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Thirst for Knowledge Turns to Hunger

“Schools may be closed, but we need to continue to support principals and teachers. And we need to try to get learning packs out to the children from affiliated schools throughout the Greater Knysna Area”. That was the message to Knysna Education Trust’s (KET) staff. Monthly reports continued, but instead of comments about literacy and numeracy a new theme emerged. People are hungry.

KET’s staff had spent many hours gathering and verifying data for the lockdown feeding initiative driven and delivered by Rotary and supported by the Municipal Joint Command Council. Organisations such as ePap have been continuing with their amazing work. Yet many of our children and parents seemed unable to access the food parcels and food vouchers, this despite the absolute best efforts of so many people.

Sadly many parents were either unwilling, or unable to pay school fees while their children were in lock down. What became clear was that registered preschools funded by the Department of Social Development continued to receive their subsidies and hence some sort of income. They were mandated to continue paying part of the teacher’s monthly salary and run soup kitchens for the children registered in their preschools. For unfunded preschools, many located in the most vulnerable communities, income dried up and principals had nowhere to turn. They could not pay teacher salaries as parents didn’t or couldn’t pay monthly fees and the preschools could not provide their learners with that one decent daily meal. 

Trustees and managers agreed. Educating malnourished children after lock down was unthinkable. Allowing principals and teachers to go without even a meagre income was unacceptable. Donors agreed. Funds previously allocated to education had to be diverted to an emergency feeding and support scheme.

A total of R600, 000 was set aside from much needed funds for feeding during the lock down. Later an additional R115 000 was added after Le Creuset approved that their donation to KET could be used in the pandemic crisis.

The team leapt into action. Clear criteria were established as to which schools most needed help. It was decided that 26 unfunded vulnerable schools affiliated to KET would receive weekly grocer vouchers. This enabled the principals to provide a daily meal to 808 learners and it gave 113 principals and teachers a little financial help to buy gas or electricity as well as data to communicate with KET’s staff. The Le Creuset money meant that a further 5 schools could get assistance, so that 13 principals and teachers received some income and 123 learners now receive a daily meal. KET’s staff arranged permits for kitchens to operate at the schools.

Critically, KET has been able to link the feeding scheme with handing out education packs funded from the Blocks for Growth program, so that these vulnerable children continue through play to receive appropriate stimulation and are not left behind developmentally.

KET tracks the feeding programme by random checks and reports and photos from the preschools. With uncertainty about the opening date for Early Childhood Centres (ECD), this feeding scheme may need to be in place for months and additional funding from generous donors is going to be required. To compound this, the ECD centres will need in the region of R5,500 each to enable them to buy the specified items that will allow them to re-open – thermometers, masks, gloves, sanitizer, disinfectant, paper towels, and so forth. These schools just do not have this kind of money.

Messages of heartfelt thanks have rolled in from preschools who were in dire straits and who had received no support for the first few weeks of the lock down. 

Others, such as Tinkerland and the Sakhiseni Feeding Scheme sent this: 

“Yes, with the support of Knysna Edu Trust we were able to feed more people, especially children within the community! Thank you very much from all at Tinkerland and Sakhiseni!”

We would like to thank our wonderful collaborators, donors and preschool supporters Rotary Knysna and ePap that relentlessly stand together with KET to ensure that no child is left behind or hungry.

KET’s vision remains “Ensuring young children thrive through quality Early Childhood Development programmes, competent teachers, and caregivers, in safe, healthy, and enriched learning environments.” But for now, making sure children and their principals and teachers are not hungry, is our short term goal.