A boost for early childhood development

When people who share the same vision meet, wonderful things happen. This is the experience of Gravelotte Primary School Headmaster Mpho Victor Rabapane and the team from the Selati Wilderness Foundation, a non-profit associated with the Selati Game Reserve.

Together, they have established a Grade R and Grade RR facility at the school, which services the town of Gravelotte and the surrounding areas. 

“These early years are vital. It’s when children learn to value education and are grounded in the morals and attitude they need to succeed in school later on,” said Mpho.

When Mpho took up the post of headmaster in 2014, the nearly 70-year-old school was experiencing a dip. Historically linked to the area’s mining and agricultural industries, in 2014, student numbers were down, the boarding facility had closed and there were no facilities for grade R and RR learners. There were also a number of empty buildings in the school’s park-like grounds. 

“I wanted to make the most of the excellent infrastructure and environment that we have here,” said Mpho, who is passionate about early learning and development. 

The school has had a long history with the Selati Wilderness Foundation (current reserve landowners, Piet Warren and Henry Dunn both attended) and seeing Mpho’s vision and commitment, they knew it was time to revive the relationship. Lourette Joubert, who supports the Foundation’s work, reached out in 2015.

“We loved Victor’s vision for an early learning centre at the school and recognised how this project was really for the greater good of the community in the area,” said Lourette.

“The importance of early childhood education cannot be overstated. It provides a foundation which establishes the child’s social, emotional and cognitive development at this crucial early age. For the Selati Game Reserve it is most satisfying to be helping the local school and community expand and include this facility,” said Alan Du Toit, Chair of the Selati Wilderness Foundation.

The Foundation provided financial support for the centre, as well as a number of other projects relating to the school. This included installing toilets, plumbing, renewing the flooring, lights, windows, refurbishing wooden doors and painting. Labour was supplied by Selati Game Reserve staff.

“For any entity, especially a conservation entity, you can’t stand alone. We want and need to work with our local communities. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also means that the children who get to know us in this context will have positive associations with the reserve,” said Lourette.

Some of her highlights have been the annual learner scholarships they provide, partnering around Arbour Day, and working with the Grade 7s on environmental literacy, “but I must say when I saw the mural on the early learning and development centre, it made me really happy,” she smiled.

Lourette is quick to add that many of the projects have been joint efforts, supported by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), plus Selati Game Reserve, working with the Foundation and the school. The Foundation also works with high school learners through its Bush Buddies project, and with school leavers through Environmental Monitor placements. 

Inside the spacious centre, Grade R teacher Patrician Shikwambana has a group of 21 learners enthusiastically singing ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ against a backdrop of posters of days of the week and months of the year and colourful artworks. The children appear bright, motivated and happy to show off their knowledge. “This school is going to do great things,” said the proud teacher.

Many of the kids travel a long distance to get to school, with their parents making various sacrifices to afford the fees. “They do this because they know their children are in a safe environment. They value what we’re doing. They know our teachers are dedicated. And I must say, working with the Selati Wilderness Foundation, when they say they will do something, they do it! We are very grateful,” said Mpho.

The school now has 280 students, with the Grade R providing a natural stream of Grade 1-ready learners who, he hopes, will build on Gravelotte Primary School’s values and standards.

“We want to keep developing this space to accommodate various activities, like a reading corner, a space for fantasy play and an area of group work,” says Mpho, pointing out that there is still plenty of work to do. The Foundation would like to fully furnish and equip the classroom and would like to appeal to members and friends of Selati to assist with donations of books and toys suitable for children aged 4-6. Any furnishings such as bookshelves, a teacher’s desk and play mats would also be greatly appreciated. 

If you can help with these donations, you can drop off materials at Selati head office or contact Alan du Toit directly via email ([email protected]) for further information.

As Mpho and Lourette leave the Grade Rs to their work, the teacher calls them back. The children have made thank-you cards for Lourette to take back to her office. With a pile of these sweet missives in her hand, she and Mpho return to his office and the children to their class, where storytime is just about to begin. 

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