House of the Children

09-02-2012 14:51


Johannesburg Kultcha : Kultcha / Features

House of the Children


House of the Children is Coffee Bay's answer to great education!

Ikhaya Labantwana, translated as "House of the Children", is the result of two women who managed to follow through on a very worthwhile dream. Nestled atop a steep hill overlooking the Transkies' Wild Coast, this Montessori preschool is the brain child of Dawn Brochenin and aims to fill a much needed gap for early childhood development within the Coffee Bay area.

Before training as a teacher in Cape Town, Dawn had roots in the Coffee Bay community for the better part of a decade, and worked as a manager at the Coffee Shack Backpackers for six of those years. Upon obtaining her teaching qualifications she sent an email out to friends and colleagues that detailed plans for establishing a preschool. Kate Intlanzi, a British national and student of Anthropology and Development (and previous bartender at the Coffee Shack), answered this call. 

Kate recounts the day she arrived in early October 2009; "For months nobody showed up, and then Dawn was offered a job up in Mdumbi [about an hour out of Coffee Bay] working at the school up there as an education director. It was a great job, but I knew it wasn't her dream. I arrived at seven o'clock on the shuttle. Dawn was so used to me saying 'I'm coming' that even though I told her I was on my way, she still didn't believe me. She'd packed all her bags, and I literally walked in and told her 'unpack them! Here's some wine, we're opening a school!'"

"It took a lot of heart and soul to get it off the ground," says Dawn, "but over the past two years the school has gone from a 5 meter hut with the most basic of basics, to a lush Montessori environment." She credits this to the many people who have made donations, pitched in with work and leant the necessary tools. "Between the kind donors, sponsors, and those who visited Coffee Bay - people provided." However, both Dawn and Kate had to take the project on independently; this included funding and even building much of the school themselves. Fortunately, the school now falls under Sustainable Coffee Bay, a non-profit organisation that has supported it (indirectly) from the beginning, and once operational, the school became a fully fledged part the initiative.

The pride and love that these two women have put into Ikhaya Labantwana is evident even at a glance. And this applies doubly to the children, who are as much a part of it as the colourfully painted walls and lovingly tended garden (which provides many nutritional lunches for the school). The Montessori philosophy of education places huge emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and natural physiological development. It lets the child take charge of their own learning through inspiration via the activities and environment around them. 

Ranging from two-and-a-half to six-years of age, many children leave the preschool ready to enter grades above their age bracket. Subsequently Ikhaya Labantwana has fallen victim to its own success as there is now massive demand for a place at the school. Unfortunately space is limited to 15 children, with 66 children currently on the waiting list. However, Dawn and Kate are now pushing for a bigger facility and have recently made headway in being given a large piece of land within the Jonga community, located in the greater Coffee Bay area. It looks promising, but there is still much to do. But if what these two women have created is any indication to go by, this new facility will be something of true worth. And if they approach it with the same uncommon passion and fortitude they've shown these past few years, then it's only a matter of time before this newest dream reaches a grand fruition.