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Forging a future on the Wild Coast

| September 13, 2018 | 0 Comments


Since its inception in 2011, Ithuba Wild Coast Community College (IWCCC) has grown in leaps and bounds.

This journey of development has been an inspiring one, beginning with an Austrian tourist, educator, politician and entrepreneur, Christoph Chorherr, who fell in love with the Wild Coast and felt a great desire to assist the rural community of Mzamba Mouth in some way. The urgent need for education facilities in the Eastern Cape dictated the choice of developing an English medium school in the area. Local leaders and tribal authorities were consulted, land was allocated, and planning began in 2010. The non-governmental organisation Socially Sustainable Architecture (S2arch)1, established by Chorherr, had developed an Ithuba Skills College outside Heidelberg in Gauteng. Ithuba Wild Coast was the next dream and after completing negotiations, fund raising for this project began. The collaborative efforts of several universities and technical schools in Germany and Austria that visited South Africa consistently over the years, resulted in the steady and progressive development of the school.

Intercontinental architecture

The building phases took place during our first and third terms each year. Lecturers, and between 15-20 architecture students from Europe, would prepare structural building plans for IWCCC as part of their curriculum studies. They then had the opportunity to come to South Africa for a six- to eight-week period and build their designs, together with a local team who learned skills along the way. Universities provided some of the funding and students did their own fund raising, paying for accommodation in the holiday resort of Port Edward, car hire and food, while S2arch took responsibility for rest of the building costs. The overall site plan and building specifications established a cohesive element of design and flow of energy between the buildings, ensuring the required number of classrooms and facilities could be accommodated on the piece of land available, not forgetting the need for sports grounds and open space/gardens. All this has been accomplished, predominantly, by the committed efforts of Markus Dobmeier and Elias Rubin, who have managed numerous teams of architectural students and local men and women over the past nine years!

Transformative building based on unity

From humble beginnings with one unfinished classroom accommodating 32 learners, using a portable toilet and cooking at a neighbour’s house, IWCCC now boasts a preschool complex with three classrooms, toilet facilities and a playground allowing for creative activities, cognitive development and experiential play. The foundation and intermediate/senior education phase buildings include one classroom per grade, each with their own courtyard, rain tank and magnificent windows allowing natural light to flood the spaces. A fully equipped kitchen provides a healthy, cooked meal daily for all learners. The toilet blocks for boys and girls are waterless, EcoSan units2 and the teachers’ room and small library is centrally located. A newly constructed hall is already proving to be a unifying element for the community at large, as the school hosts various functions, and we look forward to moving into the administration offices once they have been furnished. IWCCC currently accommodates 303 pupils, 14 educators and eight support staff, starting at the preschool level and extending to Grade 7. We have finally reached official primary school status!

A sense of self and opportunity

The benefits of witnessing and being active participants in the growth of the school has allowed learners and staff a sense of ownership. They have all had personal interaction with intelligent, hard-working and motivated young adults who have hopefully inspired them. These interactions also help develop the learners’ sense of confidence in communicating in English and possibly opened their minds to some of the opportunities life offers. The current Grade 7 learners are IWCCC’s pioneers and we hope the educational and experiential foundation they have received here will stand them in good stead as they venture into the future. “Ithuba” means “Opportunity”, and we sincerely believe that the school offers learners an opportunity for self-actualisation. The core difference between IWCCC and other schools in the area is that English is the medium of instruction and taught as a ‘home’ language. Although this does prove challenging in many cases, due to the lack of English spoken in most of our pupils’ homes, the community is strongly supportive of this initiative and very proud that their children, the next generation, will be empowered through language. This opportunity creates a great sense of achievement and hope among the children too. The motto for Ithuba WCCC is “Build together, learn together” and this is one of the keys to its success as a project. Not only have the students from Germany and Austria used this as a learning opportunity from an academic design point of view, working it into their curriculum studies, but being physically involved in construction always proves to be an excellent experience for these young people. The tangible realisation of a concept allows students to witness their creativity as the buildings rise from foundations to completed structures in a very short period… an enormously satisfying achievement for all on site. The community has also benefited from this project over the years. A group of local, previously unskilled and unemployed young men have consistently been involved with each new phase. Initially forming the bulk of the hard-labour force, digging foundation trenches, mixing cement and wheeling barrows-full of topsoil away from the site, these men have subsequently developed skills including brick laying, plastering, screeding of floors, carpentry and mastering the use of many power tools. They have been exposed to architectural plans and drawings, thereby learning to understand the importance of careful designing, planning, calculating and measuring. They have faced challenges regarding weather, supply of materials, functionality of certain materials and products and have been part of the problem-solving process.

