Impumelelo - The Stellenbosch Academy for Social Innovation

SAEP Early Childhood Development

Nokhaya Manxiwa-Nqeza established Qhamani Educare because something had to be done.

“There were only a few crèches in my area. I saw parents not knowing where to leave their children safely,” Nokhaya says. “Sometimes children were left with neighbours where they were abused or neglected, or they played in the streets where it was unsafe.”

In 1996, she took 40 children into her mother’s one-room shack in Philippi, Cape Town and signed up for teacher training.

In the early years, the obstacles she faced seemed insurmountable. Without funding, she couldn’t pay teachers, and struggled to buy food and educational equipment.

To qualify for government subsidies, she had to complete confusing registration documents and meet a long list of requirements that included compliance with health and safety regulations, structural upgrades, daily programmes and qualified educators.

The requirements are designed to ensure minimum standards of care and education, but are difficult and expensive to realise in poor communities. In her first eight years of operation, Nokhaya only received one donation – R3000 from the City Council.

Like Nokhaya, thousands of women across South Africa have opened educares – often in their own homes – to respond to the urgent need for care and education they see in their communities.

Early childhood development is vital to each child’s success and to our collective future. Research shows unequivocally that children who attend quality early childhood development programmes are more likely to succeed in school and find work as adults, and less likely to become involved in crime. Yet the vast majority of children in South Africa start Grade 1 without having attended a structured early learning programme.

Publicity around unregistered educare centres is often negative: we hear about them when a child has been injured or has died in an unfortunate accident and there are calls to shut the centre down.

These incidents are tragic, and we must strive to prevent them. But instead of pointing fingers at unregistered centres, we need to extend a helping hand. The vast majority of women who launch ECD centres are passionate about helping children – but need guidance and resources to do it safely and well.

Since 2003, the South African Education and Environment Project (SAEP), a Cape Town-based non-profit, has helped 17 struggling, unregistered educare centres along the road to becoming high-quality, registered education and care providers.

SAEP provides mentorship and training to principals and teachers, mobilises donations of equipment and materials, provides nutritious food, and offers assistance with infrastructural upgrades and the registration process.

It’s not an easy process. Most township educare principals don’t have a matric certificate. Fundraising and upskilling takes time, and results can be slow to see. Registration means dealing with bureaucracy and red tape – a challenge even for well-resourced organisations.

But it’s worth the investment. With SAEP’s help, Nokhaya has been able to realise her dream of building a brand new centre that today cares for 115 children and employs seven trained teachers. Qhamani is registered and receiving state subsidies. Nokhaya plays a leading role in the Philippi-based Safety Unity Crèche Forum, where she shares her skills and experience with others facing the same challenges.

The answer to South Africa’s ECD crisis lies within our communities – in the vision and initiative of thousands of women like Nokhaya, who open their homes, their hearts and in many cases, their purses to give children a solid start.

Let’s focus the conversation around ECD on how we can support, equip and empower these unsung heroes to improve their services to our most vulnerable children.

Published in The Citizen

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