In 2005, while on vacation in South Africa, Joanne and Brittany Young requested to visit a school somewhere near their safari lodge located just outside Kruger National Park. They wanted to see what the educational experience was like for African kids. Upon visiting Beretta Primary School, the Youngs were heart-sick to find tattered classrooms, dry, dusty fields and absolutely no running water for the children to drink, flush the toilets or wash their hands. With tears in their eyes, Joanne and Brittany vowed to SOMEHOW bringing water to the children of Beretta Primary School. The following year, with the on-the-ground assistance of their South African tour guides, Brendon and Sheri Schmikl, Joanne and Brittany raised the funds to drill a well at Beretta Primary. In 2007, the Young family sponsored the construction of a Beretta School library and health clinic while officially launching A Spring of Hope.
Today, Beretta Primary School, with 898 learners, is a true model of success.
Under the guidance of Principal Lynette Sithole, children are provided with hands-on experience growing lush organic gardens with dozens of varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs, all growing amidst a sprinkling of beautiful flowers used for the dual purpose of making herbal medicines and providing a deterrent for crop munching insects.
The cabbages, beets, bell peppers, butternut squashes, tomatoes, beans, mangoes, strawberries and so much more are all used as healthy supplements to the children’s government-sponsored school lunches. Food parcels from the garden are also distributed to nearby orphan families.
Excess crops are sold to neighborhood residents, with the proceeds used to buy seedlings needed to continue the garden’s momentum. The flourishing success of Beretta Primary School’s gardens provides a tangible reminder of the vital importance of water.
Along with their lessons in the garden, Beretta children also make use of the books and computers in the A Spring of Hope-sponsored library.
The Beretta health clinic is staffed weekly by nurses who provide HIV and TB testing along with check-ups for kids with routine ailments such as colds, flu and skinned knees More serious matters are referred to doctors at the local hospital clinic.
The South African Department of Education has installed eight Enviroloos , an environmental-friendly approach to pit toilets. Mrs. Sithole is hoping to one day see the installation of more toilets.
As one of South Africa’s poorest regions, Limpopo Province is notorious for poor student literacy and academic performance. In shining contrast, Beretta Primary School’s effectiveness as a training ground for student success can been seen in its impressive 76% pass rate.
Lynette, the principal of Beretta Primary, continues to amaze us. In three years, the school garden expanded to twice its size, blossoming into a veritable jungle of spinach, beets, papaya, and strawberries. With the help of the Timbavati Foundation and Seeds of Light, Beretta produces seedlings for new plants and offers gardening instruction to more than 20 other schools four times a year. Inside the garden, seeming disorder gives way to meticulousness. Pink and yellow flowers are planted amongst varying vegetation to repel insects. Each herb has a medicinal function. Lynette told me how certain herbs can treat the pain of arthritis, or numb a toothache. “When we talk about quality food, we mean organic fruits and vegetables grown entirely without pesticides,” she said to me. Beretta’s success comes as the area faces increasing food insecurity, especially due to the lack of small farms in rural areas, where organic and nutritious foods are rare. Beretta sells 1/4 of the produce grown in its immense garden to the surrounding community, helping with the school’s budget. By providing gardening knowledge to surrounding schools and homes, she hopes to encourage self-reliance and healthy eating habits.