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Note by Jonathan Schrire,
Chairman of Vrygrond Community Development Trust.
Cape Town;
28 January 2008.

Ten years ago I became involved in forming a community body in Vrygrond, supposedly the oldest squatter camp in the W. Cape, near Muizenberg, a suburb of Cape Town. The residents on this body, - the Vrygrond Community Development Trust, - then asked me stay on as their Chairman which I have been ever since.

The Trust first obtained from the City Council the 52 hectares site upon which Vrygrond is situated. We then engaged with the local authority and the Dept of Housing to obtain state subsidies for all the shacks; this money was then used to build 1,600 brick houses with toilets, water, electricity, which replaced the shacks. At the time this was the largest delivery of sub-economic housing in the Southern Cape Peninsula. In April 1999 this trust was short-listed for the President’s Masakhane Award for outstanding Non Governmental Organisations.

The housing took about 4 years to complete. After that we raised funds to build other facilities including a Creche and a Library. The Creche and Library have been very successful; - the Library just won an annual award, made by the Library & Information Association of SA, for the best Branch Library in the W. Cape for 2006.
The Creche caters for about 180 kids who get food as well as pre-school education. This Trust pays the monthly running costs of these facilities through donor funding.

The population of approx 9,000 people in Vrygrond includes many children of varying ages. Vrygrond had no school of its own and the children went to schools in the neighbouring suburbs. These are often of poor quality, and many kids were deterred from going to school by bad weather and the risk of muggings.

When the new Vrygrond was built, the town planners left a large 3 hectare site in the middle for a school and sports field. However nobody realistically thought a school would ever be built there. The W. Cape Education Dept acknowledged the need for a school, but they listed another 65 communities elsewhere which were in more urgent need of schools. Left to the state, Vrygrond might get a school in 15 years.

In early 2005 however, prompted by difficulties in placing the children from our Creche in Primary schools, and encouraged by discussions with friends and supporters, a decision was made to try and raise enough money to build a school. The concept started modestly, even thinking of using modified shipping containers as the basic units. At an early stage Dennis Fabian, a close friend who runs a big architectural practice, threw his professional weight behind the project.

Eventually Dennis and his office designed a proper school with 12 classrooms which would cater for over 400 children. Using his contacts, Dennis put together a team of professional and building firms, many of whom worked either for free or at a discount.

The cost of R6 million (£430,000 or $900,000) seemed daunting and even as we set about trying to raise this, we were constantly deciding what was essential and what could be omitted. The Hall, which is now one of the outstanding buildings in Vrygrond, was planned, but right until the last minute we were going to leave it out for lack of money. But with the early support of a few key funders who came in at the beginning (Dave Altschuler, Jonny Levy and Ronnie Harris), we began to raise the money.

At the same time we were raising money, I was engaged in meetings with the Dept of Education and various groups within Vrygrond. The Dept agreed that if we built the school, they would take over the annual costs and would run it as a state school. So we knew that the basic running costs would be covered.

By early 2007 we ‘pressed the trigger’. Work started on site in June 2007 and within six months the school was finished. On the first day of the school term 16th January 2008, Capricorn Primary School opened.

The school is what is called a Foundation Phase Primary School which caters for 4 grades, - Grades R through 3, - it has 12 classrooms and approx 400 children between 6 and 10 years old (35 per class). It is designed in such a way that it can be extended by building on another 12 classrooms for the other 4 grades of primary school.

The participants in this project are determined that this school be a model of how to provide good quality education to a disadvantaged community (much as the Library and Pre-school Creche have become in their spheres). The Dept of Education shares this vision.
This requires a lot of extra educational input over and above the basics which the Dept of Education provides, and our overwhelming need at the moment is to find funding to pay the extra teachers, assistants, social worker and remedial professionals, which the State will not provide.

For details of the EDUCATIONAL ISSUES and FUNDING NEEDS please go to those tags on the website.



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