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Technical skills and Psychological needs: Competence and Dignity at PASS (Interview).

Venturing outside the boundaries of formal institutions and community norms can be challenging, frustrating, and hugely rewarding. In this interview, I pose questions to 3 women doing just this. Prince Albert Skills School is one of the 2 organisations we are rasing money for through our bicycle trip, so we wanted to find out more from three of the core members.

For some of the questions posed, there are answers from all of Rodine Barends, Helene Smit and Mariette Colleen Heskwa, and for others there are answers from one or two of them.

There are many people involved in the project that are equally deserving of credit, but for this interview I chose Rodine, Helene and Mariette. The teachers and learners take equal pride in the organisation, and I therefore included answers to a question I posed to the learners themselves right at the end. I found their responses super! Enjoy.


Celebrating soccer match victory!


Who are you?


Rodine: I am Rodine Barends, one of the teachers at our school. Helene visited the PACT centre in 2017, and was looking for someone who could start working at the school. At that moment I was the centre manager. I told her that I wanted to work at PASS. We started the school on 5 September 2017. Since then I've been with PASS and love my work.


Helene: I am the founder of the Prince Albert Skills School, and at present I am one of three directors at the school (the others are Roel Noens and Rodine Barends).


Mariette: My name is Mariette Colleen Heskwa.



What is your favourite quality or characteristic about yourself?


Rodine: My favourite quality is how caring I am of others, young or old. It means I get a lot of happiness from helping people which is always a good thing. I always try to be fair, honest and to do the right thing. It isn't always easy and at times it can be hard to know what is right but I consider it and work on it anyway .


Helene: That’s a hard question! It also depends on the day I answer it, I guess. Today I think it is my ability to reflect and learn, and then take action on what I have learnt.


Mariette: I am responsible, reliable and helpful, I like to listen to others.



What is your role at the school?


Rodine: My role at school is to improve the students by giving them daily activities such as Mathematics, Afrikaans and Life Orientation. I also do the day to day food shopping. I help Mariette on a Mondaywith the girls.


Helene: I was initially responsible for envisioning and developing the fundraising, principles and functioning of the school, but now I am a member of the PASS team, and we work it all out together. I offer a support and guiding role to the teachers from a psychological perspective, and I do the banking, and I liaise with stakeholders.


Mariette: I am the teacher at the girls' class at the Prince Albert Skills School.



Could you give a brief overview of what PASS is, for people who have never heard of it, and why you think it’s important that the school exists?


Helene: PASS arose out of a relationship that I developed with a 13-year-old child called Henry Prins. His story, of which we made a film, painfully demonstrated the impact of socio-economic circumstances that meant that, amongst many other problems he faced, Henry stopped going to school at an early age. This a plight shared by many children in South Africa. In learning Henry’s story, I did some research about his schooling options, and there were none. One can only be transferred to a government skills school from an existing government school. Henry fell into an institutional vacuum as he had no access nor help to find access to a school. In South Africa, there are many children with similar and related stories to Henry, and so it seemed important to start a skills school with no entry requirements that welcomes any child. It also felt important to meet the student’s basic needs as far as possible, which included their physical, emotional, psychological and future viability needs, in order to help them to become thriving citizens. Therefore, the school not only helps them to develop work related skills, but also provides food for the children (and often their families) and offers self and relationship management skills.



School hike up the mountain behind Prince Albert




Could you tell us about some recent developments at PASS?


Helene: In the last year, a strong management team has developed. This includes the Belgian team of Roel Noens and Kasper Stockman, myself and the four teachers. This has allowed us to become more effective in helping the school to grow and prosper. We have acquired two containers which give the teachers a much-needed office, and a safe storeroom for our bicycles. In addition to the significant financial support from Emma and Oscar’s bicycle trip, we have received funding from a Belgian NGO which allowed us to buy essential equipment such as sewing machines, a laptop and a printer, and other general educational materials. We were also able to increase the teacher’s salaries. We have improved our governance process. We have become more organized administratively. We were able to allow one of our teachers, Rodine, to go on maternity leave, and keep the boys school running, as there is good coordination between all of us. We have developed the activities for the children, offering more structured education, which interestingly enough includes mathematics, a subject the children seem to really enjoy. Also, Rodine is now formally registered to study a teaching qualification, which PASS is paying for.


Mariette: We opened the girls' class last year in the second term. I was very excited because I always felt I could do more for our young children in Prince Albert. We were only 3 girls in the beginning, but the class grew. The girls are taught different skills, social skills, food production, hair care and sewing. In Price Albert, job opportunities are few and far between and we teach the learners skills that will help them lead an independent life if they finish at PASS.



