The Koue Bokkeveld Opleidingsentrum (KBOS) does not beat about the bush, mince words or waste time. But they do constantly empower people with knowledge and life skills, Gerrit Rautenbach discovered.
I’m on my way to Op-die-Berg and have just begun to ascend the Gydo Pass and started feeling why the area I’m entering is known as the Koue Bokkeveld. I have been on this road many a time before, but for a totally different reason. On each previous trip, I was on my motorbike going to the Cederberg. I was always so excited because every trip was a new discovery. This time, however, I’m making an even bigger discovery. Something completely different, but also exciting. And far more sustainable than a bike trip.
I’ve only ever stopped for fuel and then coffee at the Wonderlik Koffiewinkel en Geskenke in Op-die-Berg. Today I’m turning into the town, going up all the way to the top of Bergsig Street. Number 63 is a house, but a house like no other in Op-die-Berg. It is a training centre focusing on all facets of agriculture training in the bigger Ceres-Koue Bokkeveld region, as well as social skills development. I am supposed to meet with Joy van Biljon, the original initiator of the centre. However, awaiting me are Joy, Carmen Roberts, and Samantha Gibb. On our way to the boardroom, we walk past a classroom full of students. Curiosity always gets the better of me and I stick my head in.
“These are all farm employees doing a course in first-aid training,” Samantha explains. A student demonstrated CPR on a big doll.
“So Carmen, how did you end up here?” I ask to get the ball rolling.
“I grew up on Kromfontein farm, just over the hill from here, went to Boland College in Paarl, qualified in human resources management in 2000 and started here in 2001 as the receptionist. I was born in the Bokkeveld, I can’t leave!”
“Samantha, and you?”
“Completely different story. Born in Johannesburg, I went to Cape Town and ended up in Op-die-Berg because of a certain man. But the centre has become another huge love of my life too. I am so grateful things worked out like this. Being involved with the centre is hugely rewarding.”
“And Joy, it all started with you?”
“Kind of, but it goes back a while,” she says and begins her story back in 1983 when she moved from Cape Town to the area on behalf of the then Rural Foundation. When the Foundation ceased to exist, she carried on helping the farms resorting under her. Eventually, in 2000, the Koue Bokkeveld Training Centre was officially established. Starting off with 11 member farms in 2001, the centre is proud of its growth and currently serves 85 farms, from the Koue Bokkeveld to the Warm Bokkeveld, all the way to Tulbagh and Wolseley regions. Since inception, their number of courses has grown from 21 to 90 at present. So did the number of students, which more than quadrupled from 1 800 to 9 272. Permanent staff members went up from only Joy and Carmen in the beginning to 12 plus a graduate placement today.
Today, the centre stands solidly on two legs; the CC responsible for the courses and qualifications on one side and on the other side the NPO offering community upliftment from camps to choirs to annual competitions honouring farmworkers, to name a few. The importance of this is that the Koue Bokkeveld Training Centre looks after the training and development of each individual as a whole. It’s not only about skills but about social development, offering a balanced package to help good people to become great people.
“Carmen, tell me, what is your best memory, your nicest story that you witnessed over the years?” I ask out of the blue.
She smiled: “Way back I taught a computer skills course. The older generations were rather wary of this new technology. And there was this one tannie that was absolutely scared of the mouse. I don’t know if it was also because it was called a mouse, but every time she touched it and the little arrow jumped, she jumped too! That was until I’ve put my hand over her hand and showed her that she controls the mouse, not vice versa – she makes the arrow move, not the mouse. It’s a simple example but the ability to teach somebody a new skill makes my life so much better. Empowerment doesn’t have to happen in leaps and bounds.”
“And Samantha, your most memorable moment?”
“Without a doubt, it is always the night of the Witzenberg Prestige Agri Awards. Especially when I see and hear the gratitude from the winners, how they would honestly use that moment to encourage fellow workers to go for it next time, rather than just bask in their own glory. Also, how past winners will help potential future winners prepare for the big night. The support and honesty are so heartwarming.”
And Joy’s answer: “Two years ago we entered a choir in the Suidoosterfees competition. It was a big step. There were a number of choirs from all over the Western Cape. When I looked at our choir I realised that not so long ago, all they would have known about an event like this was what they might have seen or heard from other people or in the media. But there they were, dignified, confident on par performers.”
The Koue Bokkeveld Training Centre is a great success story. The winning formula is putting the focus on the student while nurturing the long and positive relationships with the producers. There are students that completed their first courses in the early days and are still coming back. That’s the difference between the centre and other colleges or training institutions. The link between the student, the training centre and the farm is integral, from the first day onwards all three sides form a unique whole. It’s perpetual.
Driving back down the Gydo Pass I feel grateful to have met such a special brand of people. People sitting way up in Bergsig Street, Op-die-Berg, in a relatively small house making a huge difference to an enormous part of the Witzenberg and Boland farming community. People who strive to truly contribute to better lives. I think it is the closest real example to me of the term ‘University of Life’.
I salute you …
CAPTION: Adolf de Wet from Stargrow Farms in the first aid lecture.