The Seven Passes Initiative – a non-profit organisation working to prevent violence and to support and improve youth education and opportunities in Touwsranten in the Western Cape – runs an ECD-focused positive parenting programme, which helps increase access to education for children from birth to nine years of age. This programme includes the Thula Sana, Book sharing and Sinovuyo Kids projects, and is only one of the three programmes the NGO runs.

The Seven Passes Initiative’s vision is a safe society wherein people, children and adults are able to realise their full potential and overcome poverty and inequality. “Our mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of people in the rural communities of Touwsranten and Hoekwil and to contribute to knowledge on how to bring about similar change throughout South Africa and beyond,” says Wilmi Dippenaar, Director of The Seven Passes Initiative.
“Parenting programmes like the one we run have been found to be effective in reducing child abuse, neglect and increasing resilience,” adds Dippenaar, whom we interviewed to find out a bit more about the ECD-focused programmes within their programmes.

Q: How do these ECD programmes fit into the bigger picture of the Seven Passes Initiative?

We focus on inter-generational and multi-faceted violence prevention interventions. We challenge the normalisation of aggression and violence; develop the ability of children, youth and adults to resolve conflict peacefully; support the building of positive relationships and improved communication; develop life skills, including building confidence and self-esteem; and enable the identification of and access to opportunities.

Thula Sana is a home-visiting programme focusing on the period of pregnancy until the baby is six months of age.

Q: Who does the home visiting?

The parenting facilitators. These are women who have been recruited from our own community and then trained by Prof Lynn Murray and Peter Cooper from the University of Reading (in England) to deliver the programmes we run.

Q: How many mothers and babies are involved in the programme?

As of June last year, we have so far reached 17 families. At any one time there are around seven pregnant women, or women with small babies in our community.

Q: What are the key objectives of this programme?

To help caregivers form warm, loving bonds with their babies and to understand their (babies) social nature, even before birth.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have had in implementing the programme?

Relocation. After the birth of their babies some of the participants relocate to the Eastern-Cape or sometimes send their babies back to their home towns. Other challenges are disinterest and retention. We work closely with the local clinic and that is where we get the names of the pregnant mothers in our community, but some of the mothers do not give permission for us to visit while others would sign up for the programme but after a few visits, withdraw.

Q: What can this programme’s potential impact be at scale?

It is hard to tell, but what we do know is that if more children have a better start in life and are warmly cared for and cognitively stimulated they may be better equipped to overcome adversities they face, and if support is sustained after six months they may be better equipped to start pre-school.

The Book Sharing Programme is a project that aims to stimulate infants, toddlers and children’s cognitive development.

Q: What are your criteria for selecting the caregivers and ECD teachers involved in this programme?

There are no criteria, all families in our community with children aged 15 months to five years are invited to attend the programme. We have trained the local crèche teachers to use book sharing – there is only one such crèche in the community at the moment.

Q: How does this programme work?

This is a group-based programme run for caregivers and their children aged 14 months to five years. Groups meet once a week for eight weeks and the caregivers as well as the ECD teachers are taught how to share books with children. It is important for them to know that they do not read and therefore the caregiver doesn’t need to be able to read. The focus is on enjoying the pictures in the book and making that applicable to the child’s life.

Q: How many children are part of this programme?

So far we have reached 18 children through this programme.

Q: What does the project aim to achieve?

To stimulate the cognitive, verbal and concentration development of infants, toddlers and young children. It also focuses on strengthening the relationship between the caregiver and child.

Q: Which type of challenges have you faced during implementation of the project?

Recruitment is an issue as we find it difficult to convince people to attend the programme. Absenteeism is also a problem because many people just don’t pitch up for sessions after signing up for the programme. We also find that people tend to drop out of the programme quite frequently and we do not have enough volunteers to assist.

Q: What could this programme’s potential impact be at scale?

Improved school readiness and better relationships between parents and their children.

Sinovuyo Kids is a group-based positive parenting programme for children between two and nine years of age.

Q: How does this programme work?

It is a group-based course for caregivers with children aged 2-9 years. Groups meet once a week over 12 weeks. The caregivers attend the sessions and a child minder is provided for their children.

Q: How many parents and children are involved in this project?

Until now we have reached 62 households. We are currently delivering the programme to 8 aftercare facilitators in the organisation and with that we aim to reach more than 80% of the children in the community of Touwsranten attending after-school care daily at The Seven Passes Initiative.
The idea is that the homework class facilitators will use the principles of praise, special time, setting boundaries and positive discipline with the children who attend our after school classes. We have also delivered the programme to farm workers on a local farm, during working hours.

Q: What are the objectives the project aims to fulfil?

To help caregivers communicate better with their children, set boundaries for them and find pleasure and fulfilment in their relationships with them.

Q: Which type of challenges have you faced during implementation of the project?

Recruitment, because convincing parents to attend is not always easy, and door-to-door visits take time. Absenteeism and it influences the time frame of the programme. On the farm where we delivered Sinovuyo Kids, workers’ contracts were terminated due to seasonal conditions, this negatively affected the programme. Retention is a problem as we still have a few parents dropping out of the programme before completion.

Q: What is this programme’s potential impact at scale?

It will result in children who have more open, communicative relationships with their parents. These children will have warm, attentive, loving households and be more resilient to hardships and may achieve better at school.

Q: How are all of the above programmes evaluated?

At the end of every session there is an evaluation process. Participants have to react to the session and confirm that they understood everything. At the end of the entire programme there is another evaluation of the whole programme and caregivers can say what they learnt. They will evaluate if they have reached the goals that they set during the first session. Moreover, this is part of a three-year project in which UCT and the Institute for Security Studies are partners. We conducted a baseline survey of caregivers in our community before starting to deliver the programmes in 2016, we are conducting the second wave of the community survey at the moment and will undertake a third wave next year. That way we will be able to see if our programmes have had a community-wide effect on parenting and child behaviour, or on the contextual factors that impact parenting.

Q: Who is funding the programmes?

World Childhood Foundation, an organisation who works to prevent abuse and exploitation of children. They support and implement over 100 projects around the world, assisting children who are at risk of or are victims of abuse, children who are in alternative care, street children, and families at risk.

More about the Seven Passes initiative

Q: How did the Seven Passes Initiative start?

Over nine years ago the district of Hoekwil experienced youth gang violence on commercial farms. Farmers, business people from George and members of the Hoekwil and Touwsranten community came together to find a solution. The Seven Passes Initiative was set up as a community-based organisation (CBO) situated in the small rural community.
Since 2008 we have grown our understanding of the effects of poverty, alcohol abuse and domestic violence on families in this community.

Q: The Seven Passes Initiative has grown from housing one main project to three, with several sub-elements. Do you foresee any new growth in the next couple of years?

We began by running homework classes for high school learners living on farms in the district. The homework classes provided a safe space for learners to spend their afternoons and created an opportunity for us to better understand the challenges young people face in their homes, at school and in their community. Since then the organisation has grown and expanded its services dramatically, and we are now expanding our work into neighbouring communities in the Garden Route.

Q: Are there any new projects you plan on embarking on?

With the help of an inclusive education consultant and an independent consultant we are planning to create an after school care programme that will focus more on each child reaching their full potential in all four pillars of support namely; life skills, arts and culture, education, sport and recreation.
We are also currently looking at expanding more in the ECD sphere.

Q: Are you happy with the progress of your projects thus far?

Yes, at the end of 2016 we reached 13% of the population of Touwsranten with the positive parenting programmes. We see the changes in people’s lives and that encourages us to continue with the work.

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