Children at Lithalethu ECD enjoy a meal that was enabled by the site voucher. The owner has hired cooks to ensure she can continue with her ECD teaching activities.

In this blog series we have provided updates on the ECD COVID Response Project, which has been running since September 2020 and will conclude shortly. In this fifth blog in the series, we share observations from the latest implementation site Villiersdorp, a small agricultural town between Grabouw and Worcester, in the Overberg District. 

It is here that one of our implementing partners – Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) – has worked for several years, establishing a community centre and toy library among other interventions. On Friday the 23rd of April, ECD COVID Response Project team members Andrew Hartnack and Sithembile Dube accompanied VPUU ECD Project Manager Phethang Mabeba on a compliance monitoring visit to the eight ECD sites included in the ECD COVID-19 Response Project.

The ECD sites in Villiersdorp demonstrate an interesting array of conditions in which ECD programmes can be offered. A few are located in shacks in a crowded informal settlement huddled up against the steep mountainside. There are some in the small town centre, including one in a church. One site is located in the formalised residential area, and another is on a farm down in the valley. We managed to visit six of the sites and speak to their owners. Some of the ECD programmes cater for Afrikaans-speaking children, while others have isiXhosa or seSotho-speaking children.

Typical of most towns in South Africa, conditions vary greatly between the formal areas and the informal settlements. In the formal area Maja Ruiters and her husband own Maja’s Spielskool, which is located in the bottom section of their house. Using her husband’s pension, they have recently invested heavily in extending this area and making it suitable for ECD. They are in the process of registering this ECD site. Because they have put so much of their own resources into improving the infrastructure the Ruiters are very grateful for the assistance the project has provided: “The government puts all these rules but gives us no support, so your assistance is crucial”, says Mr Ruiters. They have used the food voucher to provide daily meals for the 10 children who currently attend. They also found the COVID compliance pack very useful, given that they are currently investing all their resources into the site’s infrastructure.

Some of the groceries purchased by Maja’s Spielskool with their site voucher

Vrolike Voetjies ECD is based on a farm and enjoys a good building and grounds provided by the farmer

Manake ECD operates from a tin structure in the back yard of the owner’s house. Here site owner Nomalizo Maneli talks to the VPUU Project Manager about the support she has received. The donated cleaning products can be seen on the shelf behind her.

The Ruiters’ daughter-in-law, Gheanine Ruiters runs her own ECD site – Vrolike Voetjies – on a fruit farm just outside the town. Having worked in Maja’s Spieskool for a number of years, she started her own ECD programme two years ago on the farm. She has grown from having just 5 children then to 42 today. Some of the children are from the farm and others come from the townships in Villiersdorp. Her husband uses his car to pick up and drop off the children every day. The farm owners have allowed Gheanine the use of a farm building and fenced grounds, but do not support her otherwise. She is thus very grateful for the COVID compliance materials and food because the families whose children she teaches struggle to pay fees.

This meal plan at Vrolike Voetjies was drawn up as a result of the ECD COVID Response Project by the cook who was hired by the owner to prepare meals with the site vouchers.

Gheanine and her staff did not offer meals to the children prior to this project. Because of the site voucher, she hired a cook and they put together a meal plan for daily feeding (see below). Gheanine says of the plan: “We are all moms, so we know what to feed children – we know what they like and don’t like.” However, the plan does contain a few items which are not ideal for child-feeding – such as a high frequency of processed meats and sweetened yoghurts. With the further support of VPUU and the feeding guidelines designed for the project, it may be improved so that nutritionally rich foods replace these items.    

Across in the informal settlement, Thembi Xhantibe runs Lithalethu ECD centre. She has also introduced a nutrition component into her services due to the voucher, and hired local women as cooks. Thembi is highly enthusiastic about the CoCare vouchers and helped other ECD site owners to redeem theirs when they struggled. The local spaza shops did not have the capacity to redeem these vouchers and so Thembi, like others, travels to Worcester where the Flash store has a wide range of their grocery requirements. The trip costs them money, but they feel it is worth it.

Thembi, the owner of Lithalethu became a champion of the CoCare vouchers among her fellow ECD operators, showing them how to redeem them and encouraging them to use them correctly.

The Villiersdorp sites offer an important learning opportunity for the project given their location in a small rural town in the Western Cape, and their diversity of situations. They will receive their last site voucher in May and VPUU will continue to work with and support them into the future.

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