Paternoster Rising

The Paternoster Project NPC is changing children’s lives faster than they can say ‘bokkom’. Their futures now look brighter than ever before, and hope again prevails in the seaside village. It’s all due to a few good men and women, and the support of volunteers and donors who have transformed a great idea into a living reality. And this is only the beginning.


by Keri Harvey; published in West Coast Escape issue 19.


It started with a simple telephone call and a conversation between two long time friends - one with a deep concern for the future of Paternoster’s children, the other a German philanthropist. What transpired has been remarkable, inspiring and a positive model of progress for West Coast communities. Jaco van der Westhuizen of Paternoster Fishery, and Christian Neuber, ex-publisher of magazines and books for children turned philanthropist, are these two men of vision.


CHOOSING PATERNOSTER

Christian owned a wine farm in Stellenbosch and had worked on and off in South Africa for 25 years, and when he visited Paternoster he immediately knew it was a special place. “Paternoster is different. Paternoster is magical. Paternoster is unique,” he says. “Paternoster is also facing major challenges and we would like to provide encouragement and positive support for residents, while at the same time protecting and preserving the local traditions.”


For Christian, good things start with sound education - so he founded the Paternoster Project NPC in 2016. The project is tasked with helping the children of St Augustine´s Primary School in the village by teaching them life skills in the afternoons, improving their English language skills, and offering a holiday programme to prepare them for life and the future. In doing this, local heritage is also maintained and promoted. The project is also involved at the local creche by supporting the local teachers. From October, volunteers will start giving English lessons in order to prepare these children better for starting primary school.

“If you are wondering why a German foundation like ours would choose Paternoster for its international activities,” smiles Christian, “the reason is simply because of the people who live in Paternoster. Local people have shown a sincere willingness to join forces, get things done and improve their personal circumstances. This joint effort gives us great hope that Paternoster could become a role model of success for other villages on the West Coast.”


DEDICATED VOLUNTEERS IN ORANGE

“My great love for South Africa, my passion for this magnificent region and the good, loyal friendships with the people of Paternoster make me confident that we can turn Paternoster into a village where well-trained, highly-motivated people work to ensure the future of this little gem on South Africa’s West Coast,” says Christian.


This is already in full swing. Volunteers from the University of Ravensburg-Weingarten and the Dual Estate University of Baden-Württemberg in Germany have been working in Paternoster since October 2016, and spend three months to a year assisting at the school and créche. So far, a total of 35 volunteer students have worked in Paternoster. Of these, 70% are education students who are in their final year and 30% are social workers with a focus on early childhood development, family and youth work.


In April 2018, South African education students from the University of Stellenbosch started helping with the morning classes at the school - especially in Afrikaans reading and writing. From October students from the University of Heidelberg will join the programme too. The selection process to find the right volunteer students is lengthy, as only the best-suited students are chosen to volunteer in Paternoster.

These volunteers – easily recognised by their orange jackets - are the hands of the project, assisting with homework and aftercare at the school, as well as a smorgasbord of afternoon activities now on offer to the children.


“The volunteers are the best thing that has happened to the school,” says principal Celestine Barends. She says the pupils’ English has greatly improved since the arrival of the volunteers, as they teach English to grades 2 and 3. In turn, the volunteers are learning Afrikaans. Christian says the foundation is committed to the project for the long term, and encourages local people to also become more involved through giving of their time, skills, or money to keep the project sustainable.


SKILLS FOR LIFE

Afternoons at St Augustine’s Primary School are jam packed with activities for children to enjoy. All these offerings are fun for the kids and instil life and language skills in a relaxed environment. The German volunteers are of course in attendance to assist wherever needed.


Hooked on books

Thursdays are a hit at St Augustine’s. In the afternoon 60 kids gather at the school to read books and listen to stories – that’s more than a quarter of the entire school devouring books. “Reading is at the heart of the Paternoster Project NPC, and with the Story Hook initiative we can already see how books are expanding the minds of our town’s young readers. The Story Hook children are becoming more confident in reading aloud, are keen to choose interesting books from our growing library and are happy to sit and listen to stories in both English and Afrikaans,” says local volunteer Joan Kruger, who was asked by the Paternoster Project NPC to run the reading club.


Yet, the reading club started out humbly in a spruced up shipping container alongside the school. Colourful cushions were made and cupboards installed. Now Story Hook even has its own logo: two children, book in hand, in a fishing boat and ready for their journey of discovery.


Paternoster’s children have also had a story book specially written for them and published by the umbrella foundation that administers the Paternoster Project NPC. Gemeinsam/Together/Saam, written in German, English and Afrikaans is endlessly popular and formed the start of a small library, which is now populated with classical books, fairy tales, and contemporary stories set in Africa.


Publishers were approached for donations and Story Hook received boxes of beautiful books from Lapa Uitgewers and Exclusive Books. Joan says: “As boxes were opened, each child picked a book and immediately started reading.” Friends of the volunteers also started donating books, and founder Christian Neuber asked beloved children’s author Janosch to sign copies of his timeless classics, and donated these too.


Books are also being donated by Paternoster residents – a trend started by Ben Rootman, when he recently celebrated his 70th birthday. Ben asked his friends to donate books to the Story Hook in lieu of gifts to him – and the library was enriched with scores of books.


Check mate

The chess club, initiated by Paternoster resident Johan de Jager, kicked off just a year ago and is wildly popular. Kids were coached on opening moves, how to develop the game and finish it off. They have already been competing on the West Coast and doing well in local competitions.


“Chess teaches important life skills,” explains Johan, “such as for every action there is a reaction. We also instil the principle that if kids play a good game of chess and lose, they have still learned a lot about the game and themselves. There is also the awareness that consistently developing oneself is a win in itself.” Stronger players were also asked to mentor weaker players and teach them the required skills, thereby demonstrating the importance of team play. Johan explains that the programme also aims to dispel the fear of losing.


Importance of art

Local artist Diane Heesom-Green started Stone Fish Studio 15 years ago, and has been teaching children ever since. “We work on projects that are relevant to the children’s lives and hopefully make them more conscious of their surroundings,” explains Diane. Kids have already completed floor plans of their homes and made models of Paternoster houses in clay, after discussions on architecture and building methods.