“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The words of the 12th Century Philosopher Maimonides are integral to the ethos of Christel House School.
Christel House is a place where learners receive a new beginning to a future they could only have dreamed possible. Part of a global operation, Christel House was started by co-founder of the timeshare business RCI and philanthropist Christel DeHaan. Christel House offers a free education to children in dire poverty.
Principal Ronald Fortune has been integral to the school’s success over the last decade.
“It’s an amazing school, it’s my eleventh year at the school and over these eleven years I’ve seen the school grow from strength to strength. Some schools don’t want children coming from these backgrounds, but we take them from their desperate vantage points, their homes, and we make absolutely something out of them. Two-hundred children have gone through our hands, 95 percent of them have graduated, are in meaningful employment, or they are studying, and for us that’s when this entire project comes to fulfilment,” says Fortune.
Nafeesah Adams is in Grade 10 and started at Christel House in Grade 3. Before that she was in a public school in Mannenberg where she lives. Nafeesah’s grandmother enrolled her at Christel House and told her that it would acknowledge her abilities.
“Kids were exposed to gang violence and I didn’t feel comfortable there (Mannenberg public school). I can’t explain how Christel House has changed my life, it’s a great school," says Adams.
The very children that other schools seem fit to reject are the ones that Christel House has embraced. Ronald Fortune’s passion, commitment and pride in the school is evident in every word.
“This year the school is coming together. The entire class of Grade 10 does mathematics. Everybody wants a child of quality, but we take them right at the bottom. Our children come in at Grade R and we take them all the way to matric. We will work one child at a time to success,” says Fortune.
Christel House has a holistic approach to achieving success, which includes:
- Quality education
- Nutritious meals
- Regular healthcare
- Life skills training
- Character development
- Work-study opportunities
- Empowerment programs for parents and community members
None of these resources come cheap. The school survives on the goodwill of donors, from individuals to corporates.
“There are so many people who put their hands in their pockets and recognise the value in what we do and want to be part of it,” says Fortune.
It’s clear that while academic development is crucial, equally important is the emphasis on providing a space where children can flourish as people.
A lot has changed for Nafeesah. A recent trip to America where she attended a music programme was a far cry from the gangster-ridden Mannenberg. As exciting as the trip was, Adams is equally enthused about other learnings.
“Christel House also makes you a better person as it enforces the four core values: respect, responsibility, independence and integrity,” says Adams.
Henk from Rondebosch called in: “I recently got involved at Christel House, it’s the most unbelievable success story. The teachers are passionate, they take kids from the poorest of poor to twelve years of tuition, and they come out well balanced, holistic wonderful kids”.
Cheryl from Ottery called in and expressed disappointment that the children she tried to enrol were not accepted. The principal in a non-defensive way explained their selection criteria. They take the children whose needs are greatest and direst.
“There are close to 1000 applicants and only 60 spaces in Grade R. We take the children who will not survive had Christel House not intervened," says Fortune.
“Of the 270 high school students we have a school band of 145 brass instrumentalists. Every year we send two students overseas. In terms of sport, one of our students is representing Western Province in high jump. We have two or three national (sword) fencers at our school,” says Fortune.
“I want to be a chartered accountant, so that’s my dream,” says Adams.
Given the environment in which she is being nurtured, Nafeesah Adams’ dream is well within her reach. Maimonides would surely nod his head in approval.
Visit their school in Swallowcliffe road in Ottery or go to[ http://christelhouse.org/our-schools/south-africa/]( http://christelhouse.org/our-schools/south-africa/)
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