By Rebekah Funk. Published in West Coast Escape magazine.
The bright orange jackets worn by volunteers of the Paternoster Project are a striking contrast to the muted colour palette of this West Coast seaside town. Here, the architecture is painted almost entirely white, accented by the occasional blue door or window shutter, and engulfed by earthy tones of sea, sand and sky.
Much like their jackets, the non-profit’s student volunteers stand out in this close-knit fishing village. They have emerged a persevering force for positive change in Paternoster — equipping its youth for the future, whilst also ensuring local heritage is not only preserved, but treasured.
“We see great potential in every child, regardless of their social circumstances. We want to give them a sound foundation for a healthy and fulfilling life,” explains the organisation’s project manager, Maike Reinhardt.
“We are trying to achieve this vision through development cooperation – empowering, mobilising and integrating local participation first, and as much as possible,” she adds.
“We’re focusing our work on about 250 children from the Educare Centre and St Augustine’s Primary School (between the ages of four and 15), teaching them important life skills that have been identified by parents, the community, our partners at Stellenbosch University, and the foundation.”
The strength of the organisation’s transformative work is its belief in ground-up development: “Nothing about Paternoster, without Paternoster, is for Paternoster,” emphasises local entrepreneur and former skipper André Kleynhans of Anker Builders, who has given much of his time and construction expertise to seeing the project succeed.
Tannies cook, mothers read and local enterprises donate free labour, food and building materials. There’s been sustainable community buy-in from the outset – and their confidence in the project has made all the difference.
Casting a vision
Founded in 2016, the Paternoster Project NPC began with a telephone call between Christian Neuber, a German publisher-turned-philanthropist, and a friend at Paternoster Fishery. Christian had owned a small wine farm in Stellenbosch and wanted to use his financial resources (and love of literacy) to give back to underprivileged children.
Christian and his wife, Katrin, first chanced upon this darling corner of the Western Cape in 2015. They were immediately swept up by Paternoster’s charm – but also awakened to some of the most pressing issues facing the community: high unemployment, alcoholism and the entrenched marginalisation of the area’s indigenous population.
Paternoster’s main industries – fishing and tourism – were both seasonal, affecting the livelihoods of residents and their families. Steady incomes were difficult to come by; people lacked funds for food and their children’s school fees. Over time, school absenteeism grew, with some learners dropping out altogether. Young people, unconvinced of their own potential, were increasingly tempted to turn to alcohol, drugs or petty crime to curb their boredom.
Yet in Paternoster, the Neubers sensed both the energy and local talent needed to address these obstacles. They set about building valuable community connections, pulling together a joint team of capable Germans and South Africans who would see their shared vision to fruition.
Building skills — for lifeIt’s evident that people here care – so much – about the future of their beautiful home. And now, through the Paternoster Project NPC, they’re being equipped with the tools and resources to turn their concern into action. The project runs throughout the year with the help of various stakeholders from Germany and South Africa, with the bulk of financial backing coming from Christian’s German Foundation, Kinder fördern – Zukunft stiften.
These donations ensure a variety of activities: an after-school programme with nutritious home-cooked meals, engaging weekly story times, hands-on gardening lessons, themed holiday clubs, ambitious building projects, and expert-led parenting seminars.
These efforts are bolstered by new teams of volunteers who arrive in Paternoster from the universities of Baden-Württemberg (Germany) and Stellenbosch (South Africa), keen to share their time and academic knowledge in a practical setting. Most stay three months; others longer – the project’s current long-term volunteer, Caro Zobel, has lived in Paternoster for 15 months and has established deep relationships with community members.
The volunteers are studying (or have already completed degrees) in teaching, while others specialise in early childhood development, youth work, music and theatre, coaching or kinderkinetics. All share a desire to see the children of Paternoster flourish.
A telling milestone? This year, the project trained its first “junior volunteer”, a local high school learner who’d outgrown the programme – but nevertheless wanted to return and reinvest his time in an organisation that had changed his life.
A house of hope
One of the key visions for the Paternoster Project NPC has always been to create a safe space for both children and volunteers – places they can go to simply “be themselves” and learn valuable life skills through play.
