The first 1000 days of a child’s life are the most important. Getting quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) is the best way to invest in the future of our nation. The stimulation that occurs in the first 5 years of a child’s life lays the mental foundation for the rest of their lives. Children with access to quality ECD are more likely to complete school, which means they are less likely to contract HIV/AIDS and more likely to get a job or go on to university. Yet in South Africa, only 1/5 children attend a formal crèche or preschool.
Because of this, iThemba is partnering with teachers and parents in Mpumuza to create a sustainable system of ECD in this community. Through site-based and home-based interventions, as well as adding to the number of quality ECD centers in the community, iThemba hopes to saturate this area through every stream of influence so that the majority of children have access to quality ECD. By having intentional, concentrated focus, we hope to energize the parents and teachers in this community to spread a culture that values ECD, and build a network of self-supporting ECD practitioners. Supporting this ECD work, is our goal to develop sustainable nutrition through food gardens, and teaching Life Skills to give teens the tools they need to make successful life choices.
The Asidlale (“Let’s Play”) programme involves partnering with existing crèche (day care) teachers in the community and providing curriculum, training, one-on-one support and mentoring. Skilled ECD practitioners mentor teachers weekly, and through an incentive-based programme, teachers can purchase classroom resources of their own choosing. We also facilitate workshops 8 times a year, as well as Hlanganani Teas (“Come Together” teas), where teachers in Sweetwaters share classroom advice and resources with each other. This is important for creating a sustainable community. Our annual assessments of children starting grade R show that children coming from crèches where teachers participate in the Asidlale programme are better prepared for school than their peers. Interested in hearing learning more about how we started Asidlale? View a 5-minute photo story here.
HOME BASED (ECHS: Early Childhood Home Stimulation) Our ECHS programme involves partnering with parents/caregivers in order to help them understand the importance of ECD, and equip them in interacting with their children at home. Parents participate in parent-child play groups, where they interact with their children, get support from other parents, and learn a bit about child development. They also have the opportunity to make home-made educational resources, as well as borrow toys from the toy-lending library. Community mentors make home visits during the week to see how parents are implementing what they have learned. This intervention is critical for the many children who do not attend any crèche. Want to learn more about how empowering parents to play is part of our ECD strategy? View a 5 minute photo story by clicking here.
DEVELOPING ECD CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE (iTHEMBA PRESCHOOL)
There are not enough crèches/preschools in Mpumuza for the number of children in the community. Many families would like to send their children to crèche, but live too far away. iThemba was given a piece of land by the traditional authorities in Sweetwaters to build a community centre, and the authorities asked that our first goal be to build a preschool for the area. The preschool opened on August 3rd, 2015. Currently there is capacity for 30 students, with plans to expand up to 70. The goal for this preschool is to become an ECD centre of excellence: a place where we can host training workshops and Hlanganani Teas, as well as be a resource room for local teachers, and a place where they can experience quality ECD in action. We also are partnering with local businesses and foundations to assist in building (or expanding) crèches in other parts of Sweetwaters.
The iThemba Life Skills curriculum is based on the SA National Curriculum (CAPS) for grade 7 and 8. iThemba mentors teach these classes weekly in 7 schools in Sweetwaters, impacting over 500 students. The curriculum covers topics ranging from hygiene and time management, through to conflict resolution, HIV/AIDS, body image and gender roles. Through hands-on group activities and interaction, as well as through after-school sports activities and home visits, iThemba mentors try to show these concepts rather than teach. Life Skills classes extend beyond the classroom, as teens form positive relationships with adult role models and gain the skills and the social support they need to make successful life choices. Learn more about the Life Skills programme here.
Mpumuza has no sports or other extra-curricular facilities for after school hours, and to address this lack, iThemba has started a running club where kids meet once a week for training. They are given the opportunity to participate in regional inter-school competitions and fun runs. The club involves about 40 students from local schools, and students have the opportunity to participate in the Midlands inter-schools competitions, as well as other local events, such as Capital Climb (15km) and the Mandela Marathon 10km. Running club is more than a place to get exercise- it provides students with a place to belong.
