Pebbles Project comes full circle

Six students who benefited for the Pebbles Projects school ever programme, recently graduated from, or are studying, at tertiary institutions, and their successes were celebrated at the NGOs 2017 AGM at Joosentberg conference centre. Pictured are Zadie Isaacs and Michelle van Wyk, both of Bellevue Wine Farm, N6 in management assistance at Boland College; Mineke Toerien ,Pebbles social worker and school leaver programme manager; Bradley Kriel, Eikendal Wine Farm, in 3rd year BA languages studies at the University of Stellenbosch; Abigail Rose, Eikendal Wine Farm, level 4 in tourism course at Boland College; Leonie du Plessis, LAvenir Wine Farm, N6 in early child development at Boland College. Not pictured: Johnline Plaatjies, Delheim Wine Farm, N6 in hospitality at Boland College.

The Pebbles Project, started in 2003 by Sophie and Lucy Warner to help address the scourge of foetal alcohol syndrome in the Cape Winelands, is now a major force in the lives of thousands of people who work in the wine industry.

Pebbles showcased its efforts in the last financial year to stakeholders, at its 2017 annual general meeting at Joostenberg conference centre recently, reporting its successes in its five main pillars of endeavour: education, health, nutrition, community and protection.

Particular highlights for the year compared with 2016 are: an increase in the number of centres – early childhood development, after school clubs, and township centres – from 43 to 48; an increase in the number of children who access Pebbles services from 1 000 to 1 478; an increase in number of staff trained from 96 to 114; an increase from 585 to 717 children fed; and an increase from 5 712 to 6  018 clinic visits.

On the donor front, 73% are South African, 13% from the United Kingdom, and 14% for Europe and other countries. Pebbles expanded its operations to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in 2017, and for the first time, sought out and leased premises to accommodate its education project, rather than seeking out accommodation donated by a supporting farm.

Speaking after the formal proceedings, chairman of trustees, Stephen Digby, reflected on the growth the organisation over the last 14 years: “It bears no resemblance to when Pebbles first approached me when I had the restaurant (Manuka @ Southey Vines) and I helped them out with the office at the front, and my involvement began to increase. From those humble beginnings – three women in a small office – you now see this organisation with a multi-million rand turnover helping (just under) 1 500 children every day improve their chances in life and thereby improving the chances of South Africa.”

Founding director, Sophie Warner, spoke of the significance of Pebble’s leasing premises for the first time to accommodate its programmes: “We’ve got to do things differently. At the moment we work to a three year strategic plan. We need to now start looking at the next 20 years.

“In order for us to grow both geographically, and to add in new programmes, we must have that big picture first, then we work our way back to what we have to do this year, next year and the year after.

“We can no longer rely on there being a suitable building on a farm right to serve that community. If it means we need to lease buildings in to order set up facilities, we still get funding and support from the farms in those areas, but it does give us more autonomy to be able to set up projects without being totally dependent on goodwill, or the availability of a building. It is in some senses a watershed (for the organisation) but it just means is that we need to be doing things wiser, smarter.”

Asked what she sees as the most significant achievement of the year, Ms Warner said: “That group of six children from the school leavers programme, some of who have been with us for 14 years, having gone on to tertiary studies and are now graduating.”

She added that prior to the school leavers programme’s inception, very few students completed Grade 12.

“This is our first bank of graduates who, having been impacted by every single programme throughout the process, can get a job, buy a house, have a family, buy a car. That’s the whole point of what we do.”