It didn’t take long for afternoon programming to outgrow the limited space at the project’s initial home, St Augustine’s Primary School. Volunteers were leading singing and dance lessons; art and crafts; sports such as soccer, yoga, breakdancing and rugby; technical LEGO challenges and beginner German.
For some children, it was as if a whole new world had opened up – they began to learn all the things at which they excelled; that their potential in life was more promising than they’d first thought. The after-school programme became a daily highlight, where they could connect with friends, feel cared for, and see positive role models among local and international volunteers.
Knowing their valuable work could only continue with a bigger space, Paternoster Fishery has provided a venue in the middle of the village from 2018 to 2020. Called Hoopsig – or Hope View – this children’s house has allowed the project to open its doors to more youth from Grade R to Grade 7.
Stepping inside, one immediately sees – and hears – traces of children everywhere: their backpacks on hook-lined walls, colourful handprints and murals from floor to ceiling, and their squeals of delight as they chase each other through a fishing-themed playground outside.
In the kitchen, the “Golden Oldies” (the tannies who cook hot meals every afternoon) are hard at work, stirring steaming pots of curry and rice made with their grandmothers’ recipes. For them, it’s a joy to serve their community through food — an important cultural tradition that’s being modelled to a new generation.
When the food is ready, the children pause their games. They wash their hands, dig into a hearty meal, and quickly brush their teeth before heading out again to play.
Planting a seed
Hoopsig is scheduled to be bulldozed to make way for a new development in the area. And with the future of this safe space hinging on uncertainty, Paternoster’s leadership team has begun dreaming big once again.Their vision? A new “children’s village” – with a house large enough to host as many as 180 children, and designated spaces for each of the different life skills lessons. In it, a well-equipped kitchen, and outside, a larger community garden, playground and adjacent sports field.
“We see sports and movement as an essential part of our programme and crucial for the development of our kids,” explains Maike.
“We’ve established an outstanding relationship with the Sport Science Department at Stellenbosch University – they lead physical education events for all ages and abilities, and have introduced a hugely successful kinderkinetics programme at the local crèche. While we often lack the equipment and facilities to fully realise these initiatives on a larger scale, a children’s village would be pivotal to improving and expanding the areas in which children can play.”
Hooked on books
“Books were my lifeline when I was growing up in a remote little town,” says Joan Kruger. “I would like that to be true for every child; we all need a little life-saving.”
It was this abiding love for words that led to Joan’s 50-year career in magazines and publishing, a PhD in linguistics and, after a move to Paternoster five years ago, “Story Hook” reading times. Joan is one of a handful of “story tannies” who do their best to make reading fun – they visit Paternoster Project’s after-school programme every week with an armful of new books.
“At Story Hook, we so often hear: ‘Oh, I can’t read.’ So we ask them to sit and listen instead. And then we trust in the stories to work their magic and to slowly reel these ‘can’t-readers’ in,” Joan explains.
While it’s not intended as a remedial reading program, many learners have seen their results in English and Afrikaans improve at school as a byproduct of the project’s bilingual immersion.
Local librarian, Lalie Beneke, says she’s also noticed a new trend: children coming to visit the library “just for fun”. She does her best to support Story Hook’s mission beyond the after-school programme, creating an engaging space for children and teenagers – with books and magazines at centre stage.
In winter, there’s a crackling fire and places to challenge friends to a round of chess; when school’s out, Lalie runs themed holiday clubs and movie viewings with popcorn. It’s become another vibrant, safe community space where all are welcome - and a case study of what can happen when locals are willing to collaborate.
Measuring positive impact“Every sign of engagement is a success,” says Paternoster-born Dustin Coraizin, who teaches at Rietenbosch Primary in Stellenbosch but drives back to the West Coast as often as possible to lend his support to the volunteers.
At just 27 years old, he knows the struggle to “make it” in a community with so few jobs – he’s played in the same streets and endured many of the same challenges as a child of a hard-working single mother. Now, he’s doing his master’s degree through Stellenbosch University and is trying to show other youth from the village what’s possible.
