Small town, big ambitions – a glimmer of hope for Prince Albert’s lost generation

Small town, big ambitions – a glimmer of hope for Prince Albert’s lost generation
The Mini Hope Warriors, who are part of the Blink Begin ECD initiative. (Photo: Louis Botha)

Residents of the Karoo town have come together to create programmes aimed at tackling the crisis among young people, many of whom struggle with drug addiction and unemployment.

We drove through the charming village of Prince Albert in January –  “charming” because, unless you have a debilitating dislike of desert heat, it really is. We were on a road trip, and I always enjoy staying in this little Karoo town. Yet beneath the cute veneer, there is a crisis among the town’s young people, many of whom are involved in drugs and end up dropping out of school.

At the Lazy Lizard I overheard a conversation that kindled some hope. The assembled six or seven socially disparate people were having a meeting.

The village park, a block or two from the cafe, was in a sad state. I learnt that some Prince Albert business people were collaborating with representatives of North End, the local township, to craft a plan to fix up the neglected park for the children of Prince Albert, a project called “Parkie”.

Community joining hands

“The new trend in some towns is to put fences around the parks to keep the bad elements out,” one of the meeting attendees (Frank for the purposes of this article) later wrote to me. “Unfortunately, it also keeps the children and the people out, and we want to create a park for all the children of the town.”

The Prince Albert Community Trust is helping to uplift the community. (Photo: Louis Botha)

Local homeowner and founder of the Prince Albert Community Trust (Pact), Ingrid Wolfaardt, also has an interest in uplifting the community. While writing a novel about the town, Wolfaardt had told her mother that the town’s children “were not doing well”. She wrote to the mayor in 2011, asking what he was going to do about it. “He wrote back and asked what I was going to do about it.

Read in Daily Maverick this article by Sune Payne: “On the streets of a Karoo town – where drugs, drink and poverty await a lost generation

“In 2012 we did a door-to-door survey of all homes in North End, asking if they would support a community initiative. The answer was an overwhelming ‘yes’. They were out of town.” In 2014, Pact was registered as a non-profit organisation, which she stresses is owned by the community. “I only founded it.”

Ellen Morta of Harambee, a youth employment accelerator, says she is “blown away” by Pact’s holistic approach to working with young people, from preschoolers to teens.

Proof in the youth

Waldon Ewerts was born in Prince Albert, a son of teachers in North End. He learnt to play the guitar and eventually studied sound engineering in Durbanville. Today he’s Pact’s creative arts leader. Ewerts says Wolfaardt saw him acting as master of ceremonies at a musical event in town and asked if he’d do it for the first Pact concert.

“I did a concert in front of 50 people. At the next one, 2,500 people attended. I asked Ingrid if there were job opportunities, and started working as an admin for Pact in 2018.”

Ewerts loves his job. “I’ve always wanted to help my community, and I can do that through the arts.”

“Prince Albert will never be the same,” says Naaim Briesies, the Pact office manager. Describing himself as a songwriter and producer, Briesies speaks with pride about the Hope Warriors Coffee Bar, founded and run by the trust, and of the baristas – Diego Jansen and Percival Koonthea – who received their training in Paarl, courtesy of Pact.

ECD Blink Begin children at an ‘Ek is Oulik’ care and pamper session at the Pact creche. (Photo: Knipoog)

But if Prince Albert’s North End is to escape its social crisis  – so common in small-town Karoo – education  is key.

All about the children

A Pact-run crèche centre is allowed to receive 160 children a day, but Briesies says they receive “up to 200 children a day”. He enthuses about an aftercare programme called Speel ’n Leer, in which the children get lunch and play “soccer, cricket, sing, dance and free play”.

Morta says the Ek is Oulik programme for preschoolers “is so impressive. [It’s] not just about self-awareness, but also hygiene and life skills.”

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Attendance at the centre is free.

The Prince Albert Skills School (Pass) is another great education initiative masterminded by its founder, Dr Helene Smit. She says the school is for children who’ve fallen out of the school system, “not through any fault of their own”. At Pass they are taught life skills to help them to be “viable in society, while it’s important to provide them with an emotional and psychological environment to help them develop more fully”.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Prince Albert — The creative nerve centre of the Karoo

The former high school maths and English teacher says that for the Pass “initiative to go to scale, it needs the whole community, especially those with privilege, to support it to ensure that the vulnerable youth have a viable future”.

She emphasises the need for “difficult collective conversations, and the appropriate leadership and forum to have these conversations”.  

Working together

“My mother taught me that if something bothers you, do something about it,” says Frank. “Don’t be someone who sits around talking and complaining. Fix what causes the complaints and others will gladly help. It appears that people like Wolfaardt and Smit are doing just that. Capable young people are also taking the lead in making life better in  Prince Albert.

Local musician and MC Waldon Ewerts is also Pact’s creative arts leader. (Photo: Louis Botha)

Morta says she notices the hope among the young people. “Things are on the up… Just seeing how young people respond to Pact, knowing that for every person impacted, another six are positively impacted.”

What is equally clear is that Wolfaardt and Smit need more people and funds to help in their respective missions to save Prince Albert’s youngsters from a future not of their own making. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    Oh my word, those beautiful little faces. Lovely positive story for once, thank you!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Please can you give us more info as to how to make a financial contribution to these initiatives. Thanks for this story – gives one hope that all is not lost in this beautiful country of ours.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted