Thursday, 31 October 2019

Tuesday - transport traumas and horticulture!

After the dramas of Monday's driving experience I decided to call the garage early on Tuesday to see  if someone could check my fan belt (as you do).  I was thrilled when the garage answered at 7:45 am and said, "No problem, come straight down"! So that's how, just after 8 am we found ourselves staring into the open bonnet of "Bertha the Bakkie" with the mechanic doing the international mechanic response of... sucking air through the teeth, followed by the words "without even trying I can see six problems here"  Oh boy, the screeching was a result of damp air on a loose fanbelt, causing it to slip.  I also had a fuel leak, corroded alternator belt, frayed air con belt (this much I knew, we've had no aircon in the bakkie since 2018), oil leak and oh.... something else!  So we quickly progressed from having a R500 120 point "health check" to a R1495 full service (which includes the 120 health check).  I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.  The friendly mechanic explained to me that had the alternator belt snapped I would have had 5kms to drive then NADDA!  Trust me, if that had happened deep in the valley, I would have been in a state and whilst I may have been able to be picked up, when we went back for Bertha, she'd have been stripped to a chassis!

We had a courtesy lift back to the accommodation and spent an hour or so catching up on email until Debbie, our Girl Friday arrived to take us to 1000 Hills Community Helpers.  We spent the morning with Christian, who has been responsible for taking a good veggie patch and turning it into a massively productive vegetable and fruit market garden!  I tell you, move over Monty Don.... we have Christian.  He is so passionate about his horticulture, he attended agricultural college and as I told you in an earlier blog he is not only transforming the garden at 1000HCH he is also training as a facilitator for the CINDI HIV/Aids awareness initiative.  Christian explained to us about the methods for spacing each plant, spinach has to be two hands ✋✋, beetroot can be one hand , carrots can be two fingers ✌ and cabbage and cauliflower has to be a forearm 💪.  In this way, it is really clear to everyone who is involved in the planting how to space the seedlings.

Christian also told us about the methods employed for pest control (screens and snail traps) as well as fertilisation.  He demonstrated how some plants did not thrive because the soil had not been prepared correctly, there were still rocks and the roots could not shift them.  He showed how tilling the soil, to make it fine allowed the roots to spread.  He also taught us that potatoes had to be cut back to four growing points to ensure the correct balance between sufficient leaves to carry out photosynthesis but not so many that the plant used all it's energy on leaves and left nothing for the tuber growing beneath the soil. 

We have some great video footage of Christian but it won't load to this blog, so watch out for it on Facebook or our new website from mid November!!!

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Monday mists and mountains!

