Paying the knowledge forward

Parkfields Primary School parent volunteers, are, from left, Margo van Reenen, Farieda Abrahams, Shamiela Stemmet, René Groep, Reading and Writing Solutions founder Jeff Paulse, Gabeba Follentine, Tarawiesa Sauls, Sulayla Booysen and Faldie Jassiem. The impact of a reading project has shown far-reaching effects beyond just assisting children, as the work done by volunteers has empowered them to help transform their communities as well.

Reading and Writing Solutions (RWS), an Athlone-based non-profit organisation, is only three years old, but it has trained more than 500 volunteers, and many of them are based at schools across the Western Cape.

The organisation has a partnership with 60 schools, and one of the schools is based in Paternoster. Founder Jeff Paulse, a retired principal, said he never imagined the organisation would achieve so much in a short time.

One of the organisation’s success stories is that of Parkfields Primary School in Hanover Park, where 10 parents at the school now volunteer as teachers’ assistants.

Principal Dianne Williams noticed these parents’ commitment to the well-being of the school, and asked if they would be interested in attending a training workshop with RWS.

Mr Paulse said: “The volunteers at Parkfields receive great support from the principal and staff.

“When they graduated from the training course, Ms Williams was there herself.”

RWS has also formed partnerships with other institutions, and, as a result, volunteers have been introduced to several other training courses.

Some have done the library management course.

Other volunteers have completed the eight-module course on substance abuse prevention among the youth, and a course on foetal alcohol syndrome run by the Community Engagement Unit and offered by the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

“We have also sent some of them for training to become co-facilitators at our training workshops,” Mr Paulse said.

Their personal growth has had a domino effect among their peers, and the children in their communities as well, as they share their skills. René Groep said four of her five children attended Parkfields Primary School, and when her second-youngest joined the school five years ago, the teacher asked Ms Groep to help at the school.

“At first, I was wondering what I could offer the children, but it has been amazing working with the children, and I have learnt so much during my five years here.

“I am not sorry that Ms Williams recommended we go on a training course with RWS. Being part of their workshops really gave my self-esteem a great boost, and every time we attended a course or a meeting, we are taken to another level,” Ms Groep said.

Ms Groep assists Grade 6 teacher Denise Forbes, and the latter can only sing her praises. “Ms Groep is very hands-on in class. She is key to the success our class enjoy.

“The measure of confidence she gained from being part of Mr Paulse’s programme, meant that she not only applied her skills in the classroom, but she’s helping other parents at the school, her family and the community. The training Ms Groep received has strengthened her resolve.

“With all the volunteers’ personal growth, they can now assist other parents. I am totally blown away by the impact this programme has had on our parents. We have 10 parent assistants, and they communicate best practices among each other – what works and what does not work. I am very excited about this project.”

Rene may have felt that she struggled at school, and therefore left school early.However, her work done here is evidence that anyone at any stage of their lives can strive for excellence,” Ms Forbes said.

She added that she and her colleagues value the work the parents do so much that they give them a stipend from their own pockets.

Sulayla Booysen said her work extends beyond the classroom, and because of the training she received, she can now help her own family. “My 11-year-old brother could not read, and with the training I received, I was able to help him.

“He is fast becoming a strong, confident reader. I am also helping my daughter with her reading challenges,” Ms Booysen said.

Gabeba Follentine said she was nervous about volunteering at the school, but because so many people motivated her, she gave it a go and is now living her dream. “I started volunteering here when my daughter was in Grade 1, and she is in matric now. I love what I am doing here. I always said I’d like to work with children, and today I feel blessed and lucky that I have this opportunity.

“Whatever I learn from the teachers or RWS, I share it. I was a shy, withdrawn person who did not do public speaking, but since joining RWS, “I have grown so much. I still get nervous when I need to speak on a public platform, but I don’t allow it to get the better of me any longer.

“I also have such great respect for the teachers who pay us from their own pockets,” Ms Follentine said.

Natalie Wheeler, who is being trained as a co-facilitator, said since being part of RWS, her confidence-level has been boosted. “I have definitely grown as a person, and I am more disciplined now.

“Apart from what we learn during the training, we also learn from one another. So many new opportunities also opened up for us. All my experiences with RWS has taken me to another level. I have more self-worth, I feel appreciated, and all of this makes me feel so good,” Ms Wheeler said.

Faldie Jassiem is a rugby coach who does house visits and helps junior players to get the balance right between practising and doing homework.

“I told the parents of the juniors I coach that if they don’t want to do their homework, or if they are struggling with reading, then they must send them to me. I not only work with children from Parkfields Primary but also children from Athwood and Blomvlei primary schools.

“I have seen great improvement in their school work since I took them under my wing for rugby and school work. I make it clear to them that they must be disciplined both sides, and whenever there is a challenge with one of them, we remain in communication with the parents, until we resolve it,” said Mr Jassiem, who is also Parkfields Primary School’s governing body chairman.

Reading and Writing Solutions will be training a new group of volunteers from Monday February 20 to Friday February 24 at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, from 9am to 3.30pm.

The training workshop is open for any community member and parents interested in helping their children with reading.

Topics covered, among others, include reading, teaching methods, and the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). For more information or to register, contact Samantha Faure at 076 368 7898 or email readwrite14@ or Jeff Paulse at 082 216 2460 or email