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Air Liquide in South Africa Bertus Swart

Air Liquide Supporting Communities

Air Liquide Community Support: Education Programmes bear fruit for teachers and learners

Young South Africans primed to be the best they can be, thanks to Air Liquide Community support Hundreds, and potentially thousands, of South African children are set to enjoy enhanced education, improve their marks and grow in self-confidence, thanks to Air Liquide’s programmes to support the communities in which the company operates.

Focusing on education and youth development, as well as small business development, Air Liquide runs a number of multi-year community development programmes strategically designed to deliver lasting impact. Bertus Swart, Facility Manager at Air Liquide South Africa, takes a personal interest in community programmes, and helps oversee them in collaboration with teams on the ground at the production facilities in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Emalahleni and the Eastern- and Western Cape.

For Swart and his teams, the programmes are a great deal more than a corporate ‘tick box’ exercise. “Community development is part of our group DNA. But for us, it’s about so much more than handing over a donation and leaving. We usually look at three- to five year partnerships and work closely with beneficiaries to ensure each programme’s success. When we look at a school’s facilities - in bad shape with a leaking roof, and we go back later to see the improvements we have made, we really feel we are making a worthwhile contribution,” says Swart. Swart says it has been particularly gratifying to hear learners talk about the progress they have made thanks to the programmes. “You feel you are contributing to society. This commitment to development runs through all of our employees – many of them suggest programmes we might implement, teams at our facilities oversee the implementation of projects, and a number of our employees travel long distances to contribute to our career forums. We really enjoy it.”

Bearing fruit

A maths and science programme which Air Liquide has run in partnership with the Valued Citizens Initiative since 2017 is already bearing fruit, with learners’ marks improving significantly. In South Africa, where STEM Skills are in high demand and many schools have been challenged in delivering them, this programme is particularly important.

“This is a two-step programme focusing on learners and educators. The learners have achieved improvements over the past two and a half years, and the educators are quite excited about the results. As part of the programme, we also take young talent to the participating schools to present to learners, and inspire them to achieve their dreams,” says Swart.

The Valued Citizens Initiative reports that the Mathematics intervention improved the grade 10 results from an average of 17.01% in 2018 to 31.41% in 2019 in the same period.

As a gold partner of the Valued Citizens Initiative, Air Liquide also supports the initiative’s ‘Bridging For Life’ programme, which helps learners develop their personal- and career goals and prepares them for the world of work. This programme has dramatically improved learners’ marks in Life Orientation and English, while at the same time helping them improve their leadership skills and work towards their career goals.

Another education programme now underway is the conversion of a library into a computer lab at a school in Richards Bay. Enlisting local small businesses to convert and equip the facilities, the Air Liquide team ensured the delivery of a modern facility to help both teachers and learners to use digital technologies in their education. A computer literacy training programme initially planned for a select group of teachers and pupils has now been extended to benefit 20 teachers and 562 learners, at the request of the principal.

Swart says this kind of collaboration with beneficiaries is crucial for the success of the programmes. “Our own employees drive these projects and work closely with the communities who benefit, because they understand the nuances of community needs and make sure that we help in the right manner.”

“In the Dunbar primary school in Secunda, we asked the principal for a three to five-year plan because we want to engage in the longer term. We know we can’t improve maths skills in just one year. We support the learners throughout the five years of high school to upgrade their maths and science, and are looking toward a bursary programme for excelling learners,” says Swart.

He also says another project, proposed by an employee in Secunda, will be implemented later this year to support a special needs school with renovations, infrastructure development and the provision of food parcels.

wart says the teams will continue to seek more ways to contribute to the development of the communities in which the company operates. “We want to contribute to sustainable development, because our own business development can only come when we contribute to the society in which we are growing. Our projects look to empower local business and develop the next generation of skilled employees – whether they are potential employees for us in future, or for broader industry,” he says.