In a nutshell
Youth in the Hoekwil/Touwsranten farming district near George in the southern Cape spurred farmers, businesspeople and community members to establish a community-based organisation - the Seven Passes Initiative - to support the education of young people. The organisation’s activities and goals were informed by research that found that children who complete school are less likely to be the victims or perpetrators of crime and violence. The organisation offers afterschool homework classes for children and young people in the community of Touwsranten.
What we do
Touwsranten is a small community in which there are 303 families, with, among them, 570 children. Many families in the community are affected by poverty. For instance, almost half (146; 48.5%) of the parents interviewed during a survey (conducted by Seven Passes, the Psychology Department of the University of Cape Town and the Institute for Security Studies) reported that no-one in their household was employed, and more than half (175; 58%) receive the child support grant. Thirteen (4.3%) households had no income. In terms of food insecurity, 112 (36.4%) households had run out of money to buy food in the month prior to the survey, and 113 (36.7%) had cut the size of meals or skipped meals, on 5 or more days, because there was not enough food in the house. In 201 (68.2%) families, children received food from school. Many children attending the school are also affected by foetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
The Seven Passes Initiative was established in 2008 in response to youth involvement in violence. A board made up of community members, business representatives from George and the local community, and commercial farmers manages the organisation. Since 2008 the organisation has been offering after school classes to primary and high school learners.
The Seven Passes Initiative is rooted in the community. The office is next door to the primary local school in Touwsranten and serves as a general advice service for the area. The project has a co-ordinator Cedrick Buys, who has been with the project since shortly after its inception. Chantal Damons is responsible for facilitating the homework classes. Chairperson of the board, Maggie Adams, runs a convenience store nearby.
How we do it
After school classes take place Monday – Thursday during school terms from 3pm – 5pm. During the classes children receive a cooked meal, time to play and focused learning. The after school classes for primary school learners are facilitated by local community members who receive a stipend through the Extended Public Works Programme of the Department of Public Works. They receive basic training from the Department of Basic Education, Lifeline and other organisations. Some of the facilitators are also enrolled in the ECD course (level 3) at South Cape College.
The facilitators are teacher assistants during the school day at the local primary school. This enables continuity between school time activities and after school classes. It also facilitates the establishment of relationships between facilitators and children. After school classes focus on numeracy, literacy and building self-confidence.
During 2013 234 children attended these classes, 31 children attended half or more of the 129 classes offered during the year.
High school learners have to leave the community and travel by bus to George to attend school. This trip takes 45 minutes. The community has a small library but no communal internet or computer facilities and it is difficult for learners to get additional support. Even if high schools did provide after school classes (which they do not) the children from Touwsranten would not be able to make use of them since the bus leaves directly after school. The Seven Passes Initiative has established a relationship with York High School, a Dineledi school in George. High school learners are offered extra subject-specific tuition at York High by peers and teachers.
What we have achieved
The Seven Passes Initiative has had many successes, large and small. One is certainly the broad range of supporters who work together with energy and commitment, both within the Touwsranten community and in the surrounding area. But perhaps the most visible sign of success is Nazel Buys, a young teacher newly graduated from the University of the North-West in Potchefstroom. Once a learner at Touwsranten Primary School, she attended the homework clubs and realised that she could dream of tertiary education and broader horizons. Seven Passes helped her apply for a bursary and today she has returned to the school as a Grade 2 teacher, who also happily supervises homework after formal lessons end. ‘There’s so much possibility for these children if they work hard,’ she says.
Two other ‘graduates’ from the homework clubs are completing degrees may also return to give back to this small community.
Local farmer, Peter Leppan says that one of the most important things about the Seven Passes Initiative is that the impact is measured. The initiative collects and collates data on a regular basis for monitoring and evaluation purposes.
What we have learned
Development work is hard and slow, says Chandre Gould, a member of the board who also works for the Institute for Security Studies. Some of the social issues are deeply rooted, inter-generational ones that serve to entrench poverty and feelings of hopelessness. Gould says it has taken years of consistency and continuity for the community to really trust the project and what it sets out to achieve.
Sometimes progress is hard to maintain. For example, a government-funded computer centre at the school, which provided much-needed internet access for high school students, is no longer functional as there was no money to replace computers when they became obsolete. Clearly, too, there is a real need for teaching and therapy for the many children with special needs, which included both intellectual and physical disabilities. Despite these challenges, since the establishment of the organisation youth violence has decreased, and four young people from the community who attended the homework classes have gone on to study at university.