This was Brett's first day of volunteering at 1000 Hills Community Helpers.  We arrived close to 8 am and the centre was already a hive of activity with patients waiting to be seen in the clinic and children settling into their day at creche.  We called in to say good morning and introduce Brett to Aunty Dawn, who was busy in the clinic overseeing the arrival of a new batch of medicines.
We brought another parcel of bandages and dressings for the team at the clinic, donated by our friends at Bidford Pharmacy, they had travelled out with Brett along with some more delightful baby clothes and hats.  The 1000HCH run a baby clinic on a Tuesday and each new baby registered receives a welcome pack with a couple of nappies, a few essential baby care items (like aqueous cream) and, if possible, a first outfit.  That is why the beautifully knitted matinee jackets and baby jumpers are so gratefully received here. Items for older babies and toddlers are also gratefully received, as often a child in creche may need some additional clothes or a small child visiting the clinic may leave, not only with medication, but also with a cosy, new jumper!
Brett was taken into the care of one of the clinic nursing staff and put to work in the dispensary, cataloguing the medicines that arrive each Monday morning and then preparing labels for the shelves and stock lists.
I returned to the lodge to catch up on some administration work I needed to get done and to finalise some arrangements for appointments for the remainder of the week.  On the way back "Bertha the Bakkie" started to screech in protest!  It was quite alarming and I pulled over to check the vehicle specification book to see if I could diagnose the problem.  It seems that the cause might be fan belt related, so I cautiously took off again and returned back to the lodge.  After making some enquiries about a reliable and friendly garage I tried driving again and the noise had abated.  Somewhat relieved I headed out to First Step Right preschool to find the Grade R children playing some wonderful games with the parachute and brightly coloured balls - they were playing "deep sea diving" where the parachute was the rolling sea and the balls were treasure under the sea and they each had to "dive" down and retrieve a "piece of treasure".  They then made the most of the breezy day and made a "mushroom" by wafting the parachute up and then sitting down on the edge so all the children were inside a "mushroom dome"!
I nipped down to the 1000HCH to collect Brett and brought him back to FSR as we had an after school meeting with the teachers to discuss the plans for the Grade R graduation that is arranged for 29th November.  This celebration marks the move of these children from their ECD preschool education into official Primary Education.  One of the teachers had the idea to make the gowns, instead of hiring them, and it was agreed that Jabu's Mum (who is a seamstress) would make two gowns as a trial and then aim to have a set of 20 gowns that can be used each year for the graduation ceremony and photographs.  The teachers also said that they could hire these out to other creches and that would make a small income each year.  They would like to prepare a big braai (BBQ) with chicken and wurst, as well as traditional accompaniments.  This is an important event for the creche, it celebrates the achievements of the children and shows the community that it is a vibrant and engaging early learning environment.
As we were meeting the mists again came down and we headed down to KwaXimba to drop Jabu and Khanyisile home.  This time, we could barely see the valley and cautiously progressed down the road.  Once back to the lodge, it was a quick turnaround as Brett & I had been invited to a braai at Westville Rotary Club near Durban.  We picked up a small contribution of some coleslaw and headed off, following directions provided by our host, Tony.  The roads were very wet and visibility was low due to the mists and we were astonished at a long tail back on the opposite carriageway due to a 4x4 having landed in a ditch.  Thank goodness it wasn't on our side.  After a very pleasant evening (eating delicious lamb chops and borewors), meeting many fellow rotarians and talking a little about the work that GAGA supports here in KwaZulu Natal we set off for home. 
Once again google maps had a little adventure in store for us.... heading off the N3 in darkness and misty rain we were "instructed" to turn left, signposted Alverstone.  Well, very soon into the trip we saw a "low gear, steep incline" warning sign.... by now it was too tricky to turn around and so we had little option but to press on!  Fortunately there were intermittent cats eyes in the road, else there would have been times when it was barely clear we were on a road at all!! We proceeded cautiously up, and up, and up and finally after what felt like a very long 20 minute climb we emerged onto the familiar "Old Main Road"!  Look up "Alvestone Road, Assagay, KZN - map type "terrain" to get a feel for our journey!

Friday 25th - catching up with the blog!

Bet you wondered where I was!
Wow! It's been a busy time since I last wrote the blog!  On Friday 25th I spent the day in Durban. The first visit was to the Likhon iThemba Hop Shop which is a charity shop run by the team behind the HOLAH (House of Love and Hope) Crisis Baby Home.  They use the income from the shop to help to cover the costs of the children in their care.  Operating as a Crisis Baby Home the intention is that the babies are only in their care for a short period of time, however life is rarely that straightforward in South Africa.  Often, the babies who are abandoned are in someway challenged physically and therefore these babies are not very easy to place into foster care or their "forever" home. In this case, children stay with HOLAH much longer, they currently have two toddlers who have been in their care for two and a half years, having arrived with them in the first hours of their life.   The first option is always to try to return the baby to the birth family, if not the mother herself then to an aunt or grandmother.  However this is not always possible, or desirable, as in the case of incestuous rape or a violent home situation.  Women remain relatively powerless in many South African communities, Kim (from Likhon iThemba) told me of one young woman who was found by the police trying to sell her baby for R200 (about £12).  When questioned she told them that the man she was living with told her he would kill her if she didn't return within an hour with no baby and R200.  This is the kind of unimaginable and intolerable threat level that some women have to endure.   The Hop Shop also serves as a place of safety for young women, they have just installed a Baby Saver (The Baby Saver is easy to access and easy to use – simply open the door, place the baby into the Saver and close the door – which then automatically locks. The trigger-plate will send an alarm which will result in Responders attending the Saver and sending the baby via ambulance to the local hospital where Likthon iThemba will be notified and prepare for the arrival of an abandoned baby) directly outside and if a young woman in crisis comes into the shop they can receive a supportive counselling session from Leanne or Kim.  In these sessions they clearly lay out the options for the young mother.  She may still be pregnant or she may have a tiny baby, but there are options to escape gender based violence or family stigma that Kim or Leanne can share. 

