Through what was initially an one year visit to South Africa, Fraser McNeill, a young member of our Congregation, has made a lasting impact on the Venda homeland region and in particular Vhutshilo Mountain School.

Fraser  first visit to  Venda was in September 1995. He had completed his education at Greenock   Academy and, before going to University, went to South Africa with the Charity Trust Project to teach English for one year.

Throughout his time at Glasgow University, Fraser went back to Venda every year. From his first visit he knew  Sue Anne Cook who was to  start Vhutshilo Mountain School.  She was working in a factory at that time.

In 2001, Fraser returned home from his yearly visit and spoke about Sue Anne having started a pre school by taking six little ones under school age to her mobile home on a daily basis. She fed and helped clothe them, let them play and generally took care of them (these children were all aids orphans.  South Africa   makes no provision for children aged under six at which time they start primary school. Sue Anne could see these children were very neglected and felt she had to do something to help)

In 2003, the Church was supporting ‘Aids in Africa’ as it’s project. Ian McCrorie approached Fraser to ask, because Fraser was working in that field, if he had any ideas of where locally raised money could be used. Fraser spoke to Ian about Sue Anne and the real need to provide for these little ones. The idea of raising money locally to try and build a school was discussed.

They looked at costings for this project and it was decided that £20,000 would build a basic school. It was thought that this amount could be raised over two years. In fact almost £22,000 was raised in under one year.

In 2005, our Session Clerk  Stuart Robertson, Ian McCrorie and the Rev Jill Glancy ( St. John’s Church Gourock) went out for the Official Opening of the newly completed school. The school is now very much part of the village community.

The  Vhutshilo Mountain School targets severely underprivileged children, in particular orphans, who would not normally have the advantage of pre-school education. The aim is to provide these children with the highest possible standard of personalised care, stimulation and education during their formative years, and thus equip them with a solid grounding on which to base their lives. The maximum size of group per educator will therefore be 20; life skills, swimming, ball sports are to be included and English will be the only medium of instruction. Pride in their own culture and language will, however, be encouraged at all times, to ensure that the children have a positive sense of their own identity.

Fraser’s enthusiasm and commitment in telling of the harrowing conditions in the area has touched not only the hearts of Westburn Church but also the Presbytery of Greenock and Paisley. The Inverclyde area including several local schools has been generous in their support.

The original school was housed in a caravan but thanks to the support from this area there is now a purpose built building. There are 55 pupils with 6 permanent staff and other volunteers. Part of the school programme is to give the children two meals per day and also basic medical care. This care is important in an area which is one of the poorest regions of the country. Here, a huge proportion of the population is unemployed, homeless or illiterate. HIV/AIDS is rife.

As part of our support, the congregation of Westburn Church sponsor two children through their time in the school. A recent Newsletter gives details together with photographs of the children – a boy named Mavhunga Nbivho and a girl named Mulaudzi Pfano both six years of age. A School photograph is also included.

A basic but informative web site giving information  on the school can be viewed here

The 2010 School Newsletter can be viewed here


p1210005img_00011On Sunday 29th  June 2009 the traditional Westburn Morning Service was abandoned in favour of a Service with an African influence. There was no Organ or Choir or even a Sermon, Instead we were treated to a Service, led by Rev Bill Armstrong, where Ian McCrorie {in his own style} assumed  the role of Cantor. He took us through hymns mainly of an African theme. The accompanying music was to the beat of an African Drum.

This was due to the presence of our very special guests – Susie and Vhuhwavho. For the occasion, we were joined by members and children from Gourock  St. John’s Church.  In addition, staff and pupils of Sheuchan School Stranraer made an early morning journey to be with us for this special time.

img_0007img_0010As part of the Service, Monica McNeill told the moving account of how her son Fraser first visited Venda as a gap year adventure. The impact that it had on him, together with family and friends, led to the money being raised to build the school.  Vhuhwavho and Susie told of their life and gave thanks for what had been given to Venda.