Since our last blog early in the year we have seen increasingly more of the ECD sites in our ECD COVID-19 Response Project reopen and welcome back high numbers of their children. Not only are parents sending their children back to these ECD programmes, but higher numbers are now paying the monthly fees. There is a feeling of optimism among the participating ECD owners and staff. One SmartStart franchisee sums up a common comment we are receiving in our current survey of ECD site managers: “I’m very thankful for everything that Smartstart did for me in my community. It made a great impact. Lots of parents like what I’m doing. They are all interested to bring their children in my ECD programme.”
To gain a grounded perspective of the situation at the sites, our Project Manager Andrew Hartnack visited The Unlimited Child (TUC) in mid-March, where he spent time at ECD sites in Molweni and KwaMashu townships, on the outskirts of Durban. As with our observations in Cape Town’s Siqalo informal settlement (see Blog 2), it was very clear that the COVID compliance packs have been essential in assisting the ECD sites to comply with the COVID regulations and reopen properly and sustainably. Our visits were unscheduled and unannounced, but all of the sites had proper COVID-19 screening and sanitising procedures in place, along with a range of posters and other information around hygiene, social distancing and the pandemic. Their attendance registers showed that each child’s temperature had been recorded daily. The following photographs illustrate this encouraging situation:
All five of the ECD owners who were visited and interviewed expressed gratitude for the support they have received through this project, which they believe helped them to reopen, attract children back and obtain the support of the parents and the broader community.
The feeding aspect has been just as important as the COVID compliance support as these ECD sites were able to play a crucial role in their communities through the distribution of food during the worst of the crisis. For example, one site provided food not only for the children registered at the site, but also for 10 additional children from the community. The ward councillor and induna for the Molweni area are reportedly very happy with the role this ECD site has played. The social capital these sites have garnered through this project is therefore quite significant.
Another striking aspect of the child feeding experience was that all of the visited ECD sites were located quite far from Flash stores which could redeem their vouchers. They consequently had to spend between R250 and R400 per trip on hired transport to travel to the nearest Flash cash and carry. They had to take this money out of their own funds, but all of the owners felt that it was worth making this investment in order to provide nutrition to the children. Weekly menus also showed that these individuals are trying to provide healthy and balanced meals for their children, including fruit, vegetables and protein, along with starches.
Another promising aspect was that staff at all of the ECD sites visited were highly vocal in their appreciation of the support that the TUC field staff had provided them throughout the project. Although they had found that the monitoring requirements for the voucher – including all the reporting and paperwork – was quite heavy, they commented that they had received great support from TUC in this regard, and also that they had learnt much from having to report on this level which would assist and prepare them in their drive to become registered. It was clear that all of these sites wish to register and become formalised and have made significant efforts and investments in this regard.
Monitoring files for each ECD site in the project record child attendance, shopping receipts and other records of goods purchased
We have now reached the final few weeks of the ECD COVID-19 Response Project. The TUC sites will receive their last two site vouchers in April, and they will also receive COVID compliance top-up packs containing enough material to assist them to comply for the next few months.TUC will also provide COVID compliance top-up packs to a further 172 new sites which were previously not included in this project. SmartStart has concluded its food voucher cycles, but is providing top-up packs to all 4,100 of its sites throughout South Africa. Lastly, VPUU staff and sites will continue to receive vouchers through May and will also provide compliance top-up packs in April and May. These compliance materials will assist the sites to maintain their COVID mitigation practices and remain open safely as the pandemic drags on.
As the project wraps up we will be developing a number of learning and knowledge-sharing products. We will also be hosting a community of practice event with our partners to learn collectively from the various aspects of the project. We look forward to sharing all of these with you in the near future.