Ensuring the children can learn
The media industry is being called on to give back to society while still getting free advertising. PETA KROST MAUNDER finds out more.
The children who attend Pulelo Primary School in Cassel near Vryburg in the Northern Cape struggled to concentrate on their work during classes because they were thirsty and hungry. That was despite the school staff doing their best to feed them, because pupils mostly came to school without having eaten.
“Our school suffered for many years because of the water situation in Cassel,” says principal GM Disipi. “We had to rely on the municipality for water and there would be many weeks when there was no water in the community. Our school garden could not flourish under these circumstances, children were dehydrated in the hot summer months and the cooks had to wait a long time for water to be brought from another village.”
This situation at Pulelo has changed dramatically. The children are now well nourished and happy and they have their own merry-go-round ‘playpump’. As they have fun playing on the roundabout (which is the only outdoor playing equipment at this school), they are powering a pump that draws water from a borehole into a sealed water storage tank that provides fresh water to the school.
This South African invention has already been installed in over 1 000 impoverished rural schools all over South Africa and in another 800 in Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi. Already tens of thousands of children who didn’t have access to regular water at school are now smiling, happy scholars thanks to this innovation that was conceptualised and rolled out by a company called Roundabout Outdoor.
Mark Melman, Roundabout Outdoor director, explains that many rural areas don’t have access to running water and the PlayPumps are a way of ensuring that children can survive and learn without worrying about something that is taken for granted by most urban South Africans.
“These children should be able to focus on being children, learning and having fun,” says Melman. “They should never have to concern themselves with food and water. In fact, teachers should be focused on teaching and not how to make sure their pupils are nourished so they can actually absorb what they are being taught. It is really heartening to read the letters (we receive) and watch how people’s lives change when they have access to running water.”
But installing these pumps doesn’t just happen, there are a lot of factors involved, not least of all the finances to check for a safe water borehole, installation and sustaining the PlayPumps.
Roundabout Outdoor began installing PlayPumps in 1994, initially using its own funds, but this wasn’t sustainable. In 2000, the company won first place in the World Bank’s Development Marketplace Competition. This helped fund the installation of 40 PlayPumps. In 2004, the directors incorporated a new, not-for-profit company to fund new installations by raising donor funds.
“But,” says Colin Morris, also a director of Roundabout, “it is essential that we are able to service the existing pumps. At the moment, we are not responding to maintenance requests as quickly as we would like and we are unable to conduct the type of pre-emptive maintenance that would forestall a lot of problems before they arise. While we have recently adopted some new approaches to try and help with the challenge, they will not solve the problem entirely.”
Melman says, “We have a few contractors who fix the pumps, but they have to travel huge distances in their four-ton trucks to get to the pumps, say from Randfontein to somewhere in Limpopo.”
This is where the media industry needs to come on board and “be the power of change”, says Melman, whose background is in the outdoor media industry. The maintenance of the PlayPump is funded by revenue generated by four outdoor billboards that surround the raised water tank on each tank stand. Two of the four billboards are sold for social awareness messaging focused on children and the other two for commercial advertising.
So, for R750 a month over an extended period of time, an individual or a company can sustain one PlayPump. “If all 1 000 of them have sponsors, over half a million people in South Africa will have drinking water. What’s more, they will be creating jobs for maintenance crews.”
One of the benefits is that each contribution is tax deductible because it qualifies as social economic development expenditure on the company’s black economic empowerment scorecard. “As PlayPumps are located in rural impoverished communities, 100% of the beneficiaries are black South Africans,” says Morris.
The only other expense is the once-off cost of printing and flighting the ads and messages.
“When a company advertises its wares, it is mostly for financial benefit,” says Melman. “Imagine how much better it is to advertise, but sustain a community at the same time and help improve this country. The amazing thing about this project is that it is first about water, but once the schools have water, they can grow fruit and vegetables for food to feed the community. It not only improves the children’s health but their attendance at school increases because they are getting an education and food to eat.”
Virginia Hollis, who recently left The MediaShop where she was Sandton MD to go solo, is a huge supporter of this initiative. “One of the most precious resources we have in the world is water,” she says. “We cannot survive without it, and wars are fought over it. We take this resource for granted because all we have to do is turn on a tap. There are thousands, no, millions, of people who do not have that luxury. They have to walk miles to fill a bucket so that they can have what we take for granted.
“PlayPumps is an incredibly simple idea with huge community benefits. So, why don’t we have clients scrambling to sponsor these pumps? Sure there are a few clients who are very involved, but I do not understand why there aren’t more, especially as there is a tax benefit!”
Hollis adds, “Right now there are thousands of schools that do not have access to fresh water, so any advertiser who is looking to reach school children in the less advantaged areas could certainly make use of this medium to talk directly to these kids, and their parents and teachers. “Regardless of how much disposable income there is in an area, the community still needs to eat, buy clothes and personal hygiene products, they use cellphones…”
Hollis says that while there are obvious advertising opportunities on the water tanks, that should be a secondary incentive to advertisers. “Involvement with projects like this is not about the commercial benefits, it’s more about the kudos you as a company receive from the community that is benefiting. This has a far higher intrinsic value, which is something you cannot buy,” says Hollis.
“So when you next think about how you can reach communities in out-lying areas consider this medium, you will not only be exposing your brand to the market, you will also be bringing an essential life need to a grateful community.”
This story was first published in the October 2012 issue of The Media magazine.