Since Drakensberg Adventures, a tour company started and owned by Russell and Simone Suchet in 1997, began running overnight tours to No. 10 Riverside in 2005, assistance and support for education has been part of our vision. Our ground-breaking community tourism model is based on payments for services rendered to as wide a segment of the local community as possible, with the Nkune family at No. 10 Riverside being the core of the product. We built a relationship with two nearby schools, Mphere and Ha Tseko enjoying warm relations with their head teachers, staff, learners and parents.
The amount set aside from each tourist’s tour price has increased over the years, and currently stands at R20 per head (translating to R10 to each of the two schools). A portion of these funds has been set aside for soccer kit and educational materials for the schools including the excellent magazine Envirokids, produced by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) which gives a multitude of information and education resources and activities to teachers around a different environmental theme each edition. We have also provided various items of stationery and boxes of wildlife magazines which can be used as resource material in an area where such material is very rare to find. The monetary value of all the material assistance has not been calculated. More recently children’s reading books in Lesotho Sesotho have been sourced via Biblionef for the long-term project of building up a library resource in each school.
In early 2015, Drakensberg Adventures and the two schools agreed to use the substantial reservoir of funds which had accumulated to build a new classroom at each school, an essential requirement, given that they had multi-class teaching and suffered from tremendous lack of space! The Headmistress of Ha Tseko, on behalf of both schools, initiated the process by obtaining a quote and list of materials required from a local builder and a quote from the blockyard and building suppliers in Mokhotlong all of which she passed on to us. When advised that the builder was ready to commence work, we contacted the suppliers, confirmed banking details and the quote and then made payment via EFT to their accounts in Mokhotlong. Supplies were delivered and work commenced.
It took just over a year for the builder to construct two classrooms, one at each school, to completion. Work proceeded in two stages, foundations to roof level, then roofing, doors, windows and floors . By October 2016, Ha Tseko reported that their classroom was complete and ready to be put into use. We agreed on a “Grand Opening” ceremony which took place on Friday 14 October 2016.
Russell attended the ceremony representing Drakensberg Adventures, and he brought along Paul Welch, editor of the Mountain Echo newspaper of Underberg. Drakensberg Adventures were running a tour in the area at the time enabling our guide Tsebo Molefe and two Dutch clients to be present. ‘Me Nkune, owner of No. 10 Riverside where our Village Experience tours are based joined us. The school had invited all the parents who crammed in the “church hall” along with the learners, educators and other invited guests such as the local Catholic priest, the local Chief, representatives of the Education Ministry and the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) as well as a journalist from the Post newspaper from Maseru.
The program got underway with various speeches being made by the Headmistress, the chairman of the school board, the priest, a parents’ representative, Russell (ably translated by Tsebo), ‘Me Nkune, the representative of the Education Ministry and the representative of the LTDC. Speeches were interspersed with songs and dances by learner and parent groups as well as teachers, demonstrating a good deal of preparation. A special song which had been composed to celebrate this day signified the importance of this event to the community.
Russell’s speech explained the philosophy behind Drakensberg Adventures’ tour, how the funds had been raised and how excited the whole Company was that tourism had brought significant and tangible benefits to the school. He thanked the school for its warm and welcoming approach to our visitors and looked forward to future successful projects together. He also praised the parent body for their commitment in raising funds towards the project – all doors , windows and glass were paid for by funds raised by parents. He also challenged the Education Ministry to “meet us half way” by supplying the new classroom with desks and other educational aids as the school required.
In his reply, the Education Ministry representative praised the efforts of us all and committed the Ministry to assisting. The LTDC representative stated that this was indeed how Tourism could be a driver for good within communities, and challenged us to continue and grow this project.
The entire community caught up in the grip of excitement and enthusiasm, cheered during the speeches and performances. The excitement was brought to a crescendo when the headmistress of the school, ‘Me Mabatloung Nthau presented Russell with a very special reed mat with the words “Feel at Home” inscribed on it. She handed it over with the words “feel at home – this is now your community too”. Simone has hung this beautiful mat on the wall of Sani Lodge common room area for all guests to see on arrival.
At the completion of the speeches, we went outside to the new classroom, where Russell and ‘Me Nkune together cut the ribbon and unveiled the plaque to open the new classroom amongst much jubilation and ululating. We went in, admired the fine plastering work of the builder, and were treated to a delicious , special lunch prepared by the school and parent body. Everyone involved was catered for, with pots of food being served up in each classroom for the learners and parents. Drakensberg Adventures had also made a gift of three framed Sani Pass Flowers/Birds/Mammals posters to celebrate the new classroom. Our grateful thanks go to Ha Tseko School and all involved in planning and executing the day for such an excellent and meaningful event.
RUSSELL AND SIMONE SUCHET