As this is the first of a series of blogs on BEFSA’s collaboration with Oxfordshire County Council, I thought it might be helpful if I began with a brief history of the council’s work in South Africa.
In 1995, a year after South Africa’s first democratic elections, Oxfordshire County Council decided to support the country’s educational, cultural and economic transformation process through a range of activities. It was agreed that all these activities should be manageable, practical and deliverable within the council’s financial and time constraints.
To ensure that the council’s activities were manageable it decided to focus its work on one of the nine provinces: the Province of the Eastern Cape. They did this because the Eastern Cape has significant challenges arising from its very rural landscape, its impoverished schools and exceedingly high levels of poverty and unemployment. It also decided that all its work would be led by a working group consisting of officers and councillors.
The council’s objectives in the Eastern Cape were:
- to improve the capacity of staff working in the district education offices, schools, museums and day care centres – this was to be achieved through the exchange of council officers and teacher exchanges;
- to support the voluntary work undertaken by the young people of Oxfordshire who wish to work in schools, museums, and day care centres in South Africa;
- to stage cultural exhibitions of South African art at Oxfordshire’s Museums;
- to assist the province’s schools through the provision of furniture, equipment and books which were surplus to the council’s requirements and to arrange for the shipment of this surplus furniture and equipment to schools throughout the Eastern Cape.
In 1996 Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited Oxfordshire to help the council formally launch the ‘Oxfordshire County Council South Africa Link.’ (OCCSAL). The archbishop honoured the council by agreeing to be the patron of the working group.
Over the next 8 years the council implemented its strategy to great effect with Oxfordshire teachers and council officers visiting schools and education departments in the new South Africa and with a large number of containers – filled to the brim – shipped to the Eastern Cape Department of Education. The largest project saw the council join forces with West Oxfordshire District Council and Oxford Brookes University to deliver an economic development project around heritage tourism. The aim of this 3 year project was to try to create jobs in the local tourism industry and in so doing reduce poverty.
When BEFSA started its work in the Eastern Cape in 2005 it did so in collaboration with the county council.
This collaboration saw a continuation of the broad thrust of the council’s strategic plan plus a continuation of its working group meetings but with BEFSA representatives in attendance.
Two of the council’s objectives were developed and enhanced further by BEFSA.
Firstly the teacher exchange programme became an integral part of BEFSA’s school partnership initiative which at one time saw a total of 37 Oxfordshire primary, secondary and special schools linked with schools in the Eastern Cape.
Since 2005 it is estimated that over 60 Oxfordshire teachers have visited South Africa as part of BEFSA’s partnership initiative. These partnerships have enabled the schools involved to share and celebrate their different cultures, to share intellectual ideas, curriculum resources and learning materials, and to share expertise.
Secondly the council’s programme of shipping surplus school furniture from Oxfordshire’s schools and council offices to needy schools in the Eastern Cape has continued with on average 2 x 40’ containers being sent to South Africa each year.
At least one of these containers each year is sponsored by the council or its agents.
The trustees of BEFSA would like to thank Oxfordshire County Council for the support and friendship we have received since our charity began its work in the Eastern Cape in 2005.