Arrival of the new container for classroom and office space


Stoked about the harvest


What is the most challenging part for you about working at PASS?


Rodine: The most challenging part about working at PASS is trying to convince the community that the students at the school are kind and loving children. People look at these children thinking that we are wasting our time trying to help them. If more people in the community could really spend a day in our school it would most definitely change their perspective. Another challenging part is trying to convince the students that they can rise from their circumstances. They have a low self esteem.


Mariette: The most challenging thing for me at PASS is to get the learners to work together and be self-assured and proud of themselves and of everything they undertake and complete.



What is the most rewarding thing about working at PASS?


Rodine: The most rewarding thing about working at PASS is that the teachers and the management are doing the work with dedication and the utmost love. Our main priority is taking care of our children. For 5 hours a day we feed them, listen to them and teach them in the best ways that we can. What’s also rewarding,is to see how we grew over the years. Several students that were at our school now have success stories. Our Belgian family believes in the work that we do and they are doing it out of their free will to keep PASS moving forward.


Helene: For me it is the growth and development I see in the children and the teachers.


Mariette: Some parents may believe that the child does not have a future, but I do, so the most rewarding thing for me is that they trust me and for that I am very happy. I would also like to help them improve reading and writing skills. Some of the girls cannot read at all.


PASS learners giving back to the community by rejuvenating the public park with their gardening skills


Welding is a highly useful skill and adds to the boys employability


What’s 1 thing you’ve learnt personally through your involvement with PASS?


Rodine: To have perseverance. Helene told me that these children will push me to see whether they can trust me. It took quite some years for these boys to see that they can put their trust in me. Since then I have personally grown in my work. I am not just a teacher, but also a young mother to these boys. They have the utmost respect for me.


Helene: I have learnt that community work works best when one focuses on one long term project, where one has the patience to allow everyone to develop at a pace that works for them. I have learnt that I can get support for my ideas, and I love being part of our team. I have learnt to trust the commitment and effort of my fellow team members.


Mariette: PASS changed me into a positive person. I realized that I really want to make a difference in each of the learners' lives and give each one a little hope so that they come to school every morning.



Where does PASS fit into the PA community?


Rodine: PASS is giving teenagers in the community that left the government school system for various reasons, a second chance in life. It is our way to keep them busy so that these children do not have to beg on the streets or do criminal activities.



Which skills are being taught to the pupils and how are these skills chosen?


Rodine: Reading, writing, language, teamwork, basic hygiene, woodwork, eletrical skills, gardening, sewing, food preparation, sport, plumbing, arts and crafts and cleaning. We as teachers work out a time table so that everyone knows who will teach each skill. We also had a few people in the community that did sport, reading, arts and crafts and helped with teamwork. Helene also did a few sessions at the school. Each Monday a woman in the community teaches the girls to do sewing. The school pays her R200 for two hours.



Collective gardening work


Production line and teamwork!


The boys, their sports teacher Kenneth, new rugby and soccer balls, and Rodine


Measure twice, cut once


What are the biggest constraints or limitations currently facing PASS?


Helene:

· The general socio-economic conditions in the town, which means that our children go back to harsh conditions every day after school.

· The power of drugs, and the people that sell drugs. Our children often do not stand a chance.

· The lack of job opportunities

· The economic, social and psychological legacy of Apartheid

· The remoteness of Prince Albert from other economic hubs

· The general prevailing norms of social dysfunction in terms of high levels of violence, lack of respect and dignity for individuals, poor self-esteem, inadequate parenting, abusive gender relationships, substance and alcohol abuse.

· The lack of healthy institutional systems such as policing, healthcare, and social services.

· A lack of infrastructure for PASS in terms of buildings



Do you think there are similarities between the social situation in PA and other communities around the world, so that the model of education used at PASS might be transferable to them?


Helene: Yes, I do. But each community will have a unique set of resources and constraints, so the model would have to be adapted. Also, we are so lucky to have found such dedicated people in our team. Also, the work requires a high level of psychological literacy, and this needs to blended with the existing culture in a community.


What are a few medium term achievable goals (next 1-5 years) for PASS?


Rodine:

· To have two boys classrooms.

· More local and oversea volunteers.

· To get local funders.

· Skills workshops for the teachers.

· To become Self Sustainable.


Helene: The girls’ school was a big goal and we are still busy settling that down. Also, we have only this year achieved financial stability for the next couple of years, and that was a big goal. I will give some of my ideas here in no particular order:

1. Helping our teachers to become more formally qualified.

2. Developing premises that are more comfortable in all weather conditions.

3. Paying our teachers better salaries and offering other benefits to them such as medical benefits.

4. Growing the school to help more children, but doing it sustainably.

5. To have someone in the town that can help with stakeholder management, recruiting more volunteers and generally promoting and marketing the school.



