Risk and resilience: the heart of the matter at Capella House

| March 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Sue Raath

Honouring the dedication, passion and support from all our staff, parents and children during challenging times at the end of 2015, we would like to share our story, demonstrating how our school, Capella House, lives by what it stands for – ‘the school of possibilities’.

Capella House is a progressive independent pre-primary and primary school located in the deep south of the Western Cape, in the Noordhoek/Kommetjie Valley. At our core is the belief that relationships impact learning (and life) more significantly than facilities, resources and even curricula.

This belief has been severely tested since 23 October 2015, when we were informed that violent protests had shut down the road leading to our school.1 Not only that, but protestors were outside the school premises and had broken down the temporary fencing erected by the City of Cape Town during the construction of the much-needed new road, allowing for a second access to the adjacent township of Masiphumelele, where the trouble was brewing.

Immediate action

We activated our emergency plan, told our parents that school was closed for the day and started exploring temporary premises for the school. Our pre-established evacuation sites – two local school halls – were both unavailable because of end-of yearactivities. However, Gavin Kellar at Sun Valley Primary Group of Schools kindly offered us his library and bomas (enclosures) as a temporary location. We informed our parents that school would remain closed on Monday 30 October while the teachers set up in the library and that we would reopen on the Tuesday, welcoming our 84 children into the new space.

Bomas an unexpected bonus!

What followed was a week of adaptation and flexibility as several classes operated in the library and outside. Regardless of how much they were stretched and affected, our teachers kept ‘business as usual’ going. Our Grade 1 teacher reported that her children’s productivity increased exponentially in the bomas outside, and laughingly “put in her order” for the future. Sun Valley Primary staff members were incredibly accommodating and willingly did without their library and shared their playgrounds with us.

In the meantime, the Capella House management team and board continued their liaison with local officials and governmental disaster management teams, as the situation remained tense. That week brought renewed closures of the road leading to our school, so we requested that we extend our stay at the library and began an intensive search for alternative venues for the school, supported by a number of everresourceful parents.

Soetwater a sweet experience

When the decision was taken by the Western Cape Department of Basic Education (WCDBE) to house the Masiphumele matrics elsewhere for the duration of their exam period, as their safety could not be guaranteed at Masiphumele High School, we realised that the situation could be volatile for some time. It was on the Thursday before the end of our second week in our temporary premises, whilst brainstorming options, and having visited 21 venues to no avail, that the option of the Soetwater Environmental Education Centre was raised. A phone call and a visit 20 minutes later revealed that their prescheduled camps had been cancelled by the WCDBE, and an agreement was reached that we would relocate there for the remainder of the year.

Parents, teachers, ground staff and children worked that Friday afternoon to pack up at the Sun Valley library, pick up school furniture and resources from the original school site and
set up at Soetwater. Bunk beds had to be moved out and mattresses stacked for storage, lights installed, electricity extended, kitchen and administrative areas set up and so on.
We invited parents to a ‘bring and braai’ on the Sunday to explore the new space, and opened for school on Monday 9 November 2015.

The remainder of the term was a welcome relief after the intensity of the protests and the confined space of the library. We could breathe without fear at this seaside location, with the added bonus of the centre’s Mr Lappies sharing his expertise regarding the surrounding fauna and flora with our children.

Outings were replaced by ‘innings’ as the lure of the rock pools and beach overcame our children and teachers.

Paul Greyling Primary to the rescue

Decision time for the Capella board! Where to go in 2016, knowing that we had been given the advice that the safety of our children could not be guaranteed at our official premises in the event of any future protests? This was confirmed by an independent safety audit, through which we learned that that local businesses had been burned, construction machinery destroyed, a school site threatened and a gas factory bombed.

The safety of our children is the most important thing to us, so we took the difficult decision to not return to our stunning premises on Hoemoed/Kommetjie Road. Therefore, we needed a new location for our school for 2016 and onwards, and this time another school came to our aid. Paul Greyling Primary School in Fish Hoek5 offered us a vacant field at the back of its premises.

We ended the year with a rousing concert, performed by all our children at Soetwater. On 8 December we said goodbye to our Grade 7s and those teachers and children moving on to other adventures, and to Mr Lappies. And so the packing started again.

Another move – the third in three months! This time a big one, taking not only our furniture and resources but two movable classrooms as well. The land that we are leasing at Paul
Greyling is a blank canvas on which we have drawn a playground, classrooms, trees and, most importantly, the lively presence of our Capella House community.

Reaching out and resilience

We were also vividly aware of the huge emotional impact the burning down of 800 shacks in Masiphumelele had on our community, leaving four of our staff members’ families homeless and unable to work for a month. Our parents stepped up again and supported them in getting their lives back in order.

It has been an emotional roller coaster that has proved to us once again the importance of relationships, staying positive and exploring how we can improve, build and connect.

It was an opportunity to reflect with the children on what constitutes the essence of our school: the buildings, the location or who we are as a community? We learned that we cannot choose what happens in life, but we can choose how we react to events – we can build resilience and a ‘how can we make this work for all’ approach in staff, parents and students.


1. According to local reports, the protest was sparked by the court appearance of some residents arrested in connection with vigilante killings. (Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/southafrica/1 1898917/Masiphumelele-violence-Protesters-hurl-rock-at-police-in-Cape- Town-township.html.)
2. See, for example: http://blog.londolozi.com/2015/07/what-is-a-boma/.
3. See, for example: http://www.news24.com/southafrica/local/peoplespost/ community-helps-matrics-amid-protests-20151102.
4. See: http://www.seec.org.za/.
5. See: http://lpgskool.co.za/.

Category: Autumn 2016, Featured Articles

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