Kim and Leanne want the Hop Shop to become a hub for potential foster and adoptive families to come and learn about what fostering and adoption entails, and to see if they have the skills and attributes to become foster parents or adoptive parents.  They also want it to provide a support network for foster and adopting families as well as continuing to be a place of safety for expectant or new mothers to find out about their options with regard to their baby's future.  They are confident that the Hop Shop is in the right area for this to be a success, they get a lot of footfall through the shop, so it is a well known place and, sadly there have recently been two babies abandoned in very close proximity - one directly across the road, who was sadly dead from suffocation when he was found by the refuse collectors and another just up the road (5 minute walk away) found in the bins of the University of Kwa Zulu Natal.  Both of these were days before the baby saver was installed, it has yet to be used and in some ways we hope it won't ever be... but if there's a choice between leaving the baby there or in the bins opposite we certainly hope the desperate mother will choose the baby saver.

After the morning with Kim and Leanne, I met one of our Sangobeg students, Slie.  Slie has been studying at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal and she has ambition to join the South African Police Service (SAPS). She is one final paper away from completing her BA degree in Politics, Philosophy and Criminology, with an additional English major.  Slie is an intelligent, articulate and attractive young woman; the world is her oyster!  She does have a few bumps in the road at the moment and we are working with her to try to resolve them so that she can complete the degree and then make her application to SAPS.  After a long chat we said our farewells and I headed out to King Shaka airport to meet the flight that was bringing my 17 year old son out to Africa for the first time!!

Safely landed and through border control, we headed off to Greytown where we were staying with good friends of GAGA, the James family.  Mary runs LETCEE in Greytown, which is a fabulous Early Childhood Development training centre.  They support communities to set up toy libraries for pre-school children.  LETCEE and GAGA have a long history and we are always grateful to Mary for her insight and expertise which she happily shares with us.  It was a bit of a rough introduction to Africa for Brett, as we arrived at the James' to discover the power had been off since 2pm that afternoon, so there was no hope of a much longed for hot shower and Mary's plans for a welcome supper were also scuppered! 
The next day dawned, still with no power and so, rather dishevelled, we set off the the planned game drive at Weenan which was breathtaking and the power issue soon paled into insignificance as we viewed Eland, Kudu, Waterbuck, Red Hartebeast, Grey Hartebeast, Giraffe and Zebra.
Just going to grab some grub - so will post this up and add some photo's later!

Thursday, 24 October 2019

HACT's impact in the Valley of 1000 Hills

This morning I arrived at Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust ready for a full day covering the outreach activities that HACT are involved in. First of all I met my friend Mr Mshengu, who had been my escort in January.  We were scheduled to attend the home visits in the company of Sister Sphe.  As we set off I was reminded of the vastness of the Valley of 1000 Hills and the absolute remoteness of some of the settlements.  Mr Mshengu's knowledge of these roads, tracks and paths makes the London cabbie "Knowledge" look like childsplay!  For reasons of confidentiality I didn't take any photographs of the patients for home visits.  However, we arrived at the first scheduled visit to find that the patient had gone visiting to family across the valley, as we were in the combi, it was impossible for us to attend to her there (it can only be hoped that she was feeling better and that is why she decided to make the visit!).  The family at the second scheduled visit said it was "not convenient" this may be because we were in the combi which has a large HACT badge on the side.  There is still a significant stigma associated with HIV/Aids in these communities and some families will not accept a vehicle with the logo in their yard.  Unfortunately, this was the only vehicle available this morning.  I was later told that when HACT first opened, they had to have a magnetic badge that could be removed from the vehicles and the staff could not wear uniform to visit people in their homes.  Third time lucky, we were welcomed into a lovely home by a gentleman who, with his wife, were caring for her sister.  This lady had suffered severe, uncontrollable epileptic fits, which, in addition to her HIV + status put her at considerable risk, living alone.  She was in the Respite Unit in August but discharged to the care of her family once she had been stabilised on a very high dosage of epilepsy medication.  She is more stable now, although still has unexpected episodes and therefore cannot be left alone or get a job.  Sadly the Govt. has refused the application for a grant to contribute to her care and support, so the burden falls on the family.

