By Pegah Feyzi Pour.
In today’s world, getting a proper all-round education is more important than ever. Not only can educated people seize better opportunities for themselves, but they also enrich others with their successes and perspectives. Although almost every parent wants to see their child equipped for the future, often there are uncontrollable circumstances which prevent this from being the case.
In Paternoster, a fishing village on the West coast, there is urgency for better education for the children to ensure they face a brighter future. Fish stocks in the Western Cape have decreased immensely over the years due to an overexploitation of the ocean’s resources and this has had a detrimental impact on the village, which relies heavily on fishing for livelihood. Finding new methods to make a living affects not only the fishermen but also their children. They need to be shown alternative job prospects.
The Paternoster Volunteer Project (PVP) was launched in 2016 by Christian Neuber, working with the German-based foundation Kinder fördern – Zukunft stiften. But it was Jaco van der Westhuizen, CEO of the Paternoster Fishery and an old friend of Neuber, who reached out to him: ‘If you really want to do justice to the purpose of your foundation, come to Paternoster and support our schoolchildren. They will be grateful to you like nowhere else in the world.’
In line with the German foundation’s mission to expand future prospects for children from varying social and economic backgrounds, and in cooperation with the PPP and Jaco van der Westhuizen, the PVP was established to support the children in their everyday schooling. ‘Offering such an opportunity to young people growing up in a rapidly changing society is absolutely priceless,’ explains Neuber.
As a starting point, one of Paternoster’s challenges is to raise and improve its standard of education. ‘Two hundred children are attending the primary school and 65 children go to the crèche,’ says Sanita van der Merwe, chairperson and liaison of the Paternoster People’s Partnership (PPP), the oldest registered community organisation in Paternoster. ‘The families cannot afford school fees and we struggle to pay teacher salaries.’
With the education of the children as the fundamental priority, the German foundation carefully selects German volunteer students who are skilled at teaching and who will have the most positive impact on the project. Each successful applicant must commit to the PVP for at least three months.
This year, the PVP will be recruiting South African students to carry on the work of educating and up-skilling the children – this ensures the project is sustainable locally.
Volunteers at the PVP help children with their homework, as well as organise art and craft workshops, sports and board games like chess. This much-needed personal attention gives the children the foundation, support, confidence and life skills necessary to create a whole new orientation for their future.
One of the project’s most important initiatives is the reading club Story Hook, which is part of the volunteer’s afternoon care programme. Reading is essential in a child’s education. It opens up imaginary worlds and, in the real world, it improves social and emotional development.
In recognition of the work in the education category, the PVP recently received a community award from Saldanha municipality. So far, the German students have accomplished a lot in one of the oldest villages on the West coast. It is not, however, only the children who have benefitted from this contact, but the volunteers themselves.
Like any exchange, often the benefits are two-sided. The volunteers at the project report positive developments both from their children and for their personal growth.
By helping others and acquiring new insights, the volunteers find themselves in a state in which the act of volunteering is not necessarily perceived as such: it is not only the students who change the children’s lives, but also the children who change theirs.
Jana-Sophie Abt, a volunteer leader at the project for several months, says ‘the great thing is that we can help to plan and develop what the children will then experience and work on. We realise that there are cultural differences, but our love and affinity for children goes beyond cultural borders.’
Joana Kilchert, another volunteer teacher agrees with the double benefit to working in the community. ‘The project in Paternoster will give me the opportunity to apply what I have learned during my studies and adapt it to suit the needs of the children. I would therefore like to stay in Paternoster for as long as possible.’
The future of the project
As well as recruiting South African students from the University of Stellenbosch at the PVP, Maike Reinhardt explains that the aim of the foundation is to create a blueprint, which can be transferred to other ‘Paternosters’ to demonstrate that, with sufficient dedication, passion and sustainable support, people in critical regions of the world can shape the conditions they live in. The idea is to encourage inhabitants to make a living in their home town or city, as opposed to uprooting the family and travelling to a bigger city hoping for employment – which can have negative outcomes.
The aim of the project is to empower Paternoster’s children by teaching them skills and ways of making a living without leaving home – and education is the currency that buys them the best of what the world can offer. As Jaco van der Westhuizen puts it: ‘The volunteer programme is a story of hope and it is carried and nurtured and protected by really generous and caring people, without whom the children of Paternoster will be much poorer.’