It’s taken us over a month to complete the project we started in celebration of Mandela Day on 18 July – to create a study/play room for the farm kids living at Vastrap. Instead of 67 minutes, we worked on and off for 35 days and it all finally came together yesterday! This being the year after Madiba’s death and the year we celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa, we wanted to do something extra special. Children and education were two things very close to Madiba’s heart so we thought this would be a fitting tribute, but at the same time also very necessary to improve the lives of the kids living in our community.
Over the past year Quentin has employed a dedicated team of builders to upgrade our staff accommodation and facilities. As part of this project, a large new ablution facility was built and an extra room was added on for the purpose of housing temporary workers we employ for specific projects, such as sheep shearing and fence mending. At the back of our minds we also thought the room could be used as a homework room for kids since they often don’t have a quiet place to study. In the meantime, having a new baby myself, I also became more aware of the little pre-schoolers who don’t have much to do in the day. My right-hand man in the garden, Tseliso has a 1.5 year old daughter and there really is no place for her to go until she turns 6 or 7, which is unacceptable given the importance of early childhood education in cognitive development. There are about 50 kids living on our farm with their parents and grandparents, ranging from 1 year to 18 years of age.
As Mandela Day approached, I became more convinced than ever that we needed to do something for them, but I knew that I couldn’t do a proper job without help. New toys are ridiculously expensive and there’s no way that I could’ve bought enough things to fill a playroom. After Quentin generously agreed to move out the workers and to allow us to set up the room for the children, I sent an appeal to friends in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to ask their kids to spend 67 minutes clearing out their playrooms of things they didn’t need. Well, we shook the tree and were overwhelmed by what fell out! We did two trips to Joburg with cars packed full of things plus a trailer for bigger things. Then we had to take the bakkie to Bloemfontein to collect a whole lot of furniture and toys from friends there. It really was amazing!
After the craziness of our auction passed, I had time to go and look for second hand furniture to use as storage and desks for the older kids to work at. I found an amazing shop in Ladybrand that had everything I needed at affordable prices. I got some blackboard paint and dedicated yesterday to putting it all together with the help of our builders, Tseliso and Livia’s nanny Matshepang who also has two young boys. We had such a lovely day creating order out of initial chaos! Unpacking all the boxes we found a treasure trove of books, puzzles, lego, blocks, colour books, exercise books, games and toys for little kids. We connected a DVD player to the existing TV and set up the radio. We also were able to create a nice chill out space using two beautiful beds we were given. We will keep all our recycled paper from our office and make sure there is a constant stock of pens and crayons. It was a cold and rainy day, but the large windows made the room feel bright and cheerful. Livia joined in the action and the little kids just watched in awe as the whole thing unfolded. They were totally overwhelmed and I don’t think they really understood that this is their room now. I left before the school-going kids got home, but I’m sure they’re going to have a great weekend exploring and hopefully studying too! I cannot thank everyone enough who helped make this a reality.