They’re an important part of the education cycle. They help shape and prepare children for primary school. But since the Covid-19 shutdown, many early childhood development (ECD) centres are struggling.
Now a national protest has started after social development minister Lindiwe Zulu announced that R1,3 billion will be allocated towards employing youth compliance monitors in ECD. Protesters want the minister to use the money to support the ECD workforce.
ECD centre owner Mandisa Khuzwayo, of Siyakhula ECD in Soweto, is disappointed at the lack of support government has given them.
“This year has been bad. I have had no support from any company or social development,” she says.
Mandisa says she only worked two months this year. “I opened with eight kids in January and there were 15 in February, which was the last month we worked. I am worried about the kids being idle at home – most of the homes are in dire poverty.”
Mandisa says she tried to feed the children in her community but couldn’t continue because it was out of her own pocket.
She was also cognisant of the fact that people would think she was still operating while she’s just making sure the children have something to get them through the day.
“The kids keep coming to ask when I will give them food again. They love my soft porridge,” she says, smiling.
Yet it’s not only the children who attend her centre she wants to feed, Mandisa says, but also those in her community because she knows some homes are struggling to provide three meals a day for the young ones.
It is with a heavy heart that Mandisa has had to send the two teachers who work at her centre home because there’s no money coming in, she says.
She can barely wait to get back to work. Her centre is dead quiet and only the drawings on the walls show that it’s a place often filled with children.
Right now, there is no crying child, no sound of small voices singing nursery rhymes or kids running around, which she misses a lot.
In the meantime, she’s started a business selling eggs in the area.
Mandisa’s passion for children is the reason she started the centre back in 2013. She says she wants to be more than just a teacher to the children.
“I love kids a lot. I want to see them in a good environment. I want to be a foster parent and accommodate those in need,” she says.
Mandisa says if money was no obstacle, she would feed any child who came to her.“Many children go to school on an empty stomach and only eat at about 11am at school. They go back home at 2pm and there’s nothing to eat because their parents are out to make ends meet. I want to help those kids who find themselves in such situations,” she says.