08 May 2012 by Julienne du Toit

A little school in the mountains

Visitors to South Africa’s countryside areas are in the unique position of being able to help positively change people’s lives with very little effort. A little attention, perhaps a little money or a donated book or two makes all the difference.

Ruiterbos Primary teacher Elma Meyer and her beloved pupils.

There is a long and beautiful pass connecting the southern Cape towns of Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn. It’s called Robinson’s Pass and it connects the world of lush coastline through mountain fynbos and proteas and finally into the semi-arid Karoo.

About 30km north of Mossel Bay is the tiny settlement of Ruiterbos -  not much more than a thinly spaced cluster of a shop, a few houses, a school and a hotel – the delightful Eight Bells Mountain Inn

The aforementioned school is neat as a pin, with an unusually long history. This year, Ruiterbos Laerskool (primary school) is 114 years old.

It used to be the school where the local farmer’s children were sent, but these days many of the wealthier families send their children to board in Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay. Ruiterbos Laerskool’s pupils come from a poorer catchment now, mostly from forestry workers’ families.

And yet, and yet… The children are bright as buttons and they absolutely love their school. They do well, and there’s an emphasis on discipline, and wholesome values.

Despite its neatness and immaculately painted buildings, it is an underfunded government school. The classes are combined, sometimes with 3 grades in one room. The money needed for transportation of the pupils is crippling. There is nothing resembling a library.

And yet, and yet... The children are bright as buttons and they absolutely love their school. The teachers do too, as does the Principal, Jan Saayman. They do well, and there’s an emphasis on discipline, and wholesome values.

Even the oldest living former pupil, Jannie Beneke (now 85), pops over often to offer help or advice.

Recently, the headmaster Mr Saayman and the part-owner of the Eight Bells, Rene Bongers, had a little chat about possibly connecting hotel visitors and the school. Perhaps people could come and visit? Perhaps leave a book or two for the library-in-planning?

When you visit (and I highly recommend a stay at this gorgeous family-owned hotel in the mountains), pay a visit to Ruiterbos Laerskool. You’ll be inspired by those children’s bright faces and the teachers and headmaster. Miracle-workers.

Category: Responsible Tourism


comments powered by Disqus