The Pebbles Project – celebrating 10 years – by Lindsaye McGregor

December marks the 10th anniversary of the successful Pebbles Project. In this time, Pebbles has firmly established itself as a well-run and reputable NPO. The organisation’s aim is to change and enrich the lives of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, with an emphasis on special educational needs, in the Western Cape farming community.

It took the go-getting Warner sisters from the UK – special needs teacher Sophia, the founder and director of Pebbles, and her supportive sister, wine specialist Lucy, a Pebbles trustee and the organiser of its fund-raising parties – to show how much could be achieved in just a decade. “10 years ago a group of friends came together to change the world.; 10 years later, I truly believe we have achieved so much of what we set out to do,” said Sophia, who saw the devastating impact foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) has had on children in the winelands while on a visit to experience life in South Africa.

SofiaPebbles started its work on five farms in 2004 and today the project is impacting 18 communities. The organisation now employs 42 staff members and supports some 900 children. The approach is to support a community as a whole rather than a child in isolation, enabling them to help a vulnerable child or a whole family in crisis. The Five Pillars of Pebbles were established in 2012. These programmes are education, health, community, nutrition and protection.

Pebbles trustee Peter Blaine reported at their recent AGM, held on Warwick Wine Estate, that the project’s income had increased exponentially since its inception, growing from R500 000 in 2006 to over R5 million in 2014. Since launching in 2004 and over the last 10 years, Pebbles has raised R30 million in total. “It’s a healthy organisation that’s spending its funds properly and producing the goods,” he stated.

Pebbles has the support of many well-known wine industry players, from Distell, JF Hillebrand, KWV, Marks and Spencer and Villiera Wines to Wines of South Africa (WOSA), as well as the Cape Wine and Nederburg auctions.

The inaugural AfrAsia Bank Cape Wine Auction, held in February earlier this year, raised R7 045 000 for education charities in the winelands, of which R1m was donated to Pebbles. Some of the winners of the recent Standard Bank Chenin Top 10 Competition will also be donating their prize money of R20 000 each to the project. Tim Atkin, a well-known UK wine judge and writer, recently climbed Mount Ararat for the Pebbles Project, raising over £4000 “for a vital charity in SA”.

“We’ve had a few challenging times over the years but we have had an incredibly rewarding journey, and every day we see the considerable impact of our work on the lives of the children and the communities that we care for,” said Sophia.

They recognised these challenges and came up with some brilliant solutions. A mobile toy library has been in operation since 2008 and, after the AGM, Pebbles launched its FACET mobile learning centres. Graff Diamond’s FACET Foundation funded the two vehicles, which have been modified into a book, games and DVD library, and a computer lab with computers, printers and internet access, respectively. “These two mobile facilities will circulate between the 11 Pebbles Project After-School Clubs (ASCs) and will give the children the crucial opportunity to improve their literacy and computer skills,” explained Sophia.

Also in 2014, one of South Africa’s largest pharmaceutical companies, CIPLA, installed the OWETHU Clinic at Villiera. This first-class health clinic provides dental, medical, occupational health and wellness services to all of the farm communities it services.

Simon Grier of Villiera is a firm supporter, and space for the clinic was made available on the farm. A house was also provided and renovated for use as administrative offices by Pebbles and, more recently, an unused loft was cleared out to create office space for the FACET organisation to operate from.

A lot has been achieved but there’s no resting on their laurels for the hard-working and passionate Pebbles team. “Every single trustee and staff member gives 100% to make sure we are the best that we can be,” said Sophia.

Pebbles is training 62 Early Childhood Development (ECD) and ASC staff members, and this year has also started  a nutrition programme, which provides two meals and two snacks each day for 250 ECD children.

“We know that a hungry child cannot learn,” said Sophia.

“In 2014 and 2015 we’re upgrading facilities, from jungle gyms to outdoor living areas, and creating a safer working environment ,” she continued.

“In the last 10 years the Pebbles Project has come so far, and we couldn’t have done this without the love and support of all our donors, sponsors and supporters, who make our work possible. We look forward to the next 10 years!

“And watch this space… You will see a special needs school, which we will be reporting on in 2024!” concluded Sophia.

To get involved and see how you can make a difference, go to www.pebblesproject.co.za.

 

– This article was written by Lindsaye McGregor for Wines of South Africa

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