In this report, we thought we’d do something a bit different and introduce you to the local visionary behind our new program, who currently as the director of Siyabonga Early Childhood Development Center.
Nonhlanhla was born in 1969 in Ladysmith, South Africa, the third of seven children. In 1977, the family was forced to leave Ladysmith when the Apartheid government took their land, part of a national campaign of forced removals designed to claim arable land for the white South African population and move black South Africans to the margins. After living for some time in a resettlement camp, Nonhlanhla’s family decided to move to the Mtubatuba area, where they had a few friends staying. The area was then part of the ‘black homeland’ (or bantustan) of KwaZulu, and so they were allowed to buy a small plot of land on which to build a home from the local chief. Not being from the area and having lost everything in the forced removal, Nonhlanhla recalls that the family struggled a great deal to survive in their new home and to gain acceptance in the area.
Despite these challenges, Nonhlanhla was able to stay in school and complete her high school diploma. She has always loved learning, and found solace in education, despite the difficult circumstances she faced and the challenges of getting a good education under the Apartheid government’s segregationist policies. After graduation, she was encouraged by her high school teachers to study social work at the university. In 1989, she was accepted at the University of Zululand but struggled to finish the program because of her family’s financial circumstances.
In 1994, Nonhlanhla married Mfanafuthi, and was blessed with her first of four children. She could not afford to study full time but continued part time at the South African College (now University of South Africa), working towards a teaching degree. In 2004, her husband was tragically killed in a car accident, and she was left to support her four young children on her own.
Even though the going was tough for her after her husband’s death, she made sure that her children continued in school, and worked hard to instill her belief in the value of learning in all of them. Her oldest child, Nothando, was one of the few young people from her high school to get a scholarship to attend university. She completed a diploma in Fine Arts in 2011, and is now working towards her teaching degree. Her second child, Mbali, graduated high school last year with top marks, and is currently participating in an engineering training program, and applying to universities, where she hopes to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering. With support from Thembanathi, Nonhlanhla is now also finally completing her degree in early childhood development from the University of South Africa. The educational success of this family is quite amazing, especially given that high school failure rates in the area are as high as 70 percent.
During the many difficult times that Nonhlanhla and her children have faced, they have relied on the kindness of neighbors and community members to get by. As her children grew older, Nonhlanhla wanted to find a way to repay the community for the kindness they had offered her family. With other women from the community, she aimed to start an early childhood development program for young children in the area, which lacked quality facilities to provide educational and developmental support for young children. In this community, affected by both the long-term effects of racial segregation and unequal development and by one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, education remains the key to breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty. However, because of the Apartheid government’s system of separate education, many adults in the area lack basic education and the local schools are some of the worst performing in the world. South Africa’s schooling system ranked 130th out of 139 countries in the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report. To address these challenges, Nonhlanhla envisioned a center of learning that would ensure that all children could get a chance “to learn in life and continue to strive for success.” However, she and her fellow community members lacked the funds, the knowledge, and the connections to get the project off the ground.
In 2009, Nonhlanhla met Lindsey, Thembanathi’s founder, who was living in Mtubatuba conducting research for a PhD in Public Health and Anthropology. She offered to help tutor Lindsey in isiZulu, and welcomed her into her home. During these visits, she shared with Lindsey her dream of establishing an early childhood education program. Both felt very fortunate to have connected, given their shared passion for education for children in the area. Several years before, Lindsey had founded Thembanathi in order to support to community-based programs focused on early childhood care and education services and other forms of assistance for children and families affected by HIV and poverty in this region. Moved by Nonhlanhla’s enthusiasm and commitment, Lindsey encouraged her to take her vision forward, and committed to help raise the needed funds.
In January 2012, with support from Thembanathi and the involvement of a local community committee, the Siyabonga Early Childhood Development Centre was started in a small building on Nonhlanhla’s property. Although the building was only 400 square feet and she had hoped to have a maximum of 20 children, enrollment quickly grew to 37 children, as there were so many children in the area in need. This year, with the support of our generous donors in the United States and elsewhere and the involvement of the local community, Nonhlanhla’s vision was realized with the completion of a beautiful new building with space for 60 children and room for additional programs as well.
Nonhlanhla believes the center has had a great impact on the community, “raising hopes for a brighter future for all.” Now, parents have a place to bring their children each day where they know they will be well taken care of, while they support their families or look for employment. And, even more importantly, the children have a place to grow, play and learn, setting them on a path of life-long learning. Nonhalanhla, the other Siyabonga staff, and the local volunteers are all excited to continue to grow their vision, and to help even more young people and families in need. They deeply appreciate the help you’ve given them thus far, and hope you’ll continue to be a part of the Siyabonga family and to inspire possibility and hope for young people in need through your ongoing support.
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