Any of you who have sailed into Cape Town, South Africa in Picton Castle on a world voyage, or any of you who have virtually followed Picton Castle’s voyages there will know what a special place the school Christel House South Africa holds in our hearts. Christel DeHaan, the school’s founder, passed away on June 6 and we are sending our most sincere condolences to her family and to all of our friends at Christel House South Africa.
After a long and successful career in the timeshare industry, Christel DeHaan sold the multi-national company she built and established Christel House International in 1998, with the goal of transforming the lives of impoverished children around the world. In addition to the school in Cape Town, Christel House also exists in India, Mexico, Indianapolis, and starting later this year, in Jamaica. Christel House South Africa opened in 2001 and Picton Castle has been visiting and supporting the school since the beginning.
Those of you who have been following the Captain’s Log for a while will know that from time to time, before we start a long voyage, we will ask for donations of school books and supplies. We collect these items primarily in Nova Scotia, but also in other North American ports. They’re then loaded into Picton Castle’s cargo hold and when we arrive in a port where we know or learn that the local school could use some support in the way of materials, we donate what we can.
Cape Town is usually the last port on a world voyage route where we’re making a donation of school books and supplies. The books and supplies you have donated have helped provide classroom sets of textbooks, storybooks, or novels for the classrooms of Christel House, and lots of reading materials for the school’s library. What they cannot use or is redundant to their efforts they pass along to other schools in need.
But our interaction with Christel House South Africa goes deeper. We invite each class to visit the ship, where we give them a tour, let them practice pumping the windlass, go for a boat ride in our skiff around the protected harbour and see all the fishing boats and big ships coming and going, play with blocks and tackles to learn mechanical advantage, and have a snack or meal on board with our crew. For many of them, it’s the first time they have ever been to the waterfront in their city, never mind on a boat or ship. Likewise, our crew are invited to the school for a tour, for a school assembly with singing and dancing, and for a drive through the townships where the students come from. In this way, the minds of all of us are opened just a wee bit more.
The students who attend Christel House South Africa are from some of the most impoverished communities within Cape Town’s townships. “Townships” is the term used for these informal communities often made up of simple shacks without running water and worse. The school provides not only education, but also school uniforms, two meals, and snacks daily, and health check-ups for the students, plus social support for the parents and families. Without Christel House, these kids likely wouldn’t get much food on the table or clothing to wear, never mind a first-class education. And yet, at Christel House these students excel. With the guidance and dedication of the excellent staff, the students are passing the national standardized exams, developing leadership skills, and a strong work ethic that prepares them for careers and life after school. The Captain says that he wishes he could send his son to Christel House.
We’re so grateful to Christel DeHaan for starting these schools and using the money and influence gained in her professional career to start something that has a lasting impact on the students and their communities, and thankful to those who are continuing her legacy, especially at Christel House South Africa.