It started with nothing but hope

It’s a reality in South Africa that pre-schools – especially in the deep rural areas – get far less support from government than primary and high schools. And yet research shows that if young children are provided with teaching,  nourishment and stimulation at pre-school age, they are far more likely to break out of the poverty cycle than those who receive none.

I became starkly aware of this issue when I saw how many of the women who harvest baobab fruit for EcoProducts, have young children who need to be cared for while their mothers work. What is available to them is woefully inadequate!

Tshikuyu is special to me as it’s a village I’ve worked with since I first started EcoProducts and I have always had a very good relationship with the chief.  Tshikuyu had no preschool at all. The only place the village could offer for childcare was a tiny 3m x 6m community building. So if it rained, 23 children and their carers had to huddle together in this room and if it was over 40 degrees, this hot squashed space was the only shade the children had access to.  And if the community needed the building for some other use? Well, then the children had to leave and go elsewhere.

Original Pre-School Building in Village – December 2017

Through generous sponsorship from my distribution partner NEO TRADING, I’d managed to buy some little tables and chairs as well as mattresses for the children to sleep on – but the problem was there was nowhere to put them!

One day the principal of the little school, Mavis Munzhelele told me she had exciting news. The chief had allocated them a piece of land to build their pre-school crèche.  She showed me the chosen spot. ‘Well,’ she said ‘as you can see, we have nothing, not even a single brick, but at least we now have a piece of land.’

Mavis Munzhelele pointing out the new building site, March 2018

I was determined to help them.

Over the next few months, whenever I had visitors, I would take them to visit this site to tell them of their urgent need.  Heike Pander, a journalist, raised R45 000 via a charity organization in Germany.  And when Audrey Dauvet and Zofia Moreno Borucka came to visit from the USA, Zofia immediately donated R11 000.

Audrey, Mavis, Heike and Zofia May 2018

In April I visited Mediceuticals, clients in the Netherlands, who committed funds to supporting the new pre-school. And further generous donations came from Lather Inc (USA), Heielle (USA) and Frans Cnoops (Netherlands).

In total R92 074.01 was raised!  It wasn’t nearly enough.

A local professional builder quoted R500,000 to build what was needed. I knew it would take me much longer to raise that amount of money and the need was so urgent. What to do?

In consultation with the chief, we decided that since most of the villagers were already experienced at building their own brick homes, why not let them build the school as well?  We made plans – deciding on 2 classrooms plus a storeroom/kitchen and toilets – literally drawing lines in the sand to mark out where the buildings should go. Tape measures only came much later!

We were also fortunate to have the advice of Kathy Mercer (ECD consultant) who advised us to rather create 3 classrooms to meet the needs of the 3 different age groups and to defer building the store room and kitchen.

Every week I bought building supplies in Louis Trichardt and then, using EcoProducts vehicles, transported the materials to Tshikuyu.

Principal Munzhelele and Chief Tshiwandelani at the building site, 16 November 2018

To date, we have managed to complete 3 classrooms and a toilet for the children. We’ve just finished painting them and don’t they look splendid!

Classroom block and toilets brightly painted! January 2019

We hoping to find funding for the kitchen and storeroom and then equipment, but what a wonderful start we’ve made!

Everything’s coming together and far beyond what I thought was possible! We build our dreams one brick at a time starting with hope and a lot of determination.

And finally, the shelving, the little tables and chairs and mattresses can be properly used. They have a place.

Read how we’ve made even greater progress in Part 2 of this story.

Nina Geraghty