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Q&A with the Kusasa Project

| January 22, 2020 | 0 Comments

Tell us about the history of the school and the community.

The Kusasa Project was founded in 2006 by Dave Riordan and Doug Gurr, initially to facilitate reading and recreational sports activities one day a week at an under-resourced school in the informal settlement outside Franschhoek in the Western Cape.

Although an area of renowned natural beauty and worldclass wines, the Cape Winelands, in which Franschhoek is situated, is also an area that has a large population of impoverished, previously disadvantaged people. This area has a relatively high rate of poverty, underemployment, illiteracy,
alcoholism, abuse and crime. Upon discovering a poor record of educational performance in local government schools, our volunteers provided stimulating exercises for English language learning and created
reading opportunities.

They also ran a variety of recreational sporting activities for learners in Grades 5–7. However, it soon became apparent that behaviours in existing schools were an obstacle that would take years and considerable political will to alter. After consultation with skilled educators and social workers both in South Africa and abroad, we soon came to realise that a more
direct approach was needed, integrating the following parameters:

• full control over the curriculum and delivery of the educational experience, utilising an internationally recognised approach tailored to the local environment

• intervention at the earliest phase of the out-of-home educational experience, beginning at preschool age

• attention to the basic nutritional needs of children on a daily basis, to allow for receptivity to learning (‘hungry children cannot learn’)

• provision for older students to attend higher-functioning schools and access to support structures to help improve their chance of success in continuing education.

Since our founding in 2006, we have taken a practical, mission-focused approach, keeping the needs and aspirations of the children at the heart of what we do and not allowing past history to be an excuse for failure or failure in our efforts to strive for a brighter future. While many well-meaning initiatives have come and gone over the years, the Kusasa Project is extremely proud of its record of staying engaged in the community it serves each and every school day since 2006 – staying true to the mantra of underpromising and overdelivering.

With a simple and consistent approach, and with our kids as the greatest representatives of the work we do, we have gained the trust and support of individuals, foundations and organisations locally and abroad, which recognise the intelligence of our engagement and the success of our programmes. This is evidenced by the growth in our activities each year. Through the work of our dedicated staff, we work every day to maintain this trust and build an exciting vision for the future.

Over the years, the Kusasa Project has gained the trust of a wide spectrum of the local community, government organisations, local schools (both government and private), local businesses and members of all segments of the population and economic strata. Our honest, non-political and consistent approach has resulted in ever-increasing levels of support for
our mission.

Tell us a little about yourselves.

Dave Riordan (trustee and co-founder)

Riordan has been a banker for 30 years, originally in the US and now in the UK, where he works in the City of London. It was during a sabbatical to South Africa that he founded the Kusasa Project. He has served on the board of schools in the UK and South Africa. He remains involved on a regular basis with all aspects of the organisation.

Doug Gurr (trustee and co-founder)

Gurr co-founded the organisation in 2006, having moved to th Franschhoek Valley in 2002 after a successful career as a stockbroker. Gurr is now a partner in the Franschhoek arm of Pam Golding International, a highly regarded estate agency firm, and also provides daily guidance to the Kusasa staff on a wide variety of matters.

Marie-Louise Raymond (head of school)

Marie-Louise Raymond started as the head of school in 2015, during the initial developmental stage of the school. Before becoming part of the Kusasa Project, she was the Grades R and 1 teacher at Franschhoek High School and music and arts and culture teacher at Loreto Convent School in Pretoria. She started out as a social worker within Mamelodi in Pretoria,
before realising that she needed to work on a more continuous basis with children.

Other trustees

In August 2019, two new trustees joined the project. Amy Kleinhans-Curd is a South African businesswoman, philanthropist and educational entrepreneur. She was the first woman of colour to be named Miss South Africa (1992), breaking a colour barrier and taking on an immense responsibility as a standard bearer for the new South Africa. Growing up as the daughter of two educator parents, and earning a Bachelor of Arts in Higher Education from the University of Cape Town, she understands the immense power of education as a tool for transformation and upliftment.
Kleinhans-Curd has used her fame and access to individuals such as Nelson Mandela, who became a mentor and friend to her as she entered a more public life, to bring about positive change in South Africa. She has worked with our children as a motivational speaker in the past. With her energy, network of contacts, educational background and personal understanding of the issues facing the children we serve, Kleinhans-Curd is an
invaluable addition to our team.