 I then swapped cars and headed off with
Phindwe and Thandi to visit a Gogo Support Group.  This group of 13 ladies is one of the longest established GOGO support groups and we met at the "leader" Tangiwe's house.  They have a fabulous garden where they grow spinach, cabbage, beetroot, onions, carrots and beans.  They have also planted a crop of yams (called mThumbe locally) which is essentially a cash crop, it is a staple of the diet locally but can only be grown where there is an underlying water table.  The land that Tangiwe and her group have has this particular topography and therefore can utilise this to develop their co-operative.  They are a strong and close knit group, they currently all contribute R200 from their pensions to a savings pot and then this money is used to build a concrete house for any member who doesn't have one.  In the picture to the left, the grey roofed building is the first house to be built from this scheme, the Gogo used to live in the rondavel to the side of it. 

The next ambition is to ensure that all of the members of the group have an inside toilet, so that when they are older, they will not struggle to get out to use the outside privvy.  Many have already purchased the sanitary ware, they are saving for the plumbing work.  Finally the target is that each of the Gogo's homes will have a "JoJo" a water tank for rainwater harvest.  Clearly this is a group of ambitious and forward thinking ladies.  Not only that, their humour and joy of life is evident.  There is over 1000 years of experience between them!  They told me that when they are working in the garden they talk about their lives, their current challenges and also their early years, of loves lost but fondly remembered! A fabulous group of women!

My afternoon was spent with Pemla on the Grassroots Soccer Initiative.  This is a new activity for HACT, replacing their LifeSkills Programme.  The programme is focused on Grade 7,6,5 so age range from 10 to 14 and this term it is the Grade 5.  We visited Laboure Primary School in Kwanqetho, deep in the Valley of 1000 Hills.  This is a lovely school of nearly 400 pupils from Grade R to Grade 7.  The Grassroots Soccer delivers physical activity (soccer skills) and HIV awareness messages to groups of 15 pupils at a time.  This creates a trusting and caring cohort and allows children to speak up.  The session starts with a warm up and the two messages that are targeted in today's session are HIV avoidance and HIV attack. 

The first game uses a skipping rope as a limbo bar.  The children are told that they have to limbo under the bar. At first the bar is high, this represents abstaining from sexual activity, so it is easy to limbo under (i.e. it is easy to avoid contracting HIV).  The second bar is lower, this represents dating a person your own age, again it is quite easy to limbo under.  The reasons are discussed at each point so that the understanding of the metaphor is clear.  Now the bar is lower, this represents dating someone 5 years older than you.... now some cannot limbo and clear the bar, so the metaphor is that they have contracted HIV.  Again this is discussed, along with a clear discussion about "power" in a relationship, pressure and coercive behaviour. Finally the bar is very low, this represents dating someone 10 years older than you, hardly anyone can limbo or avoid the risk.  The discussion centres around the risk factors and what to be on your guard for, e.g. accepting gifts, someone hanging around school etc.

The second game very cleverly explains infection, immunity and how HIV suppresses the natural immune system.  Children are in a circle, one child is "human" and stands in the middle.  Another child is "Immune System" and joins the child in the middle.  The other children, some of whom are "flu" "cholera" "pneumonia" throw the football to touch the "human" and the "immune system" acts as defence.  Then, another child joins as "HIV" this child holds the "Immune System" child's arms behind their back, so he cannot "defend" any more.  Then a child named "ARV" joins, she represents the Anti Retro Viral drug therapy, which puts HIV to sleep and then "Immune System" can work again!  The final piece is to bring another infection"TB" into the picture! Now the discussion is on defaulting from treatment.  At each step the facilitator checks understanding and reinforces the messages.  It is a very clever method of delivering a very serious message.
Thank you HACT for your hospitality today and for the wonderful work you do.  We are proud to be associated with you and very grateful to our amazing donors who make that partnership possible.

Every day is a school day!

It's been a hectic couple of days here in KwaZulu Natal.  I've been nursing a head cold and have been feeling pretty ropy by the end of the day so have had two early night's in succession!  Seems to be clearing now, thank goodness!

On Tuesday a cold weather front moved in and brought with it much cooler air and a misty rain.  This was the day that we had arranged for the Primary aged pupils of First Step Right to sit their end of year standardised attainment tests.  These tests provide a benchmark for the attainment of pupils and allows them to be placed correctly for the next year of school.  Many of the current pupils of First Step Right will move to other Primary schools in 2020.  This is a result of the necessity for all schools to be registered with the Department of Education and that the current operation of First Step Right as a Primary school was not conducive to that registration process.  First Step Right started life as a creche and pre-school and that is where it will remain from 2020.  As part of the transition process, parents are being supported in finding alternative schools for their children for 2020 and beyond.  FSR will continue to offer Grade 2 and Grade 3 next year, to ease the impact of the number of pupils entering the Primary schools in the area and will be fully a creche and preschool from 2021.

