BIG IDEAS FROM LITTLE MERMAIDS

Why shouldn't the next Chad le Clos come from Strandfontein? That's what Rushana Charles (30) asked herself a few years back.

She’s founded the Little Mermaid Swim School in 2011, armed with five years of experience as a swimming teacher, serving the children of Mitchells Plain and her ambition is to be running the biggest aquatic centre in Mitchells Plain by the end of the decade.

"I held an open day in February that first year and began with 35 students. Today, three years later, we have 443 swimmers on our books, two other instructors on the staff and an assistant."

Rushana is one of 19 candidates from Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha taking part in the Development Programme of the Small Business Academy (SBA) an initiative of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) established to promote the sustainability of effective small businesses operating in townships.

Not one to turn down a challenge, when she saw an advertisement at the beginning of this year seeking recruits for the SBA, she decided to apply in a bid to grow her business skills and hence her business. That she was pregnant at the time with her second child was no deterrent.

The nine-month Development Programme for township small business owners from Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha teaches business administration, financial management, IT skills and marketing. The Distell Foundation and Absa are amongst its major funders.

She had no problem making it onto the course and is managing to keep up with the commitments, even with an infant and a five-year-old to take care of. She attends classes at the USB in Bellville, participates in workshops and has to complete a series of assignments before the end of the year. Her final task will be to submit a business plan that outlines how she is going to take her school to the next phase of its development.

Throughout the process, she is mentored by a graduate from the USB.

She loves the course and everything she is learning but what has benefitted her most thus far, is that she is able to calculate her running costs so much more accurately than before. "I can tell you exactly how much electricity I'm using a day." 

She's built a website, she's on Facebook and Twitter and the reputation of her school is growing.

"Currently, when the kids attain a certain level, we have to pass them on to other instructors for coaching in competitive swimming. As we expand, that will change and we will be able to accommodate aqua aerobics as well."

Rushana’s idea came about while she was waiting for her next batch of learner swimmers to arrive, all kids from the smarter southern suburbs of Cape Town.

"I realised I needed to create a swimming pool in my own environment in Strandfontein for the children of Mitchells Plain. And when I get a notion, I don't let go. I literally hounded my family and finally persuaded my mother to agree to building a pool on her property that I could use. She came up with some of the money and I also raised a bond on the home I own with my husband but still I didn't have enough.  I was so focused on achieving my goal that I even started entering competitions and then I won one in 2011. The prize was a bakkie that I sold for R80 000 and I was on my way!"

She was so insistent she even talked her husband into giving up his printing job to join her in establishing the Little Mermaid Swim School, based at her parents' home, where they now live with their own family too.

Rushana will graduate from the SBA programme in November this year.
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