What is your 1 dream for the school if money was not a constraint?


Rodine: To have our own school building with a hostel where the students could be taken good care of and to accommodate other neighbouring communities such as Klaarstroom, Merweville and Leeu Gamka.

A vehicle to transport the children to school and back during winter times.


Helene: To build and run a safe house for children who do not have safe places to live.


Mariette: If money was not a limitation, I would like our learners to build a large kitchen with all the equipment needed to improve their baking and cooking skills because all the learners enjoy baking, and we could sell the baked goods at the Prince Albert Saturday Market. I would also like our learners to have a winter and summer school uniform as well as the sports uniform because they enjoy sport so much.







A question posed to the students of PASS themselves! (answers translated from Afrikaans).


" What is your favourite thing about PASS? "



"Hello I am Perrie, I know that the school means something to all of us, it gives us everything that we are looking for. It teaches us what we didn’t know, and helps us do what we couldn’t do." Perrie Botha.


"I come to school because I want to learn. Because I want to learn how to bake a cake, and learn how to work together in a group. I enjoy my book activities because I feel that I learn well from books. I say thank you to those who are collecting money for our school."


"The school teaches me things like building, gardening, football and rugby. I came here to learn and to work." Brendan Frieslaar.


"I am here to learn, my name is Roberto, and I say thank you to Dienkie (Rodine) and the other teachers for teaching me everything, thank you very much." Roberto Witbooi.


"Thank you Stefan, Ken, and Dienkie for everything. Dienkie gives us school work and I like that. Stefan taught us how to build, and I enjoy the sport that Ken teaches us. Thank you very much." Manzaan Maans.


"I feel the school means everything to me. I learn everything about power tools, and how to work well. I also want to say that I appreciate everything the school gives me, thank you very much." Johannes Skaarnek.


"I am at school to stay out of trouble and to stay away from drugs. I want to learn the skills of the outside world like welding and gardening, etc. I want to make a success out of my life at Prince Albert Skills School." Nullin Pekeur.


"I am here to learn, and because I want a job after school. I want to work with my hands. For the short time that I have been at the school, I hace already learnt a lot. I want to show my child how to work, one day." Leandre Steyn.


"I want to learn woodwork. I want to respect other people, and I enjoy the sport and the work at school. I like the teachers, and I like the bicycle riding." Jeandré Moses


"I really enjoy being a student at the Skills School. I like the Afrikaans classes and the Mathematics. I enjoy cleaning up, the sport and the baking lessons. I’d like to learn how to do people’s hair." Rozaan.


"I enjoy everything I do here at the school. I enjoy the Mathematics and the sport, and I would like to learn baking. The reason that I come to school everyday is that I enjoy everything. I appreciate being at the school, and the people are lekker here." Rozanne Baaitjies.


"I enjoy playing netball, working, and learning at the school. I really like needlework, and would love to learn more gardening . I enjoy Mathematics, it’s the best thing to learn." Annika Mariette.


"I like the cooking classes by Mariette, and Dienkie’s mathematics classes are also fun. I enjoy Mr K’s sport lessons, and I want to learn to work on the sewing machine. I enjoy Stebo’s natural sciences classes, and welding. I would like to learn building." Celestine.


"The people that I appreciate most at PASS are Dienkie and Auntie Mariette, because they are the people that want to see us happy and just want the best for us. What I enjoy most is sport, and I still want to learn baking." Jeniffer.


"I am at school to become better, to learn better, and to get a better job afterwards. I am proud of myself." Usher Nüku.



Emma and I have raised 5.000 Euros for PASS, which has been put to very good use thus far. Amongst other things, it has been used to build a new insulating ceiling for the very hot and very cold days (built by the boys themselves!), buy new tools and materials for learning technical skills, assisting in setting up the new girls school, and currently to build a professional website (hopefully being launched soon!). The school loves receiving visitors, so if you are in Prince Albert, pay them a visit; they are located on De Beer Street next to Swartberg High School. Their instagram page is @p.a.skills_school .

If you think you have a particualar skill you could teach them, or want to commit some of your time otherwise, reach out to them to see what's possible (or email me and I can put you in direct contact with their management team). You can of course also donate to the school via our GoFundme.

I hope you feel inspired by the excellent work being done by the Prince Albert Skills School team. I think they are proof that when one cares for and works for one's community the rewards can be huge, impact can be glimpsed in unforeseen places, and projects can evolve into things of human beauty!


Building construction is another skill which adds to the students economic viability after graduation


Building foundations


Installation of the new insulating ceiling


The school's fruit and vegetable garden is surely the envy of many!

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