Twice a week for the past three years, management and staff at Beacon Island Resort, often including the general manager, have been slipping away to drive out of town and attend little-known meetings. The rendezvous point is always the same, the setting is a far cry from the glamour of the resort, and on the agenda are matters of crucial importance to South Africa’s future.
What are they are up to? Reading storybooks one-on-one to children in a poor community.
Since 2016, Beacon Island has been a committed, hands-on supporter of a reading and English-literacy programme at Phakamisani Primary School in the township of Kwanokuthula. Inspired by the work of The Shine Centre and run by the organisation Volunteering SA, the programme aims to help second-language speakers in their early years become more fluent in English, better able to manage the transition to English-medium instruction in Grade 4, and more likely to succeed in their education.
After the head of the programme approached Beacon Island to volunteer time and resources, personnel at the resort received training in how to engage with the schoolchildren and then made themselves available for active duty, with two of them going out twice-weekly for 1-2-hour sessions of word-games, phonics, conversation and reading with expression. Beacon Island also assists the school with stationery and new reading materials.
Ronel Schoeman, our Deputy General Manager, is a seasoned participant. “It’s been amazing,” she said. “You get to know the children. The first time you’re there, they barely speak to you; by the second time, you start getting a smile. As you go along, you realise, Wow, this child is developing. Or you get the one who’s a quiet mouse and suddenly becomes this chatty person. It’s incredible to see the children’s growth in confidence.”
The programme at Phakamisani is one of Beacon Island’s two main corporate social investment (CSI) projects focused on children and education. The other is at Wittedrift Primary, a small farming-town school with 240 learners and about seven kilometres from Plettenberg Bay.
While the emphasis at Phakamisani is on literacy and psychosocial development, at Wittedrift it’s on something more basic – helping to make sure leaners have adequate infrastructure, sanitation and nutrition. The school is more than a hundred years old, and some aspects of it have been in desperate need of maintenance for health and safety purposes.
Beginning in 2018, Beacon Island has supported Wittedrift Primary School in a variety of ways, among them by tiling and repairing its ablution facilities, putting up security gates and burglar bars, and fitting the kitchen with roofing, ceiling, flooring and tiling – work for which the resort appointed and oversaw local contractors. The school was also assisted with seed, fencing and other materials to enable it to re-establish and continue growing its vegetable garden, which is the heart of its feeding programme.
The project at Wittedrift came about thanks to a proposal made by staff members. Every year we put a memo out to our staff asking them for suggestions about areas in their communities that need improvement, be it a school, a day-care centre or anything else. They submit their ideas and a management team goes out to evaluate what’s been suggested and make a decision on where our support is most needed.
Beacon Island is probably the largest employer in the Plettenberg Bay area, so we look for ways to be of assistance to our staff within their communities. It’s our way of thanking them and giving back.