support, you can make something of yourself despite your circumstances,” Charmaine says.

Some Pebble learners have also enrolled at Boland College. “We’ve also received great feedback from the surrounding primary schools where teachers detected notable differences in children who attend our crèches and after-school clubs.”
Pebbles has evolved significantly over the past 11 years. Today, in addition to providing education and nutrition, it is starting to turn its attention to the general health and well-being of the children and their parents.

“Education will, however, remain our main focus. Time and again, it shows the impact it has on children’s ability to pull themselves out of poverty and make something of themselves, regardless of their circumstances,” says Charmaine.

Email [email protected] or visit www.pebblesproject.co.za.