The Nelson Mandela Bay metro remains hard hit by a crippling drought that is currently in its eighth year, but several local schools and thousands of learners in Gqeberha were thrown a crucial lifeline last year with the installation of boreholes, along with much-needed plumbing repairs and upgrades, conducted by Gift of the Givers Foundation and funded by Ford South Africa.
While much of the country is experiencing heavy rain and even floods in several areas, Nelson Mandela Bay has experienced record low rainfall that saw the combined level of its supply dams drop as low as nine percent towards the end of 2021, and is currently sitting at just 15 percent and falling once again. In January 2022, most notably, the metro recorded its second-lowest rainfall in 122 years with only 6 mm measured, the lowest being 5.5 mm in 1983.
Accordingly, water remains a scarce and extremely precious natural resource that impacts businesses, communities, and schools in particular – issues highlighted annually by the United Nations World Water Day on 22 March and World Water Week.
“The ongoing drought in Nelson Mandela Bay has reinforced the need for every individual, school, and company to become water-wise, reduce their water consumption, recycle water wherever possible and address leaks and wastage,” says Shawn Govender, Plant Manager of the Ford Struandale Engine Plant in Gqeberha. “Educating our learners is essential so that they become advocates for water-saving initiatives in their communities, and play a part in helping tackle this crisis now and in the future.”
Thanks to an R2.5-million grant from Ford South Africa, Gift of the Givers installed boreholes and conducted plumbing repairs at Fontein Primary School in Gelvandale, Helenvale Primary School, and Republiek Primary School in Windvogel. At Fontein Primary, the borehole has augmented the water supply to the school by up to 57 000 litres per day, which is restricted to ensure there is minimal impact on the linear aquifer from which the water is pumped. The Helenvale Primary borehole is capped at 150 000 litres per day, while the unit at Republiek Primary delivers around 68 000 liters per day – all of which is classified as bulk water suitable for cleaning, flushing toilets, bathing, and irrigation, but not for human consumption, as per government standards. Information boards are placed at each school, detailing how the water may be used.
Along with the boreholes, much-needed plumbing repairs, maintenance, and upgrades were conducted at all three of the schools, as well as at Sapphire Road Primary School in Booysen Park and Loyiso Senior Secondary School in Zwide.
“This project has reaffirmed our Ford+ value of caring for each other, for communities and also for the environment,” Govender says. “It has been our privilege to assist the schools in the metro by partnering with Gift of the Givers to install the boreholes and address the crucial plumbing repairs. With the health and safety of our learners being more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, this project continues to help the schools ensure that the children are able to wash their hands regularly. It contributes to a cleaner and healthier education environment by having significantly improved access to water, something that is not always guaranteed at public schools that are increasingly constrained by limited infrastructure, resources, and maintenance.”
At Helenvale Primary School, located in the underprivileged Helenvale community, the borehole water is pumped into the school’s early childhood development centre, and is also used to irrigate the school grounds. It will soon be a vital life-giving resource for a vegetable garden under development, and the aim – once funding allows – us to extend the water supply to the ablution facilities for the rest of the school to replace the potable municipal water currently used.
“The school and the community are grateful to Ford and Gift of the Givers for this awesome gift of water,” says Patrick Palmer, principal of Helenvale Primary School. “We know that water brings life, and this borehole water is making a big difference to our school by enabling us to provide a steady supply of water for our ablutions and cleaning requirements, and helping us maintain the grass for our playgrounds which are so important for our young learners. One of our retired teachers is busy trying to secure seeds and seedlings for us so that we can get our garden project going, and the success of this project will only be possible by having access to the borehole water.”
Gary Groenewald, principal of Fontein Primary School, echoed the sentiment. “We are very privileged to have been chosen for this project and for receiving such blessings. Thanks to the borehole and the taps installed at various points around the premises, learners can wash their hands regularly which is so important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as for general hygiene. A water tank has also been provided with connections to the ablution facilities and kitchen area for washing, and the team installed fire hose reels for us, so the school is better protected in case of fire emergencies.”
According to Alicia Baatjes, principal of Sapphire Road Primary School, the school mainly services underprivileged communities in Nelson Mandela Bay – with around 80-percent of its parents being unemployed. “With budgets being cut by the Department of Basic Education, it is quite challenging to raise funds for the smooth running of the school. Therefore, I would like to express our gratitude for adopting our school and repairing all the plumbing. We truly appreciate the support,” Baatjes says.
“This is an excellent example of a pro-active partnership between the private and public sectors whereby strategic interventions act as a catalyst for sustainable change giving learners the tools to further enrich their learning experience without the additional burden of worrying about an essential service we all take for granted. Well done to Ford for boldly addressing a critical need and bringing relief to the learners and the wider community for generations to come,” says Badr Kazi, director of the Gift of the Givers Foundation. “Ford continues to support many of our community relief efforts, including providing funds to help vulnerable communities impacted by the recent floods in rural areas outside East London.”