Oldest town. Newest kitchen.

Philippolis. It has been a busy winter for the little town in South Africa’s Free State province. A strong group of strapping young Brits rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in building a kitchen and storage room for a group of “Oumas” (the Afrikaans word for grandmother) who run the soup kitchen here.

Before I add more detail, a little history:

Three of the four digital learning centres run by Good Work Foundation are based in Mpumalanga, in the north-eastern corner of South Africa. One though (perhaps you could call it “the original”) is based almost exactly in the middle of South Africa, in the great expanse between Johannesburg and Cape Town. It is the Philippolis Digital Learning Centre.

The town is the oldest settlement in the Free State and was originally founded as a missionary outpost in 1823. It is home to a large Griqua community, many of whom are descendants of the Bushmen who used to inhabit the Karoo desert, which surrounds Philippolis. Unemployment is high, levels of education and literacy are low, but there is hope, and slowly, slowly, this is a great example of a community that is learning to empower itself.

A case-in-point is the Oumas and their mission to help feed those who are in need.  While these selfless women have been doing a stellar job, they have never had a proper space in which to prepare and store food and have been doing most of their “chefing” in the local Church. It was time for the Oumas to get their own space!

And so the “Philippolis Soup Kitchen Project” was born. Good Work Foundation, together with its volunteer arm, Future Nature, organised for students and teachers from Boxhill School in England, as well as two gap-year students, to lend their hearts, biceps, energy and time to making something out of nothing; to creating a space that would make a difference to this community.

In true “small town” style, building got off to a slow start. The water was off (well, this is the Karoo after all).

Welcome to Africa students!

But in true African style, we made a plan, which involved driving in and out of town with as many containers full of water as possible.

The team made sure that the building was of extremely high quality, spending two days laying the initial three layers of bricks perfectly straight. This made building during the rest of the week MUCH easier.

Different groups of students were placed on different duties throughout the day: a sand collecting group, cement mixing group, brick laying group, brick collecting group and finally a “child intervention group”(responsible for keeping all the little people of the town a safe distance from the building site after school).

By the end of the first week the building had grown and the doors and windows were firmly in place. Everyone was extremely satisfied with the progress and hard work. When our part of the project came to an end, the walls were completed and the only residual work to be done is to put the roof up and cement the floors.

To our volunteers and gap-year students, who became our friends and brothers-in-arms in our mission to do good work, we hope you will always carry with you the knowledge that you made a big difference to the people of a small town off the beaten track.

Look out for next week’s blog from “Phili”. As well as stretching their biceps, our volunteers from over the seas also has to learn how to stretch a budget. An interesting lesson.


Shelley Lachenicht
Good Work Foundation friend, ambassador and volunteer