South Africa’s wine farms produce some of the world’s most coveted wines; but the industry’s early years have left a devastating legacy in the country’s wine farm regions, and especially in the Western Cape.
To boost profits farm owners paid their workers in poor-quality wine, instead of wages. The practice became known as the Dop system, locking vulnerable farm workers into servitude to feed resultant alcohol addiction. The system ravaged families and communities, and created a significant health crisis in the area; Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The Dop system was outlawed in 2003.
Today, the Pebbles Project, run from the Villiera Wine Farm in Stellenbosch, is working with farm workers to help provide the special education children born with the disorder need.
The Pebbles Project was established in 2004 by Sophia Warner, who now acts as the director.
Angela Joyner, fundraising and sponsorship manager at the Pebbles Project says, “Our work covers five main pillars; health, nutrition, education, community and protection.”
“It is fantastic to be part of an organisation that can help wine farming communities with sustainable and relevant programmes that allow them access to new and exciting opportunities.”
FOETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a disorder caused when a woman drinks a significantly high volume of alcohol during a pregnancy. The alcohol permeates the placental barrier and affects the growth of the foetus, its weight and its neural development.
Drinking alcohol while pregnant can also lead to Partial FAS.
Symptoms of FAS include stunted growth or growth impairment such as deformities, a low birth weight, and damage to the brain and central nervous system that can lead to mild or severe mental impairments.
These impairments and the disturbances to natural mental development leave the children with a range of learning difficulties and in need of specialised education which, without the help of the Pebbles Project, is hard to come by for many of these parents.
The Pebbles Project also focuses on children indirectly affected by alcohol, such as those who suffer from neglect and violence because one or both of their parents, or caregivers, suffer from alcohol addiction.
The Pebbles Project works with some 780 children and also supports teenagers, parents and communities in the Somerset West, Citrusdal, Stellenbosch, Wellington and Paarl areas of the Western Cape.
The organisation offers four parent workshops a year at each of its partnering wine farms across the Western Cape.
The workshops cover substance abuse, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, and how to live healthily, with courses on good hygiene and first aid. The workshops also focus on positive parenting, personal development and money management.
“The most rewarding part of being part of the organisation is when we see a life, family or community transformed,” Joyner explains.
“We are passionate about seeing positive change in the lives of our beneficiaries.”
The project also supports 16 farm-based Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs) and two ECDs in nearby townships.
Through the ECDs the Pebbles Project supports more than 350 children between the ages of three months and six years old by training its staff and providing equipment such as furniture, libraries, educational resources and toys.
The Pebbles Project also supports the centres by easing access to social workers and other professionals like therapists, who are, in most cases, unaffordable.
The project has also started nine after-school clubs for children aged six to 16, offering programmes to assist students with their homework and entertain younger children with developmentally sound activities.
The Pebbles Project’s children’s workshops also offer extramural activities such as music and drama classes, and life skills and career guidance workshops for older children.
“Our objectives are to bring sustainable change to children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds and of all abilities,” Joyner says, explaining that the organisation aims to transform farm workers’ environments so that they can “receive quality education, live within strong family structures, in safe homes and in healthy, well-functioning and sustainable communities”.
PLAY YOUR PART
“We always need consistent funding and support in order for our work to continue and grow,” Joyner explains.
“South Africans can help by either making a donation to our organisation or volunteering in one of our projects.”