By Nabeelah Shaikh
In a show of goodwill, The Willowton Group has stepped in to save “teaching and learning” at a Pietermaritzburg school, which was ravaged by last year’s devastating April floods.
The well-known cooking oil producing company invested R700 000 in the refurbishment of the Green Hill Primary School in Northdale that had become a health and safety hazard for pupils
Roofs were leaking, gutters had fallen down and ceilings of classrooms and corridors were on the verge of collapse. The prefab buildings were also dilapidated and became a safety hazard to learners, with one prefab building even being condemned.
After three months of hard work, the refurbishment was completed recently and a handover ceremony was held last week. Work began at the school in November.
“The refurbishment included the repairing of leaks to roofs, the replacement of gutters and sagging and broken ceilings as well as the repair of damaged prefab buildings and the repainting of the entire school. The repair of catwalks used by learners to access different school buildings was also attended to,” said Mohamed Ishfaaq Moosa, a Willowton Group representative.
The school’s principal, Diren Naidoo, said the school which celebrates its 50th birthday in 2023 has established itself as a strong institution of teaching and learning over the past 48 years with many top learners that have passed through its classrooms, making the school extremely proud.
“However, due to flood damage last April and a lack of continuous maintenance, the state of the school and its classrooms had begun to compromise the quality of teaching. There are no words to express our gratitude for what Willowton has been prepared to do for the school’s teachers and management, its learners and the community. We never thought this would happen,” said Naidoo. He said the school community was elated when they returned to school in January to what seemed like a new school.
“These children do not come from affluent homes and this was a real pick-me-up for them. The school appealed to Willowton, which had supported its school feeding scheme in past years, for help during 2022. No upgrades to the school had been carried out since the school opened in 1973 and numerous appeals for funding for repairs had gone unanswered,” said Naidoo.
Naidoo said the school attempted to keep things neat and tidy, but it was unfortunately falling apart. The school serves mostly impoverished communities.
“Although it initially served Northdale, after 1994, it included learners from surrounding communities. Now, 90% of the school’s 545 learners travel to school from surrounding townships and informal settlements such as Edendale, Imbali, Grange, France, Copesville, Happy Valley, Jika Joe and Site 11 informal settlements,” said Naidoo.
He says due to the bulk of the learners at the school coming from these impoverished communities, only a very small portion of school fees are paid annually.
“The school grants school fund concessions to unemployed parents. However, this had a negative impact on the funding of the school. The small grant amount received via the Department of Education, together with the school’s internal fundraising efforts, goes towards payment of utilities such as electricity, purchasing of school books and stationery, as well as employment of educators and cleaners,” said Naidoo.
He said over the last few months, the school had no choice but to repair the rain-damaged school building at its own expense.
“But because the school is serving an impoverished community with many unemployed parents who are not financially in a position to carry the responsibility of repairs, we needed to humbly appeal for help from Willowton,” he explained.
Moosa commended Naidoo and the school governing body for being prepared to fight for the well-being of the school and its learners during extremely trying times.
Moosa said The Willowton Group was invested in improving conditions at the Green Hill Primary as it believes that one’s primary school years are an important foundation to prepare for high school and is the best way to equip future generations for the acquisition of skills via tertiary education.
“South Africa needs a skilled workforce to assist its economic recovery which is why it is important to invest in the upcoming generation of learners. We know just how important education is when it comes to lifting people out of poverty and allowing them to access job and entrepreneurial opportunities,” said Moosa.
During 2021 and 2022, Willowton Group assisted 11 schools with the building of infrastructure and classrooms and helped more than 30 schools with funding for school fees and feeding programs.