Disrupting a Vicious Cycle: Bonnievale Builds a ‘Miracle’ School

Tuesday, 8 May, 2018
WOSA Blog, Julia Moore
To many a tourist, Bonnievale is a picturesque village true to its name. But look beyond the lush, green vineyards and towering mountains and you will soon see the poverty and depravation endemic to a typical rural farming community.

Philip Jonker grew up on the Weltevrede farm in Bonnievale. His family has been farming since 1912, making Philip the fourth generation to farm there. “I believe in investing in relationships, not in things,” he says plainly. “Although this is a family wine estate, it’s not just the Jonker family that’s involved, it is everyone, in every family that lives and works on this farm.” His mission is to restore the ‘self-worth’ of every member of the community and he plans to do it from the bottom up.

“Walk around here and you’ll see little kids with bright eyes and big smiles. But by age 8 or 9, the light in their eyes has dimmed and it is scarily evident that they are losing hope, submitting to a future of poverty, bound to continue in their parents’ limited footsteps.”

But Jonker’s mission is to derail that cycle and to do that he realised that education was the best place to start. A quick survey of the community showed that, due to restructuring of local schools by the Education Department, by 2018 there would be 1 500 school children chasing only 350 places in the local high school.

So Philip gathered 15 role players in the community and together they approached the Education Department to ask them to build a school. To their dismay, the Department turned them down. The demand for schools is a national phenomenon and they are struggling to build and equip schools fast enough. Undaunted, they negotiated a joint venture with the Department, getting them to agree to funding 40% and running costs of the school, if the community could come up with land and the remaining 60%. That’s a tall order for a village of only 12 000 people!

The Jonkers nailed their colours to the mast by donating 12 hectares of their vineyard: “We needed a site that was within walking distance of the learners’ homes, and a portion of our farm stretched right into the community.”

Next, they needed to get the school designed and the local architect was approached and asked to design the school at no cost. Miraculously he agreed, and so did an impressive succession of engineers, electricians, earth movers, a project manager, land surveyor and even an attorney. “Everyone shared our vision and was willing to buy into the project.”

We started with a budget of R50million, but very soon that grew to R100million,” says Philip incredulously. “No-one gave more that R1million, but many, many people donated their time, their talents and their expertise to make this happen.”

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