In the winter of 2000, Dr. Philip M. Renicks, Vice President for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), was on a tour of South Africa to visit Christian schools that were members of ACSI. While visiting one such school in the Eastern Cape, he noticed a larger number of street children milling about the entrance to the school and it’s supporting church. It became apparent that neither the school nor the church had the ability to address the issue of out of school children. When asked how they might become engaged in finding a resolution to the problem they were not even thinking about an education solution. As a result of that experience and other similar to it in other parts of South Africa, Dr. Renicks brought together a Children at Risk task force in Johannesburg, South Africa, in April 2002. Consisting of eleven Christian educators from seven countries, the group identified and documented existing educational interventions for vulnerable children that were successful, established ‘best practice’ guidelines, and proposed strategic actions for Curriculum Development, Training, Advocacy, Services, and School Empowerment.
As a result of the task force, ACSI appointed Dr. Alan McIlhenny in September 2002, on secondment from the Methodist Missionary Society Ireland (MMSI) as the consultant tasked with driving the project forward.
2003 Making a Plan
Orphans and vulnerable children worldwide face many of the same problems but there are also issues unique to the children in each country: a South African solution was needed for the South African problem. Dr McIlhenny (from Northern Ireland) traveled extensively throughout South Africa, meeting with Christian educators, street children’s workers, and other experts on children at risk, to identify a development team for the project. This team began its meetings in 2003 and set the following objectives for the project.
1. To understand the situation facing children at risk in South Africa and to assess the educational needs of these children in cooperation with other Christian organizations seeking to serve them.
2. To envision and empower the church of South Africa, Christian schools, and para-church organizations to serve the educational needs of children at risk through developing strategic partnerships.
3. To design, test, and produce educational strategies to facilitate a selected initial group of partners in their service to children at risk. Because most of these children are unable to avail themselves of traditional schooling, the challenge is to provide innovative, non-traditional strategies that will more adequately meet their needs.
4. To continue to research, evaluate, and refine educational strategies for children at risk in order to serve the needs of more partners and children, not only in South Africa but throughout Africa and beyond
Having defined the problem and set the objectives, the Development Team helped identify a team of writers to draft the basic literacy and mathematics curriculum. Julie-
Mr Fred Hoffman, principal of the King’s Court School in Modjajiskloof (formerly called Duivelskloof) and a member of the Development Team, invited ACSI to set up the first Open School Resource Centre as a pilot project to serve out-
The pilot project demonstrated the success of the learning model and the curriculum materials. As a result, the private individual continued to fund the pilot project and other program expenses. Further funding for two years was obtained from the Canadian International Development Agency and ACSI Western Canada to open centres in other parts of South Africa.
Since 2005, with help from Irish Aid and the Methodist Missionary Society Ireland, Open Schools Worldwide has grown to serving 8000 children in South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe with small beginnings in Uganda and Philippines. The staff team has grown to 7 and we have trained over 800 volunteers.