When Mario van Niekerk became a father in 2001, he was living in a community entrenched in gang-warfare and suffering from broken homes, unemployment, poverty, and drugs. In response, he founded the GCU to create change in the Heideveld community where he still lives.
Multi-classroom Montessori ECD centre
After a childhood involved in gang activity, Mario was all too familiar with the challenges that the youth of the Heideveld community faced. Instead of moving to safer pastures with his young family, Mario decided to create change in the community – where he lives to this day. He founded the non-profit organisation, Greater Commission United (GCU), whose mission it is:
To provide “life-changing sporting and education opportunities to disadvantaged, impoverished youth between the ages of 7 and 18 years. The primary aim of GCU is to guard against youth gangsterism within the Heideveld community by motivating students with positive and productive alternatives and academic support.”
The GCU achieves this through a variety of initiatives that provide organised activities in safe spaces including sport, life skills, tutoring, literacy and feeding schemes.
Like so many communities, Heideveld has a shortage of ECD centres and many local parents can’t afford or do not understand the importance of early childhood development. GCU has established a small creche which is accessible and affordable, and property has been acquired to build a larger centre.
The Natural Building Collective has once again joined forces with the GCU and Uthando SA to build a multi-classroom Montessori ECD centre for up to 200 local youth and the training of local teachers.
Sustainable building builds community
Like the Ulwazi ECD centre in Delft, the Heideveld Edu Hub, will be built from natural and sustainable building materials. We’ll be using +- 5000 rammed earth tyres to create the walls with eco brick and glass bottle details, cob, and natural plasters.
The footprint of the new building is +-750sqm and will encompass two outdoor play areas equipped with astro-turf, natural landscaping, and a jungle gym. The ECD will have four generous classrooms, an admin annex with office and reception areas, and a service building which will include a staff room, dining room, kitchen and laundry area, while the first floor will serve as a residential unit for the school principal.
Our mission is to advance the cause of sustainable building. To do that, we reckon we might as well do as much good along the way as possible. And let’s face it, Cape Town needs it… there are over 18,000 children that don’t get access to proper early childhood development. This puts these kids at a disadvantage when they go to school, and has a knock-on effect for society-at-large… “A cost measured in poor learning, lower wages, higher unemployment, increased reliance on public assistance and intergenerational cycles of poverty that weigh down economic and social progress for everyone”.
We believe that by providing a stimulating and healthy environment built with natural and sustainable materials our ECD centres can break this cycle!
The founder of the Centre for Early Childhood Development, a highly respected Professor and ECD Thought Leader, Eric Atmore visited Ulwazi Educare, which he described as being in the top 1% of the best and more creative ECDs that he had seen in his entire career:
I have visited and worked with many hundreds of ECD centres. Ulwazi for me is right up there at the top. It is brilliantly designed, colourful, child-friendly and spacious. It is ideal for young children who can only thrive in the Ulwazi environment. While walking around it is clear that the teachers are committed and active. The children were all busy with their work. Ms Patiswa Bangani shines as the principal as she moves around the centre. Ulwazi is an early childhood development centre that offers young children the best of opportunities and is and makes one proud to be African.
– Prof Eric Atmore
The costs of conventional building are typically externalised, meaning a lot of the work is done off-site in manufacturing materials like bricks and cement. This process does not directly benefit the local community as these factories are most often not near the building site.
Sustainable building requires that a far greater proportion of the work is done onsite. Because tyre building requires a lot of physical work, more local people are employed for the duration of the project, learning new skills and the money goes where it is really needed, the community.
We need your help
We need to raise R12,000,000 to complete the Heideveld project and change the lives of the children in this community:
The cost of the build of the school will total around R10 million (VAT exclusive), which equals R11 500 to R12 000 per square metre. In comparison, a typical conventional building will cost approximately between R12 000 and R13 000 (and higher) per square metre.
Our approach is very competitive with conventional building, but the end-product has a more positive impact on the environment and community. If you believe that we need more safe and creative spaces like this for children that are built out of natural and sustainable materials then we can do with your support!
Let’s face it, it’s a lot of money and that’s what we need to raise in order to:
- Build the ECD in Heideveld and contribute to changing the lives of 200 children and the extended community!
- Build an ECD centre in response to climate change and that is kind to the environment.
- Create a space that is stimulating to the children.
- Provide essential infrastructure to communities in need.
- Showcase sustainable building materials and techniques in the public sector.
Want to be a hero?
You can make a difference by donating money – every bit helps – and by spreading the word about GivenGain fundraiser hosted by our partner Uthando SA.
You can also make a direct deposit. All donations to Uthando by South African individuals or companies are tax deductible. Donations can be made on the Uthando website selecting Greater Commission United (GCU) as recipient or direct transfer to bank account:
- Name: Uthando Social Development Projects, South Africa
- Bank: First National Bank (FNB)
- Account: 62161218542
- Code: 201709 (97 Long Street, Cape Town, 8000, SA)
- Swift code: FIRNZAJJ
Please email proof of payment to James Fernie: with your full name and reference for the donation being GCU.
We believe that many hands make light work, especially when it comes to building a world that’s safe for children to grow up in.
Thank you for being part of the change!
~ The Natural Building Collective Team