Small school with a big heart

Vhutshilo Mountain School is a cornerstone of its small community — taking care of children affected by AIDS for two decades — and helping shape a new, brighter future.

Vhutshilo (meaning “life”) Mountain School was started in a mobile home in 2002 as a pre-school specifically for children affected by the AIDS pandemic.

Now, thanks to a R20 000 donation, the school has built three new toilets and a change room for babies.

The vital addition comes at an important time as they added a new Grade 2 classroom. Relying entirely on donations and the support of local businesspeople, Vhutshilo plays an important role in the community.

Since it was built in 2005 to help support the young children affected by HIV/AIDS, the school has grown dramatically. Orphans and HIV+ children in their care receive an excellent pre-school education up to grade 2, with a strong emphasis on English, free transportation, two good meals per day and second-hand clothes and medical help when needed.

The school also continues to host ARV children’s workshops and many of the older children (who are now in their teens) are supported with education on other issues such as protected sex, teenage pregnancies, etc are discussed. They also plan meetings and workshops, and extra-curricular activities to keep youngsters engaged.

Some of the children have become young advocates and facilitate workshops at other local support group meetings where they educate and motivate their young peers. Their positive and accepting attitude is making great strides in “normalising” HIV/AIDS and in alleviating the dreaded stigma. To help older teenagers worried about the lack of employment opportunities when they finish school, VMS sent some students on basic carpentry, sewing and computer training.

80 students are enrolled at the school, with children divided into three groups: toddlers aged 1 year to 2 years old with 27 students, pre-school aged 3 to 4 years old with 29 students, grade R aged 5 years with 16 students and Grade 1 with 8 students.

The eight members of permanent staff and volunteers are from the surrounding villages, and the school employs 3 contract drivers who transport the children to and from school.

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