The Mpumuza Vegetable Garden and Greening Project launched in 2011, in partnership with the National Lotteries Board. Extreme poverty and unemployment in Mpumuza have resulted in widespread food insecurity. Many children are malnourished and this impacts on both their behaviour, development and educational achievement. In addition, there has been little education in the area related to the need to care for the environment and this is evidenced by the widespread environmental degradation. The food gardens and indigenous greening project seeks to address both nutritional issues and environmental education. Our current phase of the project is focusing on increasing sustainability over the next three years. Through our partners at Dorcas Aid and Lotto, we are getting a seedling nursery at the community centre fully functional as a small business. This nursery will provide the much-needed seedlings to local creches and schools. We're also focusing on mobilizing local teachers and community volunteers in how to care for the permaculture gardens. Read about some of our recent successes on our blog, and in this five-minute photo story.
In 2007, Nkosi Zondi gave iThemba a piece of land with the request that we build a community centre, starting with a preschool. On August 3rd, 2015, the preschool opened its doors to welcome the first class of students. It’s been a long journey, and it’s not over yet, but we celebrate at how far we’ve been able to come!
AN INNOVATIVE METHOD: RAMMED EARTH
Rammed earth technology involves mixing soil excavated from the building site with a stabilizer and then ramming it between wooden molds (shuttering) until it is cured. This is a cost effective, eco-friendly method, as well as being a better insulator than cement blocks.
Since every site has different soil properties, we took a long time testing our formula with different stabilizers to get the strongest wall. We discovered that for this area, lime is the best stabilizer. Not only did we want our building method to be affordable, we wanted to hire and train previously unemployed community members in this building technique so that they would gain marketable skills. We now have both the technique and the "team" to produce quality, low-cost buildings for the community centre, and the community as a whole.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE:
From the site workers who spent hours testing the technique and then building the preschool, to the many engineers, architects, technicians, donors and volunteers who gave time and resources, the team who built this building is irreplaceable! To read more about our site team and our strategy for empowering local community members through the building of the site, click here. We are incredibly thankful for our principle funders, as well as for the many local businesses who donated the materials we required.
CELEBRATING SUCCESS: On September 11th, 2015, Nkosi Zondi cut the ribbon to formally open the iThemba Preschool, the first phase of the iThemba LamaMpumuza Community centure site. We welcomed the community and funders to celebrate! To view pictures of this special day, you can visit our facebook album here.
The second phase of the community centre is the beginning of the children and teens support centre.
This will house amongst other programmes:
A GAP year for Community School leavers;
after school homework support;
a teachers training and resource centre;
a base for the Early Childhood Household stimulation programme;
Children and teens holiday programmes;
community discussion groups
This next phase will gradually build up to impact over 500 young people weekly. This will involve direct contact as well as indirect, through the development of their teachers, their parents and the young adults they come into contact with. The next phase will go a significant way to helping raise a generation full of hope. If you're interested in learning more about how you can be a part of making this next phase a reality, contact Stu Walker.
We'd love to have you join us in bringing hope to Mpumuza through education.
BECOME A MONTHLY PARTNER
INFORMATION FOR SOUTH AFRICAN BUSINESSES:
To partner with us, please contact Stu Walker. The oversight of the organisation is carried out by the trustees of iThemba Trust (IT128/2007/PMB) - iThemba is a registered PBO 930025842 and therefore all donations are tax deductible - iThemba's beneficiaries are all Black and therefore donations made can contribute to BEE points - iThemba is audited annually by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and has never had a qualified audit.
Burr, J. & Grunewald, R. (2006). Lessons Learned: A Review of Early Childhood Development Studies.
Canada, G (2009). Whatever it takes: Geoffrey Canada’s quest to change Harlem and America. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
Heckman, J.J. & Masterov, D.V. (2007). The productivity argument for investing in young children. Nber Working Paper Series, Working Paper 13016. http://www.nber.org/papers/w13016. Accessed 6 November 2014.
The World Health Organization (2004). The importance of caregiver-child interactions for the survival and healthy development of young children: a review.
The World Health Organization (2012). Developmental Difficulties in Early Childhood Survey.