Polishing gems in Edendale

2011-11-10 00:00

FOR many children under the age of six the streets are their playground and they learn from their environment. A lack of finances and opportunity rob them of a formal education.

Thousands of children in the Edendale area­ desperately need preschool and nursery-school education. The Greater Edendale Muslim Society (Gems) has been making a contribution in this area by providing infrastructure and skills to crèches.

The 12 maroon crèche-preschools, which serve 446 children, are situated in the areas where there is most need. Before the establishment of the schools many children stayed at home until Grade 1 because their parents were unable to afford school fees.

Studies have shown that preschool education is vital for equipping young children with skills that will make them school-ready. Playing with children and learning basic skills are essential before they enter mainstream schooling.

The Gems crèches follow the Montessori method of teaching (see box). Children are given two meals a day, including porridge that has been enriched with vitamins and proteins, and fruit and vegetables.

“Some of these kids are being looked after by their grandparents who survive on grants,” says Gems co-ordinator, Gadija Mjoli­. “Sometimes these children only eat pap at home, so we make sure they get vitamins to help them grow and stay healthy.”

Pietermaritzburg’s Muslim community has a historical link to Edendale as some Muslim families used to live in the area before they were forcibly removed by the apartheid government. The area seems like a natural fit for those who wish to promote their religion in areas where there is poverty and social problems.

The biggest crèche in Edendale in the eighties was run by Busisiwe Mkhize, from her home. Her two-roomed home was filled with more than 50 children.

She approached Gems for assistance, as she could not cope, and they negotiated to move the crèche to a local council building and helped her to renovate it.

She died a few years ago, and now her daughter is a Gems teacher. Gems founder Dr Ghamiet Aysen says he has always been passionate about education and believes that children should get a proper grounding. His daughter attended a Montessori school.

“I noticed the difference it made in her life and the way she developed,” he said. “There is a perception that the Montessori teaching method is only for the wealthy. I wanted to introduce it in the township so that they [township dwellers] too are given the best education. My daughter is currently a fifth-year medical student at Wits university and I partly attribute her success to her grounding at Montessori.”

Other Edendale women used to run crèches in mud huts, which was fine except when it rained. Aysen, who runs a construction company, used to work for the Department of Health and he set up a plan to address this problem with the help of funding from a Malaysian­ sponsor.

Crèches were identified and teachers were sent for Montessori training at Wonderkids. The crèches have now been upgraded and renovated.

“We spend about R80 000 on each structure. Then we furnish them and buy the basic Montessori equipment,” says Aysen.

The crèches are run by a teacher and a helper depending on the number of children attending.

Two co-ordinators travel around to the crèches to monitor the programme.

At the Sinothando Crèche I watched as the children played with the Montessori equipment. One child poured sand through a sieve, while another learnt how to button up a shirt. These seemingly normal activities are challenging for little hands, but they help to develop fine motor skills.

Montessori co-ordinator Fazila Mkhize said that teachers also use recycled objects in their teaching.

“They use old yogurt containers and bottle tops — we have to think out of the box. We like the Montessori method because it means the children help each other and teach themselves to master skills.”

The children are taught in Zulu and English. They also learn Arabic prayers and follow Islamic religious traditions. While one doesn’t have to be a Muslim to teach at the school, most of the teachers are.

The official opening of the Sinothando Pre-school is at Mount Partridge in Edendale on Saturday at noon. The preschool requires fencing and paving stones and other items. If you can help, please phone 033 394 7306.

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