In the early afternoon, five days a week, a school bell disrupts the stillness in the streets of Touwsranten, a village 30km east of George, South Africa. The sound of more than 400 voices quickly follows, their owners gathering outside the gates of Touwsranten Primary School, chattering and shrieking.
After a short break, some of the children start to walk home, but this number is small. Most make their way back inside the school or to a small building two doors down, just next to Touwsranten's church. They're part of an after-school programme which since 2007 has altered the fabric of this Western Cape community.
More than 80% of the children in Touwsranten, from Grades R to 12, attend the Seven Passes Initiative's after-school programme
Touwsranten is surrounded by some of South Africa's largest vegetable and dairy farms. It was on several of these farms that clashes between youths who had formed makeshift gangs turned violent in 2007, prompting farmers, community members and representatives from the non-governmental sector to band together to find a solution.
With boredom, a lack of academic support and an absence of role models identified as catalysts, the group agreed that an alternative to policing was required. 'The argument at the time was that investing in building communities and helping young people was better than farm patrols in the long term,' says Dr Chandré Gould, senior research fellow in the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies. Gould was instrumental in setting up the programme. 'We knew we had to deal with the root causes of these incidents in order for our efforts to be effective and sustainable.'
Within days, homework classes began on some of the farms, and before long, these classes had been formally established into a non-governmental organisation called the Seven Passes Initiative. It was named for the winding back road that runs between George and Knysna. Today, more than 80% of the primary and high school learners in Touwsranten attend Seven Passes' after-school programme.
Dina Manuel's two grandchildren, aged 10 and 12, are among them. Manuel, who has been working in the packaging house at local brussels sprout and celery farm Mandalay for the past 24 years, says the children love the programme. 'They come home happy in the evenings, and their report cards are better, too. In the past, we used to come back late from work and have to sit down with our children to help them with the schoolwork they didn't understand, based on the little bit that we understood. That's what makes Seven Passes so great: they take all that work out of our hands.'
Children are given a balanced meal, homework support, and time for games and activities in a safe and nurturing environment
The programme runs for free every day of the week, providing children with a balanced meal, homework support and, on Fridays, an afternoon of sport, play and creativity. The homework support is provided by a team of educational facilitators, mostly young women whose positions are subsidised by the Department of Community Safety's Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The EPWP offers local community members practical work experience for a year, helping them gain a foothold in the working economy. In this way, the after-school programme has a strong youth development component to it.
Since Seven Passes began, Touwsranten has seen more than 20 young men and women who were involved in the after-school or youth development programmes go on to attend university. The first of these was Naizel Buys. In 2014 she graduated with her degree in labour relations and her post-graduate certificate in education from North-West University. She returned to Touwsranten in 2015 to teach at Touwsranten Primary and was later nominated to serve as chairperson of the Seven Passes board.
Buys's story is an inspiration to the learners she interacts with every day. Learners like Denzel de Swardt, who has been spending four afternoons a week at Seven Passes for the past five years, as well as most of his holidays. 'Seven Passes is like a second home to us,' he says. 'It's where we meet, sit and relax, and do our work together.' Now in his final year of high school, Denzel hopes to study teaching at Nelson Mandela University when he is finished.
The Seven Passes after-school programme is not without its problems. Space is a persistent issue, with staff offices and bathrooms being used for storage, and outdoor shelters and shady trees for classrooms. The programme currently uses two classrooms at the primary school, but this is inadequate for the number of children it caters for every day.
Although the programme has contributed to virtually eliminating violence in the area (farm violence today, says Mandalay owner Peter Leppan, is nil), the children still display aggressive behaviour from time to time. The belief that this is probably an imitation of behaviour they are witnessing at home led to the establishment of a positive parenting programme in 2013. This has been rolled out across the community and has seen important, tangible successes.
Denzel de Swardt, who has been attending the after-school programme for five years, plans to study teaching when he graduates from high school at the end of 2017
'Investing in the early prevention of violence not only yields higher returns but also eradicates the problem before it even occurs, helping to ensure that violence is not transmitted from one generation to the next,' says Gould. 'These interventions also provide children with the support necessary for them to achieve their full potential so that they can contribute positively to their communities and to society.' Despite this, such initiatives remain underfunded and underutilised in South Africa. Less than 1% of the combined national and provincial Department of Social Development budgets accounts for violence-prevention and early-intervention services.
Denzel keeps his hair short on the sides, and his ears pierced with gold studs. His arms and shoulders show his age: an imminent shirking of boyishness. As he pulls out a textbook and a notepad, preparing to do his homework, he speaks about his future plans. In his eyes, a flash of excitement. 'I like to work with people,' he says, explaining his desire to teach. 'I believe every child has a dream in life and I want to be a part of helping them achieve it.'
Cassidy Parker, ISS Consultant
The Seven Passes Initiative is funded by the World Childhood Foundation and Edcon.