Empowerment and lifelong learning

This learning experience goes beyond the building site too, as each participant, whether South African or European, embraces the opportunity to develop relationships they would ordinarily never have, get to know each other as individuals and work together over this intense period. The teamwork necessary to meet a deadline, regardless of stumbling blocks, is crucial, and the ability to follow instructions and be a positive, active participant serves well as a general work ethic, another aspect learned on the building site. The students from Europe find these relationships particularly rewarding, as South Africans are open, warm, loving, hospitable and always friendly. The children also get showered with love and attention and give back completely unconditionally, which according to the foreign students, is rare among the comparatively spoilt children from their more ‘sophisticated’ society. With each new group that comes to develop IWCCC, our local team has become prouder of their contribution. They see that they are building something precious and ensuring the educational future of the youth. When the hall and administration block were under construction, the local team, who by then had years of experience, became accomplished builders, acted as guides to the ‘rookie’ architecture students! These builders have truly become local heroes and role models for our youth who have witnessed the evolution of the school over time.

An ethos of sustainability

The staff comprises members of different racial and cultural backgrounds and the teachers are in a unique position to demonstrate conscious change, overcoming the barriers of the old apartheid South Africa, working together, sharing strengths and talents and striving toward a common goal of bettering lives and attitudes. The architecture lends itself to this collective consciousness: students, staff and community members embrace an ethos of sustainability and environmental sensitivity. As education involves developing learners holistically, the focus has been spread across academics, sporting, cultural and ethical lines.

In 2014, IWCCC enrolled with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) Eco-Schools programme.3 Environmental education is at the core of our vision and goals. The Wild Coast is a very sensitive area, politically and environmentally,4 which is being threatened by a rapidly growing community and ruthless development. Part of our mission is to teach children the value of their immediate environment. While many issues and topics are covered within the curriculum, the school makes an extra effort to extend consciousness by collecting rain water for general use from each building and implementing creative projects using recyclables. Waste is sent for recycling to the Wild Coast Sun hotel and casino,5 which has a zero-waste-to-landfill policy,6 and environmental clean-ups are done regularly on the grounds, in the neighbourhood and surrounding areas. A small garden has been established that provides organic vegetables to the kitchen, and indigenous gardens and trees have been planted throughout the grounds to encourage biodiversity. Much of this work has been done by volunteer parents, who have contributed enormously over time to the beautification and maintenance of the school grounds. As time progressed, the school steadily introduced various sports and cultural activities. Motivated staff members and parents began with athletics, soccer, dance and singing. We have participated locally in some of these disciplines and now include netball. Several of our athletes have represented the sub-circuit and risen to district level and we are immensely proud. The development of fields from stony grasslands to level sporting grounds, although they are small, has taken time and is constantly improving. Our intention is to extend the sports and extramural programme to include other activities such as volleyball, baseball, art and yoga. IWCCC is not only a foreign-funded school but is also supported by the Founder’s Golf organisation, which has over the past four years contributed toward equipment, learner and teaching materials and the improvement of the grounds. The casino has maintained the access road and invited learners to the waterpark7 annually and provided indigenous plant material.

Potential and passion

In Mzamba Mouth, IWCCC represents hope. The community is economically vulnerable, unsophisticated and humble. Although the school fees are very low and salaries are meagre, with parent participation, commitment from the community, hard work and dedicated staff, the school continues to blossom. IWCCC offers a sensitive, nurturing and stimulating learning environment with competent, caring and dedicated educators. Primary school lays the foundations for life, from educational experience to individual attitude. We hope the opportunity of being a member of IWCCC will be considered a privilege and will carry students to great heights. As new members of ISASA, we look forward to interaction and sharing with other ISASA schools in future. We still have so much to do, so much potential and lots of passion!

Jackie du Toit is managing director at IWCCC.

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Category: Spring 2018

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