THE School of Practical Philosophy (SPP) has scooped the Johannesburg Development Agency’s Halala award for the category Caring Joburg.

The SPP shares the award with the Door of Hope Children’s Mission in Berea. The category acknowledges “selfless and community-minded individuals, groups or organisations that deliver support services to the community, especially those who are most vulnerable”.

“These caregivers are the ‘caring heart’ of Joburg’s inner city,” reads the Halala statement. The awards were given last week and include the categories Sustaining Joburg; Relaxing & Playing Joburg; Caring Joburg; Working & Buying Joburg; Living Joburg; and Conserving Joburg.

Previous winners in the Caring Joburg category were Metro Evangelical Services; Makhulong A Matala; Citykidz Pre- and Primary School; Friends of the Inner City Forum; and Mother Theresa Home, Missionaries Charity.

“I just felt jubilation,” says SPP elder William Angus, who was at the awards ceremony.

The SPP is a non-profit organisation that offers a range of courses – from knowing yourself, finding happiness, love and presence of mind, to freedom and Plato’s nature of the soul. This involves teaching economics, philosophy and business, ethics, dance dialectics, rhetoric, Sanskrit grammar, geometry and scripture, among other courses.

Sanskrit is believed to be the first pure language, according to the SPP. The school was founded in the UK in 1938 and has had a presence in South Africa since 1958, says Angus.

“We aim to realise people’s full potential,” he explains. “We have an innate belief that everyone is pure, perfect and complete. We want everyone to reach knowledge, consciousness and bliss.”

The SPP has branches in Houghton, Northcliff, Lenasia, Pretoria and Benoni. It has 500 members across Gauteng. It is housed in Salisbury House, which received this year’s Halala award for Conserving Joburg.

St James Preparatory School

The SPP actively reaches out to the community, with its philosophy of “seeking to live and work to serve the society and the world in which we live”. Its biggest project is the St James Preparatory School, which it began in 1999. The SPP bought the building in 1985 and originally ran its courses from the premises before moving into Salisbury House.

Situated across the road from Salisbury House in Belgravia, the school takes in children from Grade 00 to Grade 7. Kids attend from as far afield as Lenasia and Soweto.

The teacher pupil ratio is 1:10, and the school receives no government subsidy, says principal Mark Grace. It has one class per grade, about 100 kids in all, and 10 teachers.

Grace says children are taught Sanskrit until Grade 7, otherwise they follow the national curriculum. Another unique feature of the school is that there is no tuckshop – children are given fruit mid-morning and a vegetable lunch. And children from different grades serve one another in the dining hall; Grace says this eliminates bullying, a perennial problem in today’s schools.

School begins and ends with pause times, he adds, in which children sit quietly for a few minutes, stilling their minds and preparing for school work. “Stillness is the mark of the school.”

The school introduces Shakespeare to children in Grade R, getting them to recite a verse. It held a poetry festival and a choir festival this year, and plan to do the African version of Macbeth soon.

Grace says that besides inculcating a work ethic in the children, the school’s motto is: “Truth, love and service.”

Other initiatives

Another caring initiative of the SPP is the Jeppe Phakamisu Ubuntu Community School, an outreach programme based at St James. It teaches children arts and crafts, baking and sports, and has a bicycle club. Angus says with pride that it has sent a team to do the Argus cycle race in Cape Town three times. Every Saturday, some 120 children attend the school.

The SPP also runs a Soweto Teachers’ Outreach Programme with Kingsmead School, in which help is given to teachers in Soweto on lesson content and curriculum development.

The SPP has played an active role in restoring Salisbury House, with one of its members, architect Christine Meissner, guiding the work. Meissner says that she and the SPP have noticed that the neighbourhood has improved over the past few years, and they like to think that their restoration of Salisbury House and their outreach work has made a contribution to the upliftment of the community.

Every weekend members clean the immediate area around Salisbury House.

Angus and Meissner say they are hoping to form a spiritual hub in the suburb, which contains many churches and schools. “Our job is to serve and understand what it means,” says Angus.