Over the December holidays, the building will be refurbished by the owner and landlord, Frey's and the teaching staff have already commenced their training on the governance and management of an Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre.  It is a time of great change for this project, and like all change it has it's challenges and obstacles.  However, the end aim is a positive and impactful one and at GAGA we are keen to ensure that we support this change, with the best interests of the children, first and foremost in our minds.

The children had not experienced standardised testing before, although they do have tests each Friday to check understanding of the work completed the week before, so the concept was not entirely new to them.  They settled very well and, for the most part, worked diligently through the tests.  Grades 1 to 3 were supported by a facilitator to ensure that they answered questions in a timely and structured manner and Grade 4 and Grade 5 worked their way through the hour long paper independently.  By far the most exciting part of the test was that they each received a sticker at the end!  The tests will be marked and moderated by a team of educational consultants to ensure that they deliver a validated, bench marked result which will be accepted by the receiving school.

I spent the afternoon session with Grade 4 and Grade 5 and we talked about the importance of flags to a nation, discussing how the national flag is used a sporting events as a way of showing the team that the crowd is behind them and they are proud to be representing their country.
Grade 4 students earlier this year

 We talked about the South African flag and the inspiration behind it's design and how it represented South Africa's move to a democratic country.  My plan was to get the children to design a flag of their own but when this was suggested, some of the children didn't want to do that.  So, I decided to use this as an example of democracy.  We discussed taking a vote and whether we should just allow one side of the class to vote or just the girls to vote and talked about fairness and equality in voting.  When we took the vote the class were 50% in favour and 50% against, so we had to work out a way to resolve the impasse.  This time, we offered an alternative activity, so make a flag or play the "30 second" board game.  The votes were cast... and another draw!  Then we talked about how to resolve this, someone suggested a fight!  Then someone suggested a contest of rock, paper, scissors.  We agreed the rules and everyone agreed to abide by the outcome.  So the Rock Paper Scissors commenced, with pairs of pupils, one on each side of the decision.  It was a draw right to the last pair, a deciding vote.... and the "30 Second" game won the day!  The afternoon was completed playing the 30 Second word game until after the end of day bell went.

At the end of the school day, a heavy mist fell on Cato Ridge and consequently two of the pupil transports failed to arrive.  We waited an hour and a half until finally, out of the mist we saw the approaching vehicles.  There were 30 pupils and 3 teachers left waiting and so we pulled together an impromptu "camp fire songs" session..... little wonder I had lost my voice when I woke up the next day!

Wednesday was, thankfully clearer and brighter.  I once again headed out to Cato Ridge to meet Tayla, the transition project manager who was taking me to visit the iThemba project.  This is a partnership of the people of Hilton with the community of Sweetwaters (Mpumuza) which aims to transform a generation of kids and teens through education and mentoring so that they may bring hope to their community, and be a light throughout South Africa.  We were met by Stuart, one of the originators of the project and gave us a wonderful presentation of all that they initially set out to achieve, how they had refined and revised their approach along the way and the learnings from that journey.  Key to the success is that "when the work is done the people should say "we did it"" The iThemba project has already supported the change at First Step Right by providing training in ECD governance and management to three of the existing staff members.  They were full of great ideas and gave me lots of direction for resources and inspiration that I can share with the FSR team.  Their programme is called ASILADE which translates as learning through play.  They also engage the parents and ask that each child has one hour of play a day at home with a parent or caregiver and that they are also read to each day at home.  This reinforces the link between the home and the educational environment. We had a very productive meeting and have lots to share with the team as a result.  Read more about them HERE

After a quick bite of lunch, we returned to the school where we were to meet representative from GROW.  GROW is an ECD franchise business.  Their model is to encourage South African businesses to "Adopt and ECD Centre" which means that the business pays for the five year franchise support with an aim that the ECD centre develops into a five star rated ECD operation in that time and becomes a self-sustaining business for the women running the centre.  They too have a standard ECD framework and the franchise operates on both the curriculum and the business side, offering training and mentoring as well as reporting and assessment.  Clearly another excellent opportunity and yet more food for thought. Find out more HERE

A very wordy blog from two very intensive days, but the activities are very important to give a full picture of the situation and allow the Board of Trustees to make the necessary decisions about the future.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Back on line! Learners all the way!

