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Pete Martin ¦ Transformational Journeys

Child’s Play at the Noluthando Educare Centre.

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 15 September 2017 | Views [246]

Child’s Play at the Noluthando Educare Centre #1 ¦ Pete Martin

Child’s Play at the Noluthando Educare Centre #1 ¦ Pete Martin "Fantafrica"

Cape Town / Khayelitsha.

Out of the city of Cape Town, the low rise townships spread across the landscape each side of the highway like some sheet metal and wood foliage. In the township of Khalelitsha, the Noluthando Educare Centre was founded in 1994 by Mavis Mbaba. Before apartheid was abolished, the white family Mavis worked for allowed her to study at night school. Noticing the lack of carers for children of working parents in the township, Mavis humbly began her kindergarten taking forty-five local children into her home. In January 1995, the community council leased the plot of land in Khayelitsha that she is still on today and, with some financial sponsorship from the oil company BP, the nursery was established. At its peak, Mavis and her team looked after three hundred children, aged from two months to six years.

As Mavis tells us her story, the metal gates of the kindergarten slam together and are locked behind us, providing a physical barrier between the school and the wasteland of the township. There are five or six wooden huts serving as the kindergarten. Mavis shows us inside the first classroom. Inside children quietly colour. These are the older ones. Mavis waves us in. There is a standoff on both sides. A few look up with confusion at their observers. Mavis explains they do not speak English, mostly only Xhosa. Whilst the others wait, my experience with the school children in Ghana has taught me to go first. I approach the first table and smile at their drawings, giving a few the thumbs-up sign. I take a photograph with my iPhone and show them it. The smiles begin. The kids touch the image on the screen and return a thumbs-up or, as seems common in Africa, give me the knuckle to knuckle touch. My colleagues join in too and there is a common bond of enjoyment in the room.

I walk with Mavis to the next classroom. The younger ones sit on the floor eating their morning snack. I disrupt the order to play with them and the teacher smiles at me. I have two boys hanging on my leg, covering my shorts in half eaten banana. I walk around with them on my leg and the others begin to laugh joyfully. It lifts my spirits too. It’s so easy to be happy; I should do it more. I turn around and Mavis, who is a large world-weary woman, beams delightedly.

The visit however is a serious one. Mavis tells me that recently the centre has experienced problems as the government funding she has relied on has been severed. The reason given to her is that the small buildings she uses as classrooms are wooden and susceptible to fire. The government wants her to convert these to brick but will give her no financial assistance to do so. Strangely she is allowed to continue her work during the impasse but cannot take any more six year olds, only fives and under. I wonder what happens to these children. She explains that they will have to stay at home for one year before going to the local school. She shrugs and says it will mean that some, who would have gone to school, now will not. Defiantly she says she is still standing, that the kindergarten will carry on and that she will refuse to fall.

I ask her how the school is funded. Mavis tells me that there are individual and corporate sponsors and she charges the children's families a nominal fee. I ask if they can afford it. Again she shrugs. Some can and some can't, but that she will never turn a child away.

To lighten the mood again, I exchange my cap for one young boy's floppy hat and he runs to show the others. A pretty girl with long dreadlocks and a wonderful smile brings it back to me. I put the boy's hat on a shelf just out of his reach and he looks at it bewildered. After a few seconds, I lift him up and he grabs his hat. When I put him down, he hugs me.

It's time to go. Mavis and the teachers allow all the children to come to the gate. One boy holds my arm tightly and a girl holds my hand as we walk. Mavis, you are an angel on earth, please keep standing strong.

Tags: cape town, fantafrica, noluthando educare centre, townships, transformational journeys

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