As schools get back to work in 2021, most ECD programmes across the country will also be looking to reopen as well. This is crucial, not only to allow young children to receive the early learning input that they need, but also to allow their parents to go back to or seek work, secure in the knowledge that their children are being well looked after.

Since October 2020, Ilifa Labantwana’s ECD COVID Response Project has been assisting unregistered ECD programmes to survive the COVID crisis and to reopen safely and sustainably. As we have shared in two previous blog posts, as well as two Op-Ed pieces published in the Daily Maverick and the Financial Mail, our ECD COVID Response Project enabled the majority of the over 1700 ECD sites we supported to comply with the COVID protocols and to reopen by early November 2020.

We commend our implementing partners, SmartStart, The Unlimited Child (TUC) and Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) for their hard work, often under trying conditions, in making this project a success so far. From the management team, making decisions on how to implement each aspect of the project, to the monitoring and evaluation teams supporting voucher beneficiaries in various ways, and tracking various aspects of the project, to the fieldworkers travelling great distances to visit sites and support them through the project activities. The latter often had to use public transport to get to ECD sites at a time when the weather was not only difficult (heat and heavy rains), but the risk of contracting COVID has been high. Their dedication and bravery cannot be understated.

The delivery of COVID compliance packs to ECD sites in November was crucial in assisting these sites to reopen. They contained all items such as masks and cleaning materials needed to comply with the government’s reopening protocols. This took a lot of planning by the implementing partners. A compliance materials check-list was administered at each site, showing what products were needed by each programme. Our partners then had to procure and deliver these packs to each site, which was again a major undertaking. TUC arranged for these materials to be delivered to central points where the packs were picked up by ECD programmes in that area.

An ECD site manager happily shows off her compliance pack materials received from TUC. Note the toilet paper, face screen, tippy taps and cleaning products.

Another major undertaking in this project was a COVID compliance survey, which each partner was required to conduct at as many sites as they could. This involved field staff visiting sites and conducting an electronic (Google Forms) survey which looked at all aspects of compliance support and voucher experience. Between October and November, 1090 sites were visited (62%) and data was obtained from these sites. Since SmartStart struggled to get around all of their sites in this time period, they have conducted a further 220 by telephone in January/February 2021.

The data from this survey is very encouraging. It showed that 91% of the sites had proper COVID-19 screening in place for children, parents and staff by the end of November, while 90% had COVID-19 communication materials like posters. Moreover, at 94% of the visited sites, all staff members were observed to be wearing face masks correctly; while 87% had adequate handwashing stations.

A large proportion of the sites had been able to reopen by October as well. These sites used the vouchers to feed children at their respective sites while those that remained closed fed children largely via food parcels. 62% of the sites reopened for ECD in 2020, but the others were still actively serving the children in their communities through the feeding activities brought about by this project.

The voucher redemption rates have also been encouraging. The sites have now received six site vouchers, their values all determined by how many children were registered in 2020. To date, the average redemption rate has been 80.6%, with TUC and VPUU getting very close to 100% redemption across their sites. TUC and SmartStart sites will receive a further three site vouchers, and VPUU vouchers will continue through to April.  All sites will also receive compliance material top-ups so that they can safely reopen once again in 2021 in the context of the ongoing COVID pandemic.

Another very exciting aspect of the project is the provision of water support to over 300 ECD sites who have been identified as needing some kind of water infrastructure or equipment that can assist them to provide enough clean water to their children, and thus be safe when attending. LIMA Rural Development Foundation was contracted to implement this aspect of the project. So far, they have installed water tanks at a number of ECD sites across KwaZulu-Natal, and they have supplied water barrels to many more. This will help these sites to capture rain water and store municipal water when it is available. In other parts of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, Impande is supplying around 80 water tanks which will be able to harvest rain water. In the Western Cape, VPUU has also provided linkage to municipal water for two ECD sites in Grabouw, and its sites in Siqalo have been given the rollable Q Drum water containers, to assist them to gather water from stand pipes when necessary. Below are some photographs of the water infrastructure which LIMA and Impande have so far installed.  

Looking forward, LIMA is continuing with this work in the North West province, Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape, Limpopo, and will complete this in March.

The sites will continue to receive and use their site vouchers over the next six weeks, and another survey will be conducted to look in-depth at the experiences of ECD staff and the impacts that this project has made on them and their ability to support nutrition and early learning for the children in their programmes despite the trying COVID context.

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