Richard Alden is a businessman with extensive experience in developing and financing fast-growing telecommunications and software companies in Europe, Africa and the Americas. He has lived and worked all over the world, most recently in Nairobi. He is now an active investor in, and board member of, a wide range of so-called ‘disruptive businesses’1 and lives part
of the year in Cape Town. With his unique combination of business acumen, financial expertise, operational skills and knowledge of the challenges of operating in Africa, Alden provides an excellent addition to our governing body. He comes from a family of teachers.

Tell us about your relationships with other schools in the area, both public and independent.

The communities of the Cape Winelands include isiXhosa and Afrikaans-speaking coloured people who usually work on the farms, in the hospitality industry or on infrastructure projects in the area.

Our teachers are all based within the Boland area and have several years of experience among them. They are all young and energetic teachers who want to teach and inspire the children within our school. We have Afrikaans, Xhosa, English and Shona teachers who add to the diversity of our school.

Tell us about the key philosophies that underpin teaching and learning at your school.

We are preparing children to compete in the global environment. We do this by moulding and enhancing their social, emotional and cognitive development.

We are raising the quality of education in the community to create communicative, imaginative, multilingual students who are prepared for the future.

We are following a whole-child approach. Each child in this school and this community deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. That’s what a whole-child approach to learning, teaching and community engagement really is.

We teach our children according to the academic baseline of the national Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), as recommended by the Department of Basic Education.

We enrich our children by teaching according to:

• whole-brain lesson planning and teaching

• the emotional intelligence of each learner

• whole-school theme-related learning

• teaching our learners a strong value system.

We focus on the nutritional and health aspects of each learner in the following ways:

• healthy breakfasts and lunches are served each day

• family food parcels are distributed in cases of need over holiday periods

• visits to dentists, optometrists and audiologists are conducted

• assessments by speech therapists, occupational therapists and educational

psychologists are undertaken

• family guidance by social workers and educational psychologists takes place regularly.

What makes your school unique?

The Kusasa Project Early Learning Centre (ELC) opened in 2012 and currently serves approximately 130 children in six grades: 0, R, 1, 2, 3 and 4. Our ELC seeks to prepare children for a lifetime of learning by imparting a love for learning; solid core skills of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving; strong personal interaction skills; and an appreciation for healthy living and the role of the individual in shaping their world. We strive to give a firm start to a child’s educational journey, and to build confident children who can thrive in the next phase of education. As part of our ethos, we look to engage the parents or carers in the educational lives of their children,
regardless of the adults’ level of education or literacy. This English-based foundation phase school includes a balance of boys and girls, who are isiXhosa and Afrikaans native-speaking children from the local community. We employ a well-rounded approach to teaching, with a teaching staff committed to serving the whole child and to working to help the child fulfil
their potential, regardless of the external environment or social/economic situation.

What are the key challenges you have faced and how did you deal with them?

The economic history of the area, entwined with apartheid era injustices, has left a populace beset by the vagaries of poverty, crime, alcoholism, abuse, illiteracy, poor nutrition and broken families. Children in the communities bear the brunt of the social and educational problems of the region. Sub-standard housing, poor infrastructure and sanitation, and lack of adequate resources for recreation or extracurricular activities means these children not only suffer from the harshness of the immediate
environment but also have few options to climb out of the cycle of despair.

What are your future plans for the school?

The school went through a long early growth process. At this moment, we are extremely happy with our current situation and would like to develop and grow our educational climate to ensure that our learners are challenged and developed to the best of their ability. We would also like to develop our medical and emotional programmes so that these programmes are sustainable and run in partnership with the school on a continuous basis.

Why did you join ISASA?

It is important for independent schools to be affiliated with an umbrella organisation that can guide them in new directions, and challenge the current situations within the school and educational milieu.

What does being an independent school mean to you?

Independent schools prepare students not just for university, but for life. Independent school teachers nurture intellectual curiosity, encourage personal growth and foster character development.

What else would you like to say?

All learners say this creed every morning during our morning celebration. It underpins everything we try to achieve and do at our school:
We will utilise every day
Given to us to the fullest
Realising we will never have another shot at today
Right here, right now
We seize the day!


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Category: Summer 2019

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