It’s Tourism Month but how does that help our community?
Most things in life happen because there is a need. We needed to educate our children and so we decided to build a school. The Department of Education told us we needed at least 15 children and ISASA (Independent Schools Association of South Africa) were quite frank and told us we were crackers! Well, we listened to neither and when you are determined enough, things do happen. Initially, Royal Drakensberg Primary was to serve our own needs. Educate our own children, keep them at home for a little longer and no travelling long distances to get an education.
To begin with, we had teachers but so few children that we began a Scholarship Fund. This Fund was set up to assist disadvantaged children from our rural community and help them in getting a quality start. Our first year, 2007, we had about 11 children in Grade 1, Grade R and pre-primary. We grew slowly, just a grade a year, adding buildings as we needed and sourcing good teachers from afar. And, 10 years later Royal Drakensberg stands tall serving a broader community and providing a quality start to more than 75 children each year.
Children have moved on to other schools. Our first Grade 1 child enters Grade 12 next year. One young boy spent his winter holiday singing in Japan with the Drakensberg Boys Choir School. Others have been awarded scholarships to complete their education at top schools in Pietermaritzburg and it all began in a small stone school house in the Northern Drakensberg.
But, what does this have to do with tourism? Well, tourism attracts all kinds of interesting people. As a hotelier and a teacher I am never at a loose end because I love what I do and my passion overflows into the projects we support. This passion means I talk to a lot of people and somehow we convince them to get involved and help out. I am continuously astounded at the magnitude of help that is out there. Teachers offer workshops, consultants give direction and specialists guide and support us. Without the tourism industry none of this would be possible.
Our guests have watched as our small school has grown. Tour operators question how it all works. Businesses and corporates have come on-board to help make a real difference. But, what have we really achieved? Well, we have taken a child and nurtured them and loved them and grown them. We have held their crayons and drawn the lines, we have walked on stilts guiding their steps and we have spent hours encouraging them to read, write and count. Essentially Royal Drakensberg is helping to create opportunities for the disadvantaged little people in this rural society. It is giving every child that passes through its door a springboard to success. Royal Drakensberg develops in its children kindness and cultivates integrity, it celebrates hard work and instils a deep sense of respect.
In South Africa, many children who reach Grade 3 cannot read or write. They are so far behind at this stage that they drop out of school . This becomes another lost generation and we cannot afford to not step-in. We need our children to help build an economy and be functioning, contributing members of society. Royal Drakensberg provides a safe haven where every child will learn to read and write and every child will learn to count. Every child will be encouraged to explore and question and observe and lead and be excited about learning. And, each visiting guest and each helping hand ensures that we create real hope.
As guests and businesses, as supporting schools and corporates, we have created a beacon of hope. As Nelson Mandela once said;
“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”