Hello GAGA blog followers,
Sorry for the radio silence this weekend, we lost our WiFi on Saturday and couldn't get it rebooted until this morning.  No matter, that didn't stop a weekend of adventures here in KZN!

Saturday dawned hot and sunny and after spending a little time on our soon to be launched, new website I set off the Pietermaritzburg to meet up with some of our Sangobeg scholars who are studying there.  As I was driving along I noticed a red car in my rear view mirror, imagine my surprise when a total of seven shiny red Ferrari cars zoomed past in close succession!  It was just so unexpected, amongst the usual collection of vehicles on the motorways in KZN where you have your bakkies and other 4 wheel drive, the usual mixture of Japanese and Korean run arounds and the ubiquitous taxi/minibus. 

Arriving at the Liberty Mall in PMB I was pleased to find my memory served me well and I was able to find Mugg & Bean, the designated meeting place. Recognising Pretty however was not so easy, having only met her once before on our January visit I was scanning the arrivals at the coffee bar.  An elegant woman with a lovely red, floppy sunhat arrived with a dapper young man and walked past my table and then turned back and said questioningly "Claire?" just as I looked and said, almost simultaneously "Pretty?" Lo and behold it was her, looking stunning in her summer attire.  Her companion was a quiet young man, Sandile, who has recently become the beneficiary of a Sangobeg Scholarship.  We found a table and got to chatting, catching up on all that Pretty has been doing in her role in the NGO Umkhumbi kaNoah and hearing about Sandile's recent examinations in his eco tourism management degree.  Then we were joined by Nolly, who is another recent addition to the Sangobeg Scholarship programme.  Nolly is completing a BA in community development and she also works at Zimele, the agricultural project GAGA has funded in the past.  Furthermore, we have an acquaintance in common, Paul Tomlinson, a fellow Rotarian from Stratford upon Avon who is heavily involved in the Computers for Africa programme and has supplied Zimele.
We had such a lovely afternoon together, talking about each of their experiences and hopes for the future, please watch out for their stories when we launch our new website as I will be featuring them all as time goes on.
The heat was oppressive and the air thick with humidity by the time I walked back to the bakkie in the carpark.  The journey home was uneventful and I hoped to come back to a productive afternoon on the website, but the combination of loadshedding and the subsequent loss of internet connectivity soon put paid to that.  After another supper by lantern light, I read my book before falling fast asleep.
Sunday morning was bright and sunny again, this was the morning of the Amashova cycle race, a
106 km race which winds through the Valley of 1000 Hills and passes directly by the gates of PheZulu.  The road was closed from 4am and was planned to be closed until 2pm, therefore there were no staff on site and the PheZulu Park was closed for the day. It was astonishing to see the cyclists tackle the long, steep climb from PheZulu into Botha's Hill, especially as the temperature rose into the early to mid thirty's!  I later found out that sadly, the heat proved to be too much for some cyclists, one sadly died and two others were hospitalised.  Consequently the race was called off just after noon and remaining cyclists were transported to the finish area at SunCoast. 

During the morning, walking down to watch the cycling, I discovered that my phone was picking up the WiFi from the PheZulu park office, so I spent the morning "squatting" in the security hut and caught up with my emails and the outstanding changes to our "website in waiting" Not a bad "view from the office" is it?

A little less than glamourous inside though! Nonetheless, it meant I got the job done, inching closer to the point where I can get launch ready!

In the afternoon I had another student meeting, this time with Bongiwe.  Bongiwe has a bursary for her Project Management Diploma but we help her out with transport costs as she is living at home with her Gogo (grandmother) and her two small children.  I did not have the chance to meet Bongiwe on my last visit, so I was especially pleased to meet her this time.  She is an engaging and energetic young woman and I had a great time getting to know her. Luckily for me, this meeting coincided with load shedding, so by the time I returned to the lodge everything was up and running (bar the internet...) This gave me the perfect opportunity to read a transcript of a book I have been sent, it is the first 9 chapters of a book written by Menzi who is one of the children who was at the orphanage supported by GAGA in the very early days of the charity's existence.  Menzi is now living and working in Joberg but he has decided to write about his early life.  It is a fascinating and sometimes difficult read, when you understand that very small children experienced some of the harshest events one could imagine, loosing parents and other family members, being so hungry they ate from rubbish dumps and witnessing violent criminal activity. However, it is uplifting to learn how Menzi was sponsored by a loving couple from the UK and, through their influence and support, became determined to study hard and make a success of his life.  I particularly enjoy the writing as I now know many of the people he refers to, as GAGA has continued to support many of the orphans through the Sangobeg Scholarship Programme and in other projects, like First Step Right where they are now employed.  I also know some of the districts he talks about, albeit they are much more stable politically and socially than they were in the years he was growing up. 