“I always admired the drive my mother had. She worked a full-time job and still made time to help with community projects. She opened my eyes … to striving for better, not just for myself, but for the future of an even greater community.”His excitement to contribute also stems from the knowledge that the project isn’t just changing children’s lives – the reach is much deeper: “The project does not only focus on the children of Paternoster, but the parents, the grandparents and the legal guardians.”
Dustin adds: “Our community and government need to know that if an individual is aware of the endless possibilities that await them - especially our children of Paternoster - how great could that part of South Africa become? We will change all of the Paternoster children’s lives for the better, even if it takes us one child at a time.”
This October, the project’s stakeholders will meet to take stock of the year’s progress. The annual Paternoster Project Conference attempts to measure the non-profit’s positive social impact, while also fostering accountability, open lines of communication and excitement about what’s to come.
It can be difficult, in the early stages of a project like this, to scientifically quantify its impact. Paternoster Project NPC has tasked two West Coast-born researchers from Stellenbosch University with measuring their milestones in the coming years: Dr Jerome Joorst and Dr Bernard Rhodes.
“As a researcher, I am analysing the impact that the NPC has on the local heritage conservation and skills education of the learners in the programme, as well as on the community at large,” says Jerome, who specialises in education in rural areas. “I’m interested in who these children become as a result of the programme.
“One is often humbled by the challenges that face children who are born into circumstances that they have little control over,” he adds. “To be allowed into their lives is firstly an honour, to work with them is rewarding and to make a difference in their lives is the ultimate dopamine for the human spirit.”
A walk along Paternoster’s expansive beach yields hidden treasures – swept in, and often, out again – by each new crashing wave. These stones, shells and seaweed ribbons serve as a reminder of the inevitability of change – that new winds can bring both storms and prosperous catches; setbacks and huge victories.
It’s a notion that brings lasting hope in the face of daunting challenges, Maike says – times of agonising anticipation, occasional frustration, or the financial uncertainties that come with rapid growth and overwhelming need of the dynamic project.
“My experience has taught me that encouragement always follows after discouragement – both ups and downs are crucial to learn and develop,” she says.
The year 2019 has brought exciting changes – the landmark new Volunteer House is now complete and poised to open its doors to the community. Envisioned as a social meeting hub where volunteers can host welcome braais or workshops with local teachers and crèche staff. The house is part hostel, part café, part conference venue.
It’s a sign the project is here to stay for the long haul – no matter what the tide brings. There is still much to do and learn from a community as rich in cultural heritage as Paternoster.
For Caro, the long-term German student volunteer who’s spent more than a year in the village, the biggest lessons haven’t been the ones she taught children in the “structured chaos” of the after-school programme. Her time in South Africa has caused her to see the world in a whole new way; to challenge her own set ways and perceptions.
Caro hopes all who visit Paternoster will slow down, stay a little longer, meet the locals and see this West Coast gem as she does. Caring. Courageous. Resilient.
And bursting with potential.
Raise a reader
Story Hook is looking for enthusiastic volunteers to read to children once a week (currently on Thursday afternoons) at Hoopsig in English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa.If you’d rather donate your favourite childhood tale, the programme also accepts book donations (deliver them to Cathy’s Café or the local library). Or buy a copy of Paternoster Project NPC’s new birthday calendar, which features the stunning photography of Voorstrandt’s Adrian Venter. They’re available for R125 at Voorstrandt Restaurant, Cathy’s Café, and at Jêm & Pantoffels. All proceeds from calendar sales go towards buying books for the Hoopsig library.
Paternoster needs you!
Taking a holiday in or around Paternoster? Come and see the project in action:
• Pre-arrange a guided tour of the after-school programme at Hoopsig, and the recently completed Volunteer House and café.
• Pledge your time, skills, materials or finances – a little goes a long way in shaping the lives of Paternoster’s young people, and creating a better future for the whole West Coast.
• Donate funds to ensure the dream of a new “Paternoster Children’s Village” becomes reality.
• Keep up to date on the project’s progress: order a copy of the printed newsletter or download the digital version.