Rather build the child than repair the adult: The story of Talhado Children’s Haven
CAPE TOWN – Talhado Children’s Haven is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the upliftment of the community through early childhood education and scholastic support. It is situated in Sea Vista township, St Francis Bay, a small holiday and fishing village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province.
The Haven serves the community of Sea Vista and Zwelitsha informal settlement, which are mainly Afrikaans or isiXhosa speaking and the pre-primary classes are taught in both these languages, as well as English. Our mission is to provide a sustainable, caring and nurturing environment for the underprivileged children of the community of St Francis which will provide opportunities for social, emotional and educational development.
Motivated by the school’s founder Lesley Moore at the request of mothers living in Sea Vista, Talhado Children’s Haven was started in 1998 by Child Welfare as a children’s clinic. At the time, there was no doctor attending the government clinic in the area and mothers had to take their sick children to Humansdorp if they needed the services of a doctor. Lesley persuaded local General practitioner, Dr Theresa Jordaan, to volunteer her services once a week in Sea Vista so the children could receive attention in their home town.
Toys were provided for the children to play with while they waited for the doctor. It soon became apparent that many of the children did not have access to toys at home and many were left at home on their own after school while mothers worked. This led to the development of the aftercare centre – or Spiel Kliniek’ as the children like to call it. The local Municipality allowed Lesley to utilise one of its small staff houses for the purpose.
A year later, in 1999 Charles Coenraad, the principle of Sea Vista Primary School (Afrikaans medium), approached the Haven and requested that they start a pre-primary school as children attending school in Grade I at that time did not have the skills necessary for starting “big school”.
At that stage, the Haven was only run by voluntary members of the community. They were reluctant to employ a teacher as they did not enjoy regular funding. This all changed when Lesley Moore was approached by Malcolm Stanley, then chief executive of Talhado Fishing Enterprises, a chokka (calamari) fishing company with interests in St Francis Bay. The company was looking for a local charity in which to invest and support as the company’s corporate social investment project and as many of the company’s employees came from St Francis, they were keen to support education for their workers’ families.
And so Talhado Children’s Haven was born, providing for more than 400 children, many of whom were victims of HIV/Aids, molestation, neglect and substance abuse.
With the funding from Talhado Fishing Enterprises in place, it became possible to pay for a teacher and thus, the Talhado Pre-Primary School opened its doors in 2 000 on the same premises to its first 25 pupils and one teacher – Roseline Goede, who eventually became the school’s headmistress. A volunteer staff member and committee member of the Greater St Francis Bay Child and Family Welfare Society, Olivia Mtetwa was appointed assistant principal.
Aftercare was introduced at the school for the local primary school children. This proved so popular that the school couldn’t cope with the numbers. The afternoons were duly split to provide two days aftercare with each for boys and girls.
In 2002 the very popular The Talhado Children’s Haven steel band was added to the After Care curriculum to encourage the considerable musical talents of the older children. To this day the band of numerous members, all of whom are school going boys and girls and taught by the school handyman, Dean Kalo, who, himself was a member of the band when he was at school, practice at the Haven in the afternoons.
Their African/Caribbean sound has become synonymous with the St Francis seaside village lifestyle and they play regularly at the local morning markets and other venues and events such as weddings.
The Solid Rock Steel and Marimba Band, as they are now called, recently travelled to China at the invitation of the Yangcheng Municipal People’s Government, Jincheng city northern China, to participate in that city’s annual Chinese New Year festivities. A fantastic achievement and incredible adventure for these youngsters, many of whom had never ventured out of the Eastern Cape before this and none of whom had ever travelled in an aircraft.
Talhado Children’s Haven is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the upliftment of the community through early childhood education and scholastic support. The Haven serves the community of Sea Vista and Zwelitsha informal settlement, which are mainly Afrikaans or isiXhosa speaking and the pre-primary classes are taught in both these languages, as well as English. Photo: Supplied
In 2008, a much-needed new classroom was built for the school, enabling the school to enrol more children. This was funded by Wilson Bayly Holmes Ovcon (WBHO) and generous Norwegian sponsors who have a home in St Francis Bay, Mr and Mrs Gioertz.
All expenses and salaries for the school were paid through the generosity of the Talhado Fishing Enterprise and other donors as well as extensive fundraising activities. The Department of Education subsequently subsidised the salaries for two of six teachers and Talhado Pre-Primary became the feeder school for Sea Vista Primary School, in St Francis Bay and Mzingizi Primary School in Humansdorp. In addition, some of our learners are now attending Stulting Primary School in Humansdorp, and a few have even earned bursaries for the exclusive private school, St Francis College.
Lesley and her team of volunteers worked tirelessly to improve the facilities at the school through fundraising and sponsorships. A computer room was established with six donated computers and a computer teacher to teach both the pre-primary learners and the after-care children. This was an immediate success with children queuing up all afternoon for the privilege of spending twenty minutes intervals on one of the computers. Now, more than 300 children enjoy the media centre in the afternoons, which now boasts 16 computers, where they can do their homework using school computers with internet access.
In addition, to the care and tuition, the school’s kitchen has always provided a nourishing breakfast and lunch for each learner – for many these are the only meals they are likely to receive for the day.
