Dr. Christa van Louw, principal of the LiLwimi (“languages” or “tongues”) Center of Multi linguistics and language proficiency of the University of the Western Cape, and her team, are hard at work at the literacy model that is being designed for use on wine farms. “It is, actually, much more than just a reading and writing program,” She says.

It is quiet on Klein-Doolhof (known today as Siyabonga) in between Wellington’s hills and valleys. There are two great tables in the farm’s storeroom. Farm workers are seated and are concentrating, focused on the task before them. These adults are learning to read and write.

Uncle Fortuin peeks shyly from under his grey hat. He looks down his face wrinkles up in his intense concentration. He slowly reads the words in front of him: “My name is Faro.” He looks up, beaming with pride, smiles and continues: “I would really like to be able to read the Bible.”

In a classroom nearby, the children of the adults (six years and older) are learning how to make a hamburger and how to describe that in writing. The children watch closely and then get into action.

These are just two scenes at Siyabonga, (which means, “We give thanks”).

This is where the literacy program has been in progress for the last few months. But this, says Dr Christa van Louw, is more than just a reading and writing program, it is a vehicle to socially and individually empower the whole farm community.

The program has been created and adapted to the needs and specifications of the farm workers on this and in future for other farms. Mr Melvyn Brown, for example, would like to learn to speak Xhosa so that he can communicate properly with the farm workers of neighboring farms.

Christa says that the program also takes into account that there are social and health problems on many farms. Some of the farm workers do not know exactly how to solve some of their work related problems. They don’t understand some of the new technologies being incorporated. They have some sense of community, but little possibility for personal or group aspirations. This literacy model attends to all these challenges.

Graham Knox, owner of Siyabonga and wine author, says that his farm creates a unique challenge for all those that live there.

When he bought the farm, grapes were delivered to the nearby co operative cellar. “The farm only had 12 ha of vineyards and was therefore not designed for this purpose at all. Adding to that, the ground is steeply sloping, the soil is rich in clay, and rain creates problems in farming.”

“We have a program of intensive work among the vines and this causes practical and sometimes dangerous problems, such as vehicles sliding on the wet roads, and difficulty gaining entry to the vineyards.”

“Since the course was commenced on this farm, the workers are tackling every inch of the farm with newfound enthusiasm,” says the farm owner. “They are building new access and roads to the vineyards.”

The farm workers, under the guidance of manager Melvyn, will play a large role in the redevelopment of the farm. Graham says: “This farm belongs to them as well. They have been living here for generations.” According to him, the farm workers know exactly what happens everywhere on the farm, and when. But they don’t know e.g. the difference between the making of good wine and a cheap wine. “The more knowledge they can accumulate, the more of a contribution they can make to the farm and its products.”

The farm workers will also be making a contribution to the wine making side, at a later stage. Graham says that the farm originally only had Chenin Blanc, Cinsaut, Pinotage and Semillon vines. “Some of the vines, such as the Semillon, are 90 years old. Since we have been here Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have been planted. The farm shows potential to produce really fine quality wines.” Graham plans to make Siyabonga into a ‘Bordeaux’ type farm and the staff are busy with grafting as well as planting. “We will attempt to keep as many of the good, old root systems as we possibly can.”

At the moment, a small amount of red and white wine is being made, which will carry the new label of Siyabonga onto local and overseas markets.

Christa says the literacy project, which includes seven families, is helping people to learn exactly how to do their respective jobs. “We take the familiar things, like the daily routine and activities, and teach the unfamiliar, like how to read and write about it. How to teach themselves how to do things more efficiently.”

Since the beginning of the course, which takes place every Tuesday and Thursday evening, every farm worker has put together a book of the equipment they use, including sketches about what he or she does on the farm. All the projects they have taken part in are described and recorded in the book.

The lecturers from the liLwimi Center are all experts in their fields and will remain on the farm providing tuition for a total of three years. Four groups of students assemble two nights a week at different areas of the farm. Each group has its own teacher. Henry Horne is the project leader.

The youngest group of babies and children under the age of six are prepared for “big school”. They hear Bible stories, build puzzles and play with dominoes and balls. “Hand-eye coordination is incredibly important,” says Karin Newman, their teacher. Aletta Julies, a farm worker who has obtained her standard six or grade eight, is being trained to eventually take over this little group.

The second group of school-going children is helped and supported with their schoolwork and homework. “Right now their parents are just not capable of helping their children with these problems.” Says Christa. These children also learn life skills under the guidance of Frances Williams and Jacques du Toit.

The adult farm workers are divided into two groups according to their abilities. Joan Heugh and Sharon Gilfellan lead the one group and Aldrige Jacobs and Carmen Hartogh lead the other. These groups run the integrated learning program, which focuses on social upliftment and empowerment. This includes the learning of life skills, reading, writing and phonics. The development of this learning program for use on wine farms is under the supervision of Pauline Olivier.

The last groups of students are Graham and Diane Knox. They are learning Afrikaans to be able to better communicate with the farm workers. According to Dylan Kuilders, their teacher, their progress is very good. He is particularly proud of Diane’s progress.

Christa says that the literacy program has already made an enormous difference to the farm. Not only are the workers more enthusiastic about their work, but they are involved and help with the planning. They even arrive on time and are motivated in their classes. “At first they had the excuse-me-for-being-alive attitude, but now they have more confidence.” According to Graham, the workers have also learnt how to solve problems, not only at work, but in their homes as well.

Christa gets rather excited when she talks about her students: ” In the beginning, someone like Chrisjan van Rooi couldn’t even recognize his own photograph. He was not used to looking at a two dimensional idea. They don’t live with mirrors in their homes. Later he excitedly pointed out his own picture. When he noticed that his picture and my picture both had ‘Chris’ underneath, he became so emotional, and he embraced me and said: ‘We have something in common.'”

There are many plans for the future. Farm workers will learn, amongst other things, how to become an entrepreneur. This will give them the opportunity to become financially independent. They will make jams, grow potatoes, paint, and with a little help from Graham make orange juice from the orange trees growing on the farm. The farm boasts a large amount of Proteas as well.

But that is not all. The farm’s inhabitants are going to make their own furniture for their “classrooms”, but only after they have completed the woodwork classes.

Health is a top priority. Christa has approached a few professionals to give the workers free dentistry services and vision testing, and even how to make balanced, nourishing meals with what they have, and teach them how to have a healthier lifestyle.

Graham is very proud with the effects of the program. “The farm workers identify with the team that instructs them. The literacy program has given them a new purpose in their lives.”

This program is being financed by DEVCO, an Article 21 company that was brought to life by the SA Wine Industry Trust. DEVCO focuses mainly on establishing wine farms for the previously disadvantaged communities and the empowering of farm workers. Theo Pegel, one of the directors at DEVCO, says that the literacy program is a unique opportunity for farm workers to contribute and involve themselves in their own development. “The program is sensitive to their need and is not based on other models such as the one used at the factories. The members of the Trust hope that the program will have developed and adapted to the extent that it can be circulated cost effectively to all the wine farms.”

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