One of our newest attendees
On January 16, 2012, Siyabonga Crèche opened in a 400 square foot cement block building. The building is part of the homestead of the center’s director, who is generously loaning it to the community until funds can be raised to build a childcare center. The community committee overseeing the crèche set the enrollment cap at 20 children because of the size of the space. By the end of the first week of operation, that cap had been met. By the end of the first month, eight additional children were admitted and a long waiting list established. The director explained: “By now, I have 28 children. I couldn’t prevent it, as more desperate children came late. I couldn’t turn them away, given their difficult situation.” Thus we are now working hard to raise funds to build a new center that can accommodate all of the children in need in the area and provide expanded services.
In the area served by the center, many children live in single parent households or are living with a grandparent or other family member. The area is part of a former homeland, or bantustan, where many black South Africans were forced to move under Apartheid. Due to this history and ongoing inequalities in the country, the local economy is struggling and many families lack sufficient land or means to support themselves. Thus, many families rely on the wages secured by sending a family member (often a parent) to work far from home.
One of our first student’s story tells a familiar tale. Vusi lives with his aunt and her two children. His mother left him behind when she went to look for a job in Johannesburg to try to support the family. His guardian told us that before Vusi attended the center, “he was lonely and kept to himself; he usually seemed angry and used to cry all the time.” She went on to say that since he started attending the center, “he laughs and plays with other children. He enjoys being with his peers more than anything, except toys.”
This area also has one of the highest documented rates of HIV in the world and many children have lost one or both parents to AIDS or a related disease. The provincial government estimates that nearly 20% of the children in KwaZulu Natal have experienced the lost of a parent. The last two children admitted to the center are among these. Sphelele, age four, and Zama, age two, are sisters. They lost their mother in January and since then have been living with their grandmother and their extended family of seventeen. Their grandmother works hard to make ends meet, working 10 to 12 hours a day as a woodcutter in a local factory. She told us that now that the children are enrolled in the center, she can go to work without worrying about their safety. Sphelele’s and Zama’s grandmother told us: “they have benefited a lot from the crèche; they used to fight and bite each other and kept to themselves. Now they wake up and have something to look forward to everyday.”
This week (April 22 -28) is UNESCO’s Global Action Week. The Action Week is part of a worldwide campaign to raise awareness of the importance of Education for All. This year’s campaign, Rights from the Start! Early Childhood Care and Education Now!, focuses on expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. As explained by UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova:
“Early childhood programs are an important means of guaranteeing the rights of young children. Today we know how crucial the early years are for improving children’s well-being and preparing them for primary school, a safe journey through education, and healthy, productive lives beyond. Strong foundations for children are also strong foundations for building more equitable societies in which all may prosper.”
The community leaders we work with in South Africa, many of whom were deprived of educational opportunities by the Apartheid government’s racist policies, understand the importance of education for their children’s future and know that early educational support is critical for children and families. Please help Thembanathi continue funding the new crèche to ensure this essential service is available to those who desperately need it and help us begin to raise funds to build a larger center that will provide a proper space for these children and those on the waiting list to learn and prosper.
Happy child snacking on a banana
Showing off her art skills
Impromptu dance performance