The school’s secretary and Sea Vista resident, Chamel Malgas, joined the staff in 2007 and has grown into her role taking on most of the school’s administration.
Funds are set aside for fun and entertainment too with an annual school outing to a fun educational destination such as Bay World in Port Elizabeth or African Dawn Wild Life Sanctuary with a special treat of a small meal and ice cream at the Wimpy.
By 2016 Talhado Pre-Primary had a record 124 children enrolled. The new Sea Vista Primary School was nearing completion which included two pre-primary classes. As a result, in 2017 two of the Haven’s teachers were now absorbed into the new school with those learners who had graduated in 2017.
This provided long-time Montessori mentor and local St Francis Bay Mum, Cathryn Hempel the opportunity to establish a long-held personal dream of establishing the first real Montessori Pre-Primary school in a rural underprivileged community in South Africa. The Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr Maria Montessori, is a child-centred educational approach, which has been time tested, with more than 100 years of success in diverse cultures throughout the world.
Cathryn has taken over the little school into its re-birth as a Montessori method pre-primary school for children between the agrees of three to six with trained teachers while retaining the after-care facilities for the primary school children.
Sponsors and donors were found to fund the re-training of four of the incumbent teachers plus one further teacher to become qualified Montessori teachers and the particular classroom equipment and teaching aids required for the Montessori method, although Cathryn had brought much of the learning materials with her which she had used in home-schooling her own children.
The first teacher to qualify was a long time teaching assistant Virginia Brown who was closely followed by colleague Laurika Coetzer. In January 2019, the part-time librarian Lee-Ann Mofu will begin her online studies with on-site practical training.
Talhado Montessori Pre-school now educates 90 students from the ages of three to six years and provides fresh, home-cooked meals twice a day for the students. The staff now includes the principal, four teachers, one assistant teacher, a librarian, a secretary, kitchen staff and ground maintenance, along with various volunteers from the community. The child-to-teacher ratio is approximately 18:1.
Again generous sponsorships and donations have meant that a third classroom could be opened in 2018. There is a waiting list for students whose parents are anxious to have their children join their program and the benefits derived from this wonderful teaching method.
As the only source of pre-primary education, apart from the government school, for the Sea Vista community, the school offers low annual school fees at R1 750 per student and remains strongly reliant on private donations to facilitate and flourish this remarkable endeavour.
By the Grace of God, and through the goodness and support of many wonderful volunteers, whose financial and physical support over the past 20 years, especially Talhado Fishing Enterprises, have enabled Talhado Children’s Haven to continue to sustain and support the physical, emotional and educational needs of the most vulnerable children in the Greater St. Francis Bay area.
Our founder – Lesley Jean Moore
Lesley Moore is a well known and highly regarded St Francis Bay resident. Her involvement with Child Welfare dates back to 1972. Through her work as a volunteer for Department of Child Welfare and an organisation called TEACHER (Teach Every African Child on the East Rand), Lesley discovered that there was absolutely no facility available for severely handicapped children in Kwa Thema near her hometown of Springs near Johannesburg.
She worked tirelessly to fundraise, pleading and knocking on doors and dedicating all her time and efforts to establishing what is now known as the Phelang Training Centre (Learners with Special Education Needs). Through her hard work and her solid faith, this school was started in 1981 and has gone from strength to strength. Its vision is to teach and train disabled scholastic, vocational and life skills to enable their learners to realise their potential so that they can be integrated into the community as worthy members of the society.
There are now more than 450 learners enrolled in this school with over 40 teachers and medical support staff. Amongst the school’s proudest achievements is having learners selected to compete in the last Special Olympics where they won 20 gold medals!
When Les and her husband Tony retired to St Francis Bay, her passion for child welfare soon came to the fore when she noticed that children had nowhere to play while mothers waited at the weekly clinic in Sea Vista. There was also no provision for school aftercare. She immediately set about creating what was then fondly called the “Speel Kliniek” in 1998 to address these needs. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Through her unshakable faith in the Lord, she and her board of trustees worked tirelessly on behalf of the Sea Vista children to ensure that good education was within the reach of everyone in this community. She firmly believes that a good education is the only answer to alleviate the downward spiral of poverty and unemployment.
Our Principal – Cathryn Hempel
Cathryn became a Montessori teacher in 2003 when she realised her family would be moving to a remote island in the Caribbean and access to schools would be limited. She home-schooled her three children for nine years and observed the multiple benefits of learning and teaching by using the Montessori method of education.
When the family returned to South Africa, and specifically St Francis Bay, in 2011, Cathryn found she needed to pass on the knowledge to help benefit the local community in the Sea Vista township. With the encouragement of Lesley, Cathryn would volunteer at Talhado in the mornings, offering remedial teaching to various children using her Montessori materials.
Over the years the school has grown into a full-fledged Montessori Preschool with four qualified Montessori teachers having studied through the North American Montessori Centre and getting their practical experience in the classroom under Cathryn’s supervision. A fifth teacher Leanne Mofu was enrolled during the course of 2019. There are three classrooms catering to a total of 90 children. The classes are not separated by ages, but rather by language. The benefits of multi-age classes are numerous.
Cathryn’s position as principal of Talhado Montessori Pre-school continues in a voluntary capacity.