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Siyafunda Case Study

Siyafunda Educare Centre in Robololo started early in 2007. The word Siyafunda means “We are learning”. The preschool was started by Ms Etheline Sedibe , a humble, determined woman, who had a vision to help working parents, and in particular single parents, by looking after and teaching their children during the day. At that stage there were 15 – 20 children in her care every day.

Ethel wished Siyafunda to be a comfortable building, which would be dry and warm during the winter months, and equipped with the right furnishings, kitchen utensils and teaching aids for the needs of her young learners. She believed that her children also needed to rest during the day, so adequate mattresses and blankets had to be sourced.

The initial reality was that her preschool was housed in a makeshift wooden shack with an uneven floor of damp black sand, 

which was sparsely covered with carpets. The few windows were cracked or broken, the ventilation was poor, and it was dark inside. The metal sheets that formed the roof were rusty and the roof leaked. The wooden slatted walls had openings, which allowed the wind to blow through, so the whole place was cold and draughty. There were no toilets on the premises, nor was there running water.

In contrast to this bleak picture, Ethel was committed to her dream. She herself had registered for a course in Early Childhood Development in Oudtshoorn, and she had studied part-time from 1999 – 2004. She was determined to have good staff helping her, people who would stay in their employment and be there for the children. In the beginning she just had one assistant helping her, and her teenage daughter also volunteered to help sometimes after school.

Ethel is a caring and loving person, who had the children’s best interests at heart from the beginning. Some of the parents of children at Siyafunda were also very poor, and sometimes the children arrived at preschool without anything to eat for the entire day. Ethel taught the children who did have a snack from home to share their food with the ones who had nothing.

The Knysna Education Trust Co-ordinator at the time was Helene McAfee, and she immediately arranged for the Siyafunda children to receive a fortified cereal every morning from an NGO that distributes e-pap to needy children for breakfast. 

Helene also contacted the Knysna Sea Cadets who arranged that S.A. Navy visitors to Knysna during the Oyster Festival would repair the roof and walls, and do general maintenance work to make the building more comfortable for the young learners. The materials were donated by Knysna businesses, as were some more carpets to keep the floors cleaner and warmer.

Around that time, a donor from Hong Kong approached the Knysna Education Trust wishing to support a needy preschool. A list of the needs of Siyafunda was drawn up, and she was told about their lack of mattresses, tables and chairs, stationary, and especially vegetables and fresh fruit. Jayne Erasmus still generously provides a daily nutritious lunch, consisting of protein, vegetables and fruit, for the children at Siyafunda. Fruit and Veg deliver the fruit and veggies to Siyafunda regularly, and then KET provided a supply of gas to cook the lunches. 

Through the Knysna Education Trust, Ackermans donated blankets to the preschool. A tonic, orange flavoured cod liver oil, was supplied to the children in winter to fight coughs and colds.

In 2007, the Trust embarked on an innovative fundraising campaign, the Adopt a Child’s Education. Sponsors were sought topay for a child’s preschool fees for a year. Siyafunda learners were among the first to benefit from that initiative. The school immediately benefited from this program, as the fees for these disadvantaged children were now guaranteed. 

By 2008, Siyafunda had around 35 learners attending the preschool every day, and the number grew steadily to more than 80. The number of staff members also increased to 6, and they have all been encouraged by Ethel to start ECD training. Because of the lack of space, Ethel had to use her own small home for the babies, storage and kitchen.

To ensure parent commitment and participation, Siyafunda developed a constitution and established governing body of parents. This resulted in the organisation becoming more formalised, in accordance with the requirements of affiliation with the Knysna Education Trust, as well as fulfilling a necessary requirement in terms of conditions to be met for registration with the Department of Social Services

In 2009, Ethel received her Diploma in Early Childhood Development from Die Bronnesentrum in Oudtshoorn. She is regarded as a teacher who sets herself high standards. She is fully committed to her learners whom she stimulates through appropriate structured activities and opportunities for free play. She plans her curriculum well and her daily planning is appropriate for the specific age groups of her learners. She has recently received a wider range of educational resources and books in her learners’ home languages, which she looks after well. She is said to have a “conscientious approach, responsible attitude, trust-worthy and unselfish nature”, praise indeed for a committed preschool teacher, who is also principal and manager at Siyafunda.

Since the beginning of 2010, the learners at Siyafunda have started learning literacy according to the SOUNS programme, sponsored by Rotary International, and are making steady progress in Xhosa. They are also introduced to conversational English by means of stories. The staff of Siyafunda has had the benefit of several skills development courses through the Knysna Education Trust: basic information technology, book keeping and preschool administration. The parents have had training regarding their portfolios on the preschool governing body.

Siyafunda has benefited from successful partnerships with other NGO’s in Knysna. Volunteers have willingly helped reconstruct the fence. And Rotary Interactors from local high schools (partnered with others from Bath in the UK) will shortly complete the outdoor play area. Teachers-in-Training, also from Bath, have assisted the preschool as well. 

The Knysna Education Trust regularly convenes “Stakeholders” Meetings with all organisations involved with preschool development. These include the Department of Social Welfare, Child Welfare, Rotary, Epap, Round Table and many individuals who may be currently working toward the same goals. These meetings ensure that work is not duplicatedand create a pooling of ideas and expertise to work together towards preschool upliftment.

At the beginning of 2010, a new sponsor came joined the project, Mr Wayne Pitout from the UK, whom also had business connections with a company called Buongiorno SA (Pty) Ltd. Together with funds donated from the Collette Foundation in U.S.A., and BOE South Africa an amount of R340 000 became available to build a new preschool building for Siyafunda. Morne Gardiner Builders were appointed to build Ethel’s dream of a new removable preschool, consisting of four separate classrooms and kitchen, covered stoep area, and baby room. It has running water, but sadly this part of Knysna does not yet have sewerage connections, and the learners still use chemical toilets sponsored by Knysna Rotary Club.

It was proudly opened on 15 October 2010 by the Executive Mayor of Knysna, Ms Eleanor Bouw-Spies, at a function attended by the Councillor for the area, the CEO of Buongiorno, Mr Wayne Pitout, Trustees and staff of KET and the parents of Siyafunda.

Currently Ethel only awaits a letter from the Knysna Municipality confirming her status on the erf to gain full registration from the Department of Social Development. The funding from the Department will ensure Siyafunda’s sustainabilty into the future.