Hoteliers get involved with children's education

2008-12-11 00:00

The amaZizi people live in a village that sprawls across the foothills of the great amphitheatre in the Drakensberg; some of the village’s children walk more than five kilometres to school each morning, trudging back again in the afternoon.

An adjacent valley is home to The Cavern Berg Resort, a family-owned business now in its third generation; the family is committed to helping people with whom they have long been involved. The amaZizi who make up the bulk of the workforce at the resort are an integral part of its success.

Heading the upliftment drive is Megan Bedingham, assisted by her cousin Loretta Mecklenborg, with lots of input from the rest of the family. Bedingham is a young wife and mother of three children, all under the age of six, who runs the Cavern office. Chatting to her I discover her philosophy: there are no hand-outs, only hand-ups. By offering a helping hand you can improve lives. Hand-outs may provide immediate relief but not a long-term, life-changing difference. She believes that a good education is the greatest gift one can give, one that provides skills, instils self-respect and self-belief, one that enables people to move upwards, to build a future and, in turn, offer a hand-up to others.

Bedingham’s own education and background has provided her with the means to offer hand-ups to others. The most evident helping hand-up is the Royal Drakensberg Primary School. Here children experience caring, individual attention, a wide-ranging syllabus and exposure to an incredible range of subjects. This school is situated in the Cavern grounds and is open to all children of the valley and surrounds. A small number of full bursaries are offered to children from amaZizi, very often children or grandchildren of the Cavern staff.

The second helping hand-up is invisible to the outside world — the crèches and primary schools of the amaZizi village. Money is raised through the Cavern, the Sungubala Mountain Camp and the Montusi Mountain Lodge to ensure that each child starting primary school is equipped with a stationery pack comprising pencils, ruler, erasure, paper etc.

Last year more than 3 000 young children started their school year clutching one of these packs. The Cavern also has a large community upliftment fund which is used to buy textbooks, provide teacher training and help with much-needed building maintenance and upgrades.

Putting food into hungry young stomachs is another priority — a child cannot concentrate on his or her work if his or her tummy is rumbling and all he or she can think of is the next meal and where it will be coming from. Here the helping hand-up takes the form of weekly bread deliveries and mealie meal and mealie rice donations.

A number of pre-primary teachers from the village are being sponsored to attend a teacher’s training course in Ladysmith.

They bring back with them a wealth of new knowledge, which they pass on to their assistants and co-workers.

Once a term a group of teachers from the amaZizi village are taken to the Royal Drakensberg Primary School for a workshop on a variety of relevant topics. Teachers from pre-primary and Grade R have separate workshops. The workshops include a reading workshop, a paper-dyeing and craft workshop and a Christmas workshop where ideas for easy-to-make, inexpensive decorations and cards are taught.

But it was the crèches that touched my heart the most. They are run by women who care for children up to school-going age. The crèches are often in one small room with very little of what one would recognise as proper equipment.

A concrete floor, a couple of discarded plastic chairs and a box of second-hand toys is sometimes all the children have. But these women, by taking that offered helping hand-up, are making a real difference.

There is so much that needs to be done and every time I visit the Amazizi crèches I have to remind myself that I, alone, cannot fix the world — but surely I can make some difference, perhaps by this very article.

One thing that I want to do is build a sheltering veranda for the woman who runs the Ntokozweni Pre-School, which consists of a small, single room painted dark blue. The walls are now clad with colourful posters, hand-crafted paper birds fly across the ceiling and the 30-odd children page with silent excitement through picture books.

The long-drop toilet is way down the garden path and although there are six peach trees in the tiny garden, there is nowhere to sit outside if it is raining or too hot in the sun.

I would love to give them a veranda.

For me to build a veranda on my own is too daunting to contemplate but if we join forces and pool our skills, our time and a little of our money we could make it happen. Are you up for it?

• If you can help, phone Sally Johnson at 033 386 7661 or Megan Bedingham at 083 416 1079. As the saying goes “together we can make it happen”.

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