Hamilton-Russell wines are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the finest in the New World. But their impact stretches far beyond the wine industry.
Wine has the ability to bring people together over a meal or an aperitif, during happy hour or an after-dinner drink, but at Hamilton-Russell vineyards it also has the ability to bring the community together. Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pre-School is located on the grounds of the Hamilton-Russell. Education is vital to progress, something of which Anthony Hamilton Russell was keenly aware.
Originally a daycare for the farmworker's children, the school has grown and advanced to be an Early Childhood Development Center for the community. We are so proud to work with Hamilton-Russell for their outstanding wines and their extraordinary commitment to making a difference.
"We arrive at Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pre-School and a flurry of activity greets us, as we walk through the door. Kids look up, smiling from their desks, but not for too long... they are busy with colourful drawings that clearly require concentration and effort, which they don’t just give up for anybody! Outside, the lawn is a brilliant green, as the sun peers down into this gentle valley.
This neatly maintained building, on the grounds of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, has been a massive stepping stone for many a youngster from the communities nearby, we are told. Little Eli even took his very first steps here, after joining from Volmoed Farm when he was just eleven months old.
The school is run by 4 ambitious teachers - Elzinda, Mendine, Ashlin and Emmie, all locals, as well as Zelda; a cleaning, cooking jill-of-all-trades. We are told that each of the adults have made lifelong friendships here, and it’s clearly the same for the kids. Showan and Jody are a legendary pair who found each other on the swings one day. One likes to think this bond will last long into their school careers.
The school was first built by Anthony Hamilton Russell, in 1996, as a daycare for the farm employees’ children. In 2013, the teachers decided to upgrade the facility, to an Early Childhood Development Centre. This meant the children were not only safe while their parents worked, but also able to learn valuable skills. The school quickly grew from 20 students to 48, who came from many nearby Hemel-en-Aarde and Zwelihle communities. We are quickly reassured though, regardless of what the future brings, that there will always a place for local-living kids, like twins Showan and Shannice.
Children who receive a quality-level of early childhood development have a much better chance of becoming constructive members of society. The years that these Hemel-en-Aarde kids spend talking, drawing, counting and playing in this classroom, will have an impact that lasts long beyond the here and now. Recently, four classrooms, three bathrooms, an office and an impressive industrial kitchen were built. This upgrade means the kids can now receive a homemade vitamin-rich breakfast and, when lunchtime rolls around, Zelda is their rockstar. Her special nutrition programme is monitored by Ukwanda, the Division of Human Nutrition from the University of Stellenbosch. She serves her little squadron hearty portions of meat and vegetables and, in return, we are amazed to see the kids come back for seconds just minutes after their first round!
As the afternoon wears on, it is pleasantly surprising to see toddlers sit unattended at the school’s Leapfrog Computers. They are completely captivated by the digital world and their still silence has us in awe. As a policy, all of the school’s students become computer literate from a very early age, thus arming them with real-world life skills before they are five! It’s no surprise their headteacher, Elzinda, makes a big fuss when her kids graduate and leave for big school. Sam and Renfred, graduated last year. Apparently, these chuckle brothers were a tight team throughout their pre-school career!
The dream, at Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pre-School, is to make their small campus more green and self-sufficient. There are further plans down the line for a food tunnel, to grow the school’s own vegetables, as well as a chicken coop. With more funding from the community, they are hoping to take on a previously-unemployed person, to create a vegetable garden in which the children can develop their own green thumbs. Meanwhile, within the school’s walls, they plan to funnel any further investment towards new software for their Leapfrog computers. One can only imagine the well-rounded characters this institution is going to develop in future. We hope and trust that all the help this school needs will come their way!"