A classroom full of kids

Spanning four provinces, there are more than one hundred small towns, villages and settlements in the Karoo – a unique landscape that covers almost 40% of South Africa’s land surface. With official systems often struggling to meet the diverse needs of these small-town communities, there arises a crucial opportunity for companies to step up and fill the gap.

One such town is Fraserburg, where challenges like unemployment, poverty and lack of resources plague the isolated community. But one organisation sees Fraserburg’s youth as hidden gems. It’s in this small town where leading geological consulting firm MINROM focuses its efforts through its corporate social responsibility initiative, BeTheGood360.

The project was born when MINROM CEO Oscar van Antwerpen was on a regional reconnaissance and ‘fossil hunt’ in the area. While out on a drive with his family, he encountered two small girls walking alone on the shoulder of a road, kilometres from any town. “That area is cold at night – one of the coldest in the country – and I knew that if they kept walking, they would freeze to death.”

He bundled them into the car alongside his children and gave them each a blanket, a cup of warm tea and something to eat. “And that was when they started to talk,” he recalls. “They had fled where they were staying and started walking… just walking… because the people they lived with had started drinking. They knew they had to get away.”

Back at the office, Van Antwerpen told a colleague about the incident, who then recalled that she had a friend working at Malherbe Primary School in Fraserburg. Through this contact, Van Antwerpen and his team were able to formally engage with the local school to support and enhance its social and educational programmes.

“It’s a charming town with a beautiful character and a rich history, but the community here faces challenges that demand attention,” he says. “We couldn’t look the other way; each of these kids deserves a chance at a better life and something had to be done to break the cycle.”

For the past year, Van Antwerpen and his colleagues at MINROM have been rallying support for the children of Fraserburg. Initiatives include a stationery run and the collection of educational materials. A generous donation of sporting gear created opportunities for recreation and extracurricular activities, while a large shipment of books from Hendrik Louw Primary School in Cape Town saw BeTheGood360 and its partners assist with the installation of a library at the under-resourced local school.

The organisation is also commissioning a Cape Town–based small business to manufacture school uniforms and sports tracksuits for the school – an initiative with an impact that extends beyond the school and its learners. “We know that many of the small businesses were hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many having to close shop,” Van Antwerpen says. “By supporting one of these businesses, we aim to assist a seamstress in reviving her business, while also ensuring the children have access to affordable school clothes.”

The organisation has also partnered with local social workers and a nutritionist to help support children during the holiday periods when school feeding schemes close and meal support is not readily available to them and their families. Like too many small towns in rural South Africa, alcohol abuse is rife in Fraserburg, and children are heavily impacted by subsequent malnutrition, lack of clothing and other basic needs and violence.

“I think alcohol is an escape. In some communities, it may seem like the only accessible escape available, which sends ripples through families and society,” Van Antwerpen explains. “I realised then that we could not just provide support and enforce healthy societal structures; our most important task was to help build and support hopes and dreams – and that starts with young children.

“We run a series of engagements at the school where we encourage the children that their dreams can become a reality,” he adds. “Education is important, but it’s not just about what they learn in the classroom. Goals need to be set and visions need to be created. These children need to be exposed to different opportunities, different career paths… options for a different future.”

In doing so, Van Antwerpen says MINROM aims to create an upward spiral toward education and a better life. “Our BeTheGood360 campaign seeks to nourish potential and inspire dreams that empower young people to break free from this cycle.”

One way that Van Antwerpen and his partners do this is through a geological awareness drive that introduces learners to Barry’s Box of Rocks: “We call it that, but it’s much more than just a collection of stones; it’s a gateway to understanding our planet and unlocking a curiosity about geology and associated careers. By bringing our knowledge and expertise as geological specialists to the project, we show children that every stone represents an opportunity. We teach them that potential comes from within – although it’s sometimes hidden just below the surface.”

A series of art workshops, facilitated by local artists involved with MINROM’s Mining Narrative Through Art initiative, is another way the organisation aims to aid in the unearthing of Fraserburg’s talent and potential, fuelled by a belief that these hidden gems can shine at full brilliance if given the opportunity.

Van Antwerpen says BeTheGood360 has a vision to cultivate hopes and dreams that will carry these youth beyond current hardships, but stresses that this requires more than short-term relief; to see this fully realised will require collaboration and a future-focused outlook.

“If we hope to unlock the potential of Fraserburg’s next generation, we must nourish the community’s well-being holistically – body, mind and spirit,” he explains. “And that involves looking at child development, food security and economic mobility. To do so, we must break the generational cycles that play out in Fraserburg and other similar towns, but we cannot do it alone.”

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