An article from Dr Rica Viljoen, Academic Supervisor for The Da Vinci Institute

 One of my students, Christa Rudd recently completed her PhD with the title of her thesis being “Developing a holistic, sustainable and transferable framework for learning” at The Da Vinci Institute for Technology and Innovation. The research was conducted with the Blue Karoo trust in Graaff Reinet. The project is a fish breeding project for catfish. The learning programme is an extensive one that starts with cognitive enhancement and life skills. ABET (Adult Basic Education and Training) plays an important part and learners are required to successfully complete ABET level 4 for mathematics and English. They also learn about personal finance in order to manage their stipends and salaries more effectively. All the learners were unemployed before they joined the programme and many were dependent on social grants, especially children’s grants. In addition to this they are taught about how organisations function and they complete a programme “Farm Together” offered by the Department of Agriculture. Learning about Aquaculture is an important aspect of the learning programme and the learners also complete a learnership in Animal Production. 

The project has started with a third group of learners at the beginning of this year which brings the number of learners to approximately 120. I was able to visit the project and was impressed with the fact that learners who started in 2010 could explain the whole process to me, from how the pumps and reverse osmoses work, to feeding and spawning the fish, testing and controlling the water purity levels and moving the fish form the hatchery to the growing tunnel where they will be grown to 1kg each.  The learners are very proud to “show-and-tell” and to share information with the visitors. The learners benefit as direct beneficiaries of the project through a workers trust called Sondelani.

I attended a function where the participants were thanked for their contribution to the research. Mayor Hanna Makoba commented on the importance of how learning should be sustainable and transferable. She also commented on her personal experience of the project through her daughter who is a learner from the first group of learners (2010) as well as the impact of the project for the community. She commented on the improvement in self-confidence and pride, knowledge and skills.

The project is planning the first big production for June 2014 where approximately 8 tons of fish will be processed in plastic pouches of 2kg each. The fish will be ready to eat and the initial market includes hospitals, feedings schemes and prisons and there is already a big interest in terms of exporting the project. The project products will be enhanced in the next year through developing a hydroponic process for the growing of the tomatoes, unions, etc that would be used in the processing of the fish; and by the end of 2015 a factory will be operational in town which means the fish will be processed there and no longer transported to Cape Town.  Montego is a local pet food producer and they are already manufacturing the fish food, and will in all probability use the heads and tails not used for human consumption, in further development of pet food.  All of this obviously means more employment in a town that has a very high level of unemployment and low level of skills. This is truly a project that makes a difference in the lives of many.

The one photo depicts the first group of learners with Christa Rudd and Liesl de la Harpe, the project initiator and owner and the other photo is of Rica Viljoen, Christa Rudd with Liesl de la Harpe and Mayor Makoba.

True to the philosophy of The Da Vinci Institute, Christa ensured return on investment by influencing a total community through social entrepreneurship.