This theme continued this morning as I met up with Debbie who is our project co-ordinator here in South Africa.  Debbie is a wonderful asset to GAGA, she too has the orphanage in her background and knows all of our projects very well, having worked in or otherwise supported many of them.  She really is our "eyes and ears" on the ground and we appreciate her insight and guidance.  After my meeting with Debbie, I called into 1000 Hills Community Helpers for a short visit (I didn't want to stay too long as I have a headcold and the last thing I wanted to do was spread my germs!).

Later on, I went to visit Embocraft.  Embocraft is a longstanding project which trains men and women in practical skills, sewing, welding, and craft activities, like screen printing and fabric painting so that they can learn a skill which will enable them to become economically independent.  They also provide basic computing skills to allow the newly skilled individuals to write a CV, have an email address and apply for jobs.
The starter seamstress course
Very proud of her first completed project!
 This training centre has been in operation for 25 years and they share some premises with Woza Moya, the retail arm of the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust.  Embocraft aims to economically empower individuals by teaching them a marketable skill and giving them the confidence to use that skill in employment or self-employment by launching a small business. As they have been in existence for some years, they are well known around the area, so people who are keen to change their own circumstances seek them out for a place on one of their courses.  They are always looking for new opportunities and hope to offer a carpentry course in 2020.  In addition, they are looking to expand the sewing aspect by becoming part of a clothes bank initiative operating, at the moment in Durban, where items returned to shops due to faults or damage (broken zips, button ripped off etc) or just end of lines or slight seconds are reconditioned and then offered for sale.  This will give employment opportunities to the individuals who come to learn the sewing skills.  Those who show particular promise on the basic course are invited back to attend an advanced sewing course using industrial machines and this then gives them the credentials to apply for jobs in the clothes manufacturing industry.  Trainees who complete the basic sewing course are provided with a hand operated sewing machine that they can then use to operate a small sewing business back in their communities.  Each trainee make one item for the shop and one item for themselves, and the shop income is ploughed back into the enterprise.

Some examples of welding
They would also like to provide a welding machine to trainees who complete the welding course, but this is currently unaffordable.  So instead, they have an end of course competition and the winners are recipients of the welding equipment - you can imagine this is a fiercely contested competition as the prize is a means to economic independence!

The production sewing room
In addition to training individuals, there is also a production sewing room where commissioned items are made up by some of the most accomplished advanced seamstresses and  tailors.  They also manufacture stock items for the shop to ensure that there is a steady supply of good quality goods for sale.  They have a number of sheds which are leased to other crafts people and this works well as the visitors to the shop may browse these independent businesses and visitors to these businesses may visit the shop!  Win Win!
It was a pleasure to visit this project, not currently in the GAGA portfolio but closely aligned to our objectives of "a hand up not a handout"  Getting close to supper time now, so I'll sign off the mega blog!  Three days for the price of one folks! 

Friday, 18 October 2019

Early Childhood Development and a fabulous role model!

This morning dawned bright and beautiful, perfect for a jaunt to Durban.  I wasn't however, headed for the beach (as nice as that would have been!) but instead to visit TREE (Training and Resources for Early Education) who have their base in Durban.  The training centre is in the north of Durban and was easy to find (thanks Google maps!)
The TREE centre is made up of a training centre, with residential areas and training rooms, a shop and workshop, as well as the administration block.  The name comes from the original founder who, 35 years ago decided to bring together the small children in her community and tell them stories and read to them under the shade of a tree.  Now 35 years on, the programme is operating in three provinces and has 115 active practitioners, encompassing those trained to level 4 Early Childhood Development (ECD), toy librarians, parents, community supporters and caregivers.
The foyer is bright and welcoming and there was a fabulous display of the Uthando Project.  Uthando is isiZulu for "love" and the aim of this project is to provide a doll to love for every child in KwaZulu Natal!  The fabric doll is made to a standard pattern, so there is no variation on size and quality but they can be personalised (eyes, hair, mouth etc) and dressed however the maker chooses.  So there were girl and boy dolls, long hair, braided hair, curly hair, hats or scarves, modern or traditional dress, every variation you could think of.  For some children this will be the only toy they have ever owned and so you can see how special this is.  For all you crafters out there, you'll be pleased to know I have had permission to copy the pattern.  Nokwanda gave me a tour of the centre, there is a shop which stocks items for the Early Childhood Development projects, some of the items are made in the workshop on site and others are imported in. 

