The winter of 2017 was a tough one for Strawberry Play Centre. “As is the case every year, the fees that pay my teachers’ salaries didn’t come in as it was supposed to,” says principal Mareldea Davids. “When money would come in, I would pay the teachers first, then the supervisor and then me…and then by the end of October I didn’t get paid.”

Mareldea Davids has kept Strawberry Play Centre going even in hard times.

The situation was getting worse by the week. “It came to a point where we didn’t even have enough food and had to buy one packet of this or that to get by. I would look at myself and ask what’s wrong with me,” says Mareldea.

Despite all the issues she had with keeping her centre going, Mareldea didn’t want to ask any of the non-paying parents to stop bringing in their children because at the end of the day, “The community is also suffering,” she says.

Children from Strawberry Play Centre listen intently as a practitioner does a read aloud.

Strawberry Play Centre has been caring for generations of children living in Manenberg, Cape Town and the surrounding areas for 25 years. The suburb is home to more than 52 000 people, the majority of which are low-income households, plagued with high incidence of crime and gang activity. Many of the children enrolled at Strawberry Play Centre would have nowhere else to go if they were turned away from the safe haven the centre provides.

In November last year, the centre which has been registered with the Department of Social Development since 2015, finally had a breakthrough. After months of being told that funds were insufficient, they were granted the early learning subsidy.

Strawberry Play Centre will be adding two new prefabs that will be used as an administration block and sick bay.

“The money came when the school was almost closing and although it wasn’t for all 130 of the children at my centre, I was very thankful,” says Mareldea. “At that time you need money because parents are now starting to run away, they don’t pay the full money for December, they don’t want to pay and they get away with it.”

The money was transferred in a lump sum and benefitted Strawberry Play Centre in a number of ways. The bulk of the money went to paying practitioner salaries and completing projects to upgrade the centre’s infrastructure.

“With the money we fixed our leaking roof, broken toilet cisterns and sewerage,” says Mareldea.

Mareldea poses with two of her practitioners and learners.

Mareldea has several other projects lined up for the centre, including adding new administration and sick bay buildings, the containers for which she has already purchased thanks to the extra money from the subsidy.

“I am doing everything I can with the money I have been given because if that money isn’t used then they don’t consider your next application,” says Mareldea. “I said to my teachers I want a no-bag campaign at the centre because in our policy they are already not allowed to bring in sweets, chips, chocolates or anything like that. We have to use the money up and we can give it to the children in the form of healthy food.”

Mareldea wants to start a no-bag policy that will ensure that money they receive is used toward healthy food for her learners.

The registration process was not an easy one for Strawberry Play centre, but it has benefitted them in a big way, says Mareldea. “I don’t know if I will get the subsidy in the future, but I wouldn’t have gotten it without my registration.”

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