Open­ing up op­por­tu­ni­ties for the poor – and their chil­dren

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The Depart­ment of Co­op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance’s Com­mu­nity Work Pro­gramme gives mean­ing­ful work op­por­tu­ni­ties to the poor. Now the pro­gramme is help­ing their chil­dren get a bet­ter start in life.

Cyn­thia Molehe’s grand­fa­ther al­ways told her she would grow up to be a teacher. “He used to say I had the brains in the fam­ily. That I was go­ing to make some­thing of my life.

“But when I fin­ished my ma­tric in 2004, there wasn’t any money for uni­ver­sity.”

Molehe grew up in Madi­bogo, a vil­lage in one of North West’s poor­est lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties – Rat­lou. Rat­lou stretches for kilo­me­tres – it’s vast and dry, with no towns or in­dus­try. More than 100 000 peo­ple live here, but the only jobs are sea­sonal farm­work and con­tract labour at the lo­cal open-pit gold mine.

With no chance for fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, Mo­hele went to look for work. But all she found were low-paid piece jobs.

Mean­ing­ful jobs

In 2013, she joined the Depart­ment of Co­op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance’s Com­mu­nity Work Pro­gramme (CWP), which pro­vides mean­ing­ful jobs for the poor.

“The work is all com­mu­nity ori­en­tated – main­tain­ing veg­etable gar­dens in schools, help­ing the aged, clean­ing pub­lic spa­ces,” says Mo­hele. “Soon af­ter I en­tered the CWP, I was iden­ti­fied as a skilled worker and of­fered spe­cialised train­ing.” But Mo­hele still hadn’t given up on her dream of be­ing a teacher.

“In 2015, I was in­vited to train as an early learn­ing play­group fa­cil­i­ta­tor (ELF). I jumped at the chance to work with chil­dren.” She went on to be­come a men­tor trainer, man­ag­ing a group of ELFs. She now man­ages 10 play­groups in Rat­lou.

Stim­u­lat­ing young minds

The early learn­ing play­group model was in­tro­duced to North West in 2015 through a part­ner­ship be­tween the CWP, the North West Depart­ment of So­cial De­vel­op­ment, Cot­lands, the Lima Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion and Ilifa La­bant­wana.

“This project has been a model pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship,” says Za­mani Cele, Lima’s learn­ing sup­port fa­cil­i­ta­tor for North West.

“These part­ner­ships shift the work un­der­taken by CWP par­tic­i­pants from menial work to so­cial ac­tion. They can cre­ate vi­able ca­reer paths for the par­tic­i­pants so that they can ‘grad­u­ate out of poverty’ – what CWP refers to as an ‘exit strat­egy’.”

Lima and Cot­lands, two na­tional NGOs, part­nered with CWP to se­lect qual­i­fied CWP par­tic­i­pants to run play­groups for chil­dren aged three to five. These are kids who lack ac­cess to the ben­e­fits of early child­hood de­vel­op­ment.

“We are thor­ough in our se­lec­tion,” says Za­mani. “Par­tic­i­pants have to have passed Grade 10. We check for crim­i­nal records, and we do ap­ti­tude, nu­mer­acy and lit­er­acy as­sess­ments.” Par­tic­i­pants are also screened against the sex­ual of­fend­ers reg­is­ter, in line with leg­is­la­tion in the Chil­dren’s Act.

Grow­ing dreams

Se­lected CWP par­tic­i­pants are then trained in play­group fa­cil­i­ta­tion by Cot­lands, an early child­hood de­vel­op­ment NGO. Aside from pro­vid­ing the ini­tial train­ing to the ELFs, Cot­lands and Lima pro­vide on­go­ing sup­port from peo­ple like Molehe – the men­tor train­ers.

“The early learn­ing pro­gramme is dif­fer­ent to the rest of the CWP work,” says Ter­rance Mahlatsi, who man­ages the 1 200 CWP par­tic­i­pants in Rat­lou. “The par­tic­i­pants who have trained as ELFs want to be­come teach­ers. This work op­por­tu­nity means they think of them­selves as teach­ers al­ready – so their dreams grow.”

Many vil­lages in Rat­lou have no early child­hood de­vel­op­ment cen­tres at all. ECD stim­u­lates the minds of very young chil­dren, set­ting them on the path of life­long learn­ing. Where day care cen­tres ex­ist in Rat­lou, the cost – any­thing from R50 to R350 per month – is too much for many ru­ral house­holds, who mainly rely on so­cial grants and sub­sis­tence farm­ing for sur­vival.

The 2016 South African Early Child­hood Re­view found that 71% of North West’s chil­dren un­der six live in poor house­holds. These chil­dren spend most of their day at home.

Ac­cord­ing to the South African Early Child­hood Re­view, a third of South Africa’s threeto five-year-olds – that is, one mil­lion chil­dren – don’t get the ben­e­fit of any early learn­ing pro­gramme.

‘You have made my child clever’

“Young chil­dren need to be stim­u­lated. The learn­ing which takes place be­fore school will en­sure that the child is able to ab­sorb knowl­edge once they start Grade R,” says Getrude Mabeza, Cot­lands project man­ager for North West. “There is ev­i­dence that chil­dren who at­tend a good qual­ity early learn­ing pro­gramme are bet­ter equipped for the for­mal ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.”

The ben­e­fits are clear to Molehe. “I have seen the dif­fer­ence these play­groups make in so many chil­dren,” she says. “They come shy and they sit in the cor­ner, not talk­ing and not in­ter­ested in the games.

“A few weeks in, and they are ex­cited, they are tak­ing part in every­thing, they can’t stop talk­ing. I don’t mind if they are naughty – that’s how chil­dren should be!

“Their par­ents come and thank us. They say: ‘You have made my child clever.’”

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