Sixteen years ago, a Heideveld man had a vision to start a soccer academy for young people – now it has evolved into an organisation that offers various programmes and soon it will also open the doors to the area’s first orphanage.
Mario van Niekerk started Great Commission United (GCU) in 2001 with very little funding and lots of faith. His passion for making positive changes in Heideveld, led to more programmes being added to the soccer academy, including a feeding scheme, other sports codes and tutoring programmes, among others.
His wife, Michelle van Niekerk, shared in his vision, and soon she became the backbone of their feeding scheme.
Said Ms Van Niekerk: “Mario and I had that passion to reach out to the lost and poor from the start. We started the feeding scheme from our own pockets, and used to go to places like Rylands, Cape Town central, and Vygieskraal. After a while, it became a bit dangerous for us, and we decided to rather work with the schools in our areas. We would, for example, cook big pots of porridge and hand it to the primary schools in Heideveld, and they would dish it for their pupils.
“After the schools got subsidies from government for their feeding schemes, we started giving out food in the community again. We feed 500 people once a week in Heideveld, and once a month, we have a feeding scheme in Langa and Gugulethu.”
Their organisation, has, over the years, also developed partnerships with businesses and other organisations.
On Wednesday April 12, one of their partners, Protea Toyota, handed out 300 Easter egg packs to the children in their community. Sonja Scott from Protea Toyota, lovingly put together all of the 300 packs, but the gratitude on the children’s faces, made it all worth it.
The organisation’s tutoring programme is held at the five primary schools in the area, which include Woodlands, Heideveld, Vanguard, St Theresa’s, and Welcome.
The GCU tutors work in conjunction with the teachers – the latter would refer pupils to them who need assistance with mathematics and English. The tutors, in turn, inform the teachers what the individual child’s learning challenges are, as they have one-on-one sessions with them.
The GCU’s latest project is renovating a house in Heideveld, so it can be used as an orphanage.
Ms Van Niekerk herself, has been an emergency and safety parent, as the well-being of children is close to their hearts.
Explaining how the idea of the orphanage came about, Ms Van Niekerk said: “Mario had a vision to acquire a piece of land in Heideveld, which we wanted to use as a multi-purpose centre, with an indoor pool and all. However, it was a struggle to acquire the land from the City. In 2010, a woman from Rondebosch read about Mario’s work and when she was asked by a England-based organisation to recommend a South African organisation to work with, she pointed to GCU.
Nigel Pascoe, from an organisation called Goal 50, based in Guernsey Channel in England, then connected with GCU, and soon the idea of an orphanage was birthed.
“With the struggle to buy land, we decided to rather buy an existing property, which was put in a trust, and to renovate it. The orphanage would hopefully be opened within two months. It will be able to accommodate six children, and the house parents.
“The department of social development is on board with this and I already had to undergo training. The house parents will also be screened by social development. Although Goal 50 covers the cost of the construction, we have to furnish the house ourselves. Mario already approached friends to help with buying paint.
“God has been carrying us through for the past 16 years. That is why we believe everything will work out. Within the next two months, the orphanage will be operational.”