Pebbles Project comes full circle

PICTURE: NORMAN MCFARLANE

It’s a nice place to work. People come to work here, love it, and then they stay.

With these words, Pebbles director, Sophie Warner, explains the remarkable staff retention that the Pebbles Project has achieved in the past 14 years.

Six staff members have between seven and 12 years service, and 27 have been with Pebbles for longer than three years, according to Ms Warner, speaking after the organisation’s annual general meeting at Joostenberg near Stellenbosch, on Thursday August 23.

The brainchild of sisters Sophie and Lucy Warner, Pebbles started life in 2005 with a focus on addressing foetal alcohol syndrome in communities in the Cape wine industry.

Its first fund-raising event was abseiling off Table Mountain, it employed a single staff member yet it commenced the training of 12 early childhood development (ECD) staff, and opened five ECD centres on five different wine farms.

Fourteen years later, Pebbles has a full-time staff of over 70, is assisted by 127 volunteers and the range of services which it renders to communities living and working on wine farms encompasses education, healthcare, nutrition, community upliftment, and community protection.

It has 52 facilities on wine farms, and in many instances the farm owners have not only made premises available, but also contribute materially to the ongoing running and upkeep.

Simon Grier of Villiera Wine Estate, which houses the Pebbles head office, and hosts the Owethu Health Clinic, explains his family’s involvement with Pebbles: “Pebbles has given us peace of mind in that we know that our children with special needs are in the best possible hands. Pre-school kids have a fantastic base when entering the schooling system. The after school club supports children throughout their school career and with tertiary education. In addition, Pebbles is looking after the healthcare of our whole community with the Owethu Clinic. Parents are relaxed knowing that their kids are in good hands. The children are a pleasure to be around.”

Pebbles’ income in the last financial year exceeded R20 million, only a small proportion of which is government funding, with the balance coming from local and overseas donors.

The numbers are impressive: 700 children fed per month, 47 baby boxes (a substantial starter pack for pregnant mothers) handed out, 34 early childhood development centres in operation, 6 333 clients managed through the Owethu Health Clinic,
120 267 meals served to children, 296 school packs handed out, 600 children in after school clubs, 52 child beneficiaries finished school, and three school leavers who have studied further, graduated from their tertiary education courses.

During her presentation of the year’s highlights, Ms Warner noted that Pebbles will in future also render services to the elderly in the communities that it currently serves. “Each of the farms on which we operate has an action committee, which focuses on identifying gaps where services are required for the community. They helped us identify the need for support for older people.

“We’ve always known that there are older people on the farms, but now it’s exciting to think that there is some way that we can support them and they can soon support us. For example, with one of our school projects, the older generation is involved with the crèche children, teaching them to read, to write and play with them. I think there’s a great deal of scope for how we can engage with the older generation going forward.”

With interventions commencing prior to birth, and extending through early childhood, primary and secondary school, tertiary education, adult community upliftment and services to the elderly, Pebbles takes care of the comunities it serves from the cradle to the grave, Ms Warner told Bolander.

Despite challenging economic circumstances for a number of years, Pebbles has managed to maintain increases in donor funding in most years. “A lot of our donors have been with us for many years.

“They will make an investment and partner with us for a number of years, for example Facet (a donor that funds six mobile education resource vehicles) will fund us for the next three years. Other donors also commit to long-term funding, anything up to five years. It is that donor retention which gives us the peace of mind that we have beneficiary security.

“We have high standards, and are not prepared to compromise. We are accountable and we know where every cent is spent. The staff are given a budget to manage but there’s a lot of control in place to make sure that it’s managed properly and I think the staff speak for themselves.

“They run the programs professionally and that fits into the ethos of the entire organisation.”

Chairperson Stephen Digby believes Pebbles’ continued support by long-term donors is based on trust in the organisation and its vision. Using the ambitious Pebbles Food Factory project at Clouds Estate on Helshoogte Pass as an example, Mr Digby said: “This project is completing the circle in that we are seeing donors are not just putting a hand in their pockets and making a donation.

“They will be able to take back from Pebbles as well in terms of trained staff, educated staff, stable staff. We’re helping to develop employable and useful members of the community in the future. And that’s why they (donors) are committing those funds for the future.”