There is a wealth of knowledge in the manuals for ECD centres.  These guides are based on the key learning themes which provide a foundation for early learners, they encourage learning through play and give ideas for practitioners to make toys and resources out of scrap material, so that not everything has to be purchased before the learning can take place. The manuals empower the practitioners whilst ensuring that the key themes are covered and so children are ready for learning when they enter school at Grade R.

  The skilled craftspeople in the
 workshop make wooden toys, everything from blocks, stacking towers in bright primary colours, weighing scales for early maths work, and items like radios and ovens for fantasy play (role play).  They even take commissions and will endeavour to make any item requested.  In addition to the standard puzzles you can send a photo and have a personalised wooden puzzle made out of it!  How lovely is that?
After the tour I met Ruby Motaung, the Director.  She has been with TREE since May 2018, having moved from the Department of Social Development where she had responsibility for Early Childhood Development Policy.  She is very ambitious for TREE to become accredited to deliver ECD training to level 5 and 6, and to offer a Diploma in Early Childhood Development.  This ambition supports the long term aim to professionalise the delivery of ECD and ensure that there is an established career structure in place for practitioners.  She is currently engaging with universities and the Govt and hopes to achieve this by 2021.
Longer term she would like to follow a cohort of learners through their early learning and on into Primary to be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of professional ECD approaches.  Most interestingly for me, Ruby is very keen to work collaboratively with other ECD training organisations, of which one, LETCEE is very close to GAGA's heart!  She believes a fully collaborative approach across all training providers, Government and NGO's is the most effective way to reach the maximum number of children.  This collaboration is not limited to ECD, in the current TREE operations, other social services, like the Department of Social Development, Department of Health and more are encouraged to use the facility of the Toy Library as a base for reaching out to the community.  Ruby showed me a before and after photo of an ECD centre, before TREE it was a rough, block built building, after TREE it was a colourful, bright and welcoming container toy library, decorated with colourful murals and an open door policy!
TREE is another project currently supported by the Helwel Trust (like ACAT yesterday) and today's visit was really a fact finding one for GAGA, as there are so many synergies with the FSR creche and preschool we currently support.

After the meeting at TREE I headed off to meet one of the stars of our Sangobeg scholarship programme, Tutu! The meeting point was the shopping centre, Pavilions, off the main N3.  Wow! it's vast.  Sadly I couldn't find parking in the shade (oh, did I mention we've had another scorcher today 😏😎) but rushed to make our meeting time.... luckily we were both running late, so arrived at the meeting point almost at the same time! 

Tutu has been part of the GAGA family for many years, and from a very tough start in life she has had a stellar academic career, thanks in part to her determination and natural intelligence and aptitude but also thanks to our wonderfully funded Sangobeg scholarship programme. This scholarship programme allows individuals with natural talent and potential to fulfil their ambitions to attend tertiary education and Tutu is one of a select group of alumni! Tutu achieved a bachelors degree in Physiotherapy and is now in the second year of her Masters Degree in Public Health.  She made time to meet me in her work lunch break, in spite of having exams coming up at the end of the month.  Following the exams she will embark on her research project, the topic is currently going through the approval process.  She hopes it will be approved for her to conduct a year long study into the impact of traditional medicine practices on the under fives.  Tutu was inspired to choose this topic after witnessing the effect of an onion enema on a small baby, the baby spent a year in intensive care and continues to have significant difficulties with the absorption of nutrients from food resulting from the damage done to the stomach and bowel.  No doubt this will be a heartbreaking field of study but undeniably valuable and compelling.  It was wonderful to make Tutu's acquaintance and I cannot wait to share more of her successes with you as time goes on. 
Now back at the lodge I am against the clock as load shedding will start in  minutes and we will be without power for two hours.  This coincides perfectly with sundown at 6 pm!  Funny story to leave you with, before heading home I popped to the ladies at Pavilions and was in the cubical when load shedding started there!  Oh my, pitch black for a few moments until the back up power source kicked in!  Thank goodness I didn't go straight to the lift!!!! 😱😱😱