Today, the Kusasa Project Early Learning Centre is a thriving school and a beacon of hope for underprivileged children.
What inspired our founding trustees to create The Kusasa Project and how did it grow into a school that significantly impacts the futures of hundreds of children?
Let’s find out!
In 2006, after 20 years in banking in both the US & London, Dave Riordan decided to take some time out on a sabbatical with his family and relocated to Franschhoek, South Africa.
It wasn’t long before a chance meeting with a retired pilot delivering surplus fruit to needy children led him to a school in the nearby township, an economically disadvantaged area at the fringes of the booming tourist village, where underprivileged black and coloured (mixed-race) families lived in shacks and substandard housing.
Dave was introduced to the school’s headmistress who took up his offer to help “in any way you think is useful”. With a love of sports, reading and three kids of his own, Dave felt he had something to offer the children.
First Day Of School
The following day, Dave was invited back to read to the kids and walked into a dusty and dirty classroom, with fifty children, some sitting on boxes, often sharing pencils and books. The schoolyard had a dirty toilet block and one spigot (tap) for water.
After reading the children stories for an hour it was time for exercise on a piece of flat ground nearby. Dave first had to make a game of sweeping the glass and trash off the concrete pad. And then he dived into playing ball sports with the children. The teachers waved goodbye saying, “There you go, Dave. You have 150 kids!”
Twice a week for the next few weeks he arrived to read and play sports with the children.
Dave Meets Doug
A few weeks later, Dave ran into an Englishman named Doug Gurr: an ex-stockbroker who has been living in South Africa since 2002. He’d heard about Dave coaching sports at the school and asked if he could help out. Dave agreed to this offer on the condition that Doug would jump in to help with reading and maths. Thus was born a partnership and friendship, which is the backbone and driving force of The Kusasa Project.
Dave and Doug’s roles quickly became to organise and mobilise volunteers to help with reading, art, chess and sport. After a while, the men felt that whilst what they and the others were doing was positive, it needed to have a greater impact.
Return To The UK & Recruiting Madame Spiers
In 2008 Dave moved back to the UK, but he and Doug were committed to carry on the work of The Kusasa Project. Hearing that Jacquie Spiers, one of the French teachers at his sons’ school in the UK, was looking to move back to South Africa, Dave hired her to be an academic lead across two state schools in the Franschhoek that the organisation was working with.
In Franschhoek, Jacquie began stocking the school libraries, engaging with the teachers and children to improve both teaching and learning methods, and managing a growing cohort of volunteer readers. After a year they all realised that in order to make a long-lasting difference, they needed to start with younger children and control the quality of teaching. Looking at the international research available, Dave realised that to maximise the return on investment in education, they must target early childhood education from ages 4-8.
So they decided to start their own school.
The School In A Church Hall
Jacquie hired 2 teachers and started in a local church hall. Each day the teachers would set up the school for the week then pack it down for the weekend when it was used by the church.
Eventually, they made a connection with a British executive who wanted to build a sports centre in the area as part of his charitable work. After convincing him to build the sports centre in Franschhoek, Dave, Doug & Jacquie also persuaded him to include a school building in the construction.
Doug & Jacquie, who were becoming increasingly well known in the area, were able to help with the municipal government approvals and navigate the tricky local politics. British and Dutch donors came forward simply on the basis of the energy and vision of the founders & Jacquie and funds were raised to build a two-storey school building.
That building became the new home of The Kusasa Project Early Learning Centre.
Early Investment In Learning
Today The Kusasa Project Early Learning Centre has over 140 children enrolled and a dynamic, inspiring and committed headteacher with a great team who share her vision.
When anyone walks into the school today they get a real blast of joy, love and learning. It’s the real deal. The children have ambition and drive. There’s camaraderie between the kids and the teachers – they want to work hard, they want to succeed, and they want to have fun!
For 15 years, The Kusasa Project has been fortunate to have donors and supporters committed to what the project is doing, who see how and why the project does it. These donors also see the commitment of the teachers and children and their families to work together to make a brighter future.
What’s Next For The Kusasa Project?
Many charitable endeavours start and then fade away. Sustainability is crucial. Dave and Doug want to ensure that it continues as a beacon for the community and for the kids. The team is determined to keep the focus on literacy, numeracy, health, confidence and community in order to provide children the opportunity to go forth with the tools to succeed in life.
Find out more about the goal and educational approach of The Kusasa Project’s Early Learning Centre.