Driving change in her community

PHOTO: andile sitholeMary James is the founder of Letcee.
PHOTO: andile sitholeMary James is the founder of Letcee.

AUGUST is Women’s Month and the time to celebrate the legacy of the women of all races who marched to the Union Buildings to present a petition against the carrying of passes by women on August 9, 1956. The day also seeks to embrace the influential role that women have in communities.

In the past 25 years of democracy, women have made remarkable strides around the country and changed the lives of their communities. Mary James is one of the women who has raised the flag of her community high and put South Africa on the map.

James is the founder of Letcee — a non-profit organisation (NPO) based in Greytown.

James trained as a teacher and taught for almost 10 years before she moved to Greytown.

“At the time Letcee started, I was on the Little Elephant/St David’s staff.

The schools were still combined at that stage. Letcee grew out of the need we saw after we had started Little Elephant and St David’s.

“Many women who were running crèches in the communities used to come and ask for help. They had no access to training or to toys and resources for the children in their care. We started by training six women in the first year.

This was not accredited training, just a sharing of what we knew,” James said.

James told the Gazette that her love of children started when she was eight years old.

“I have always loved children and wanted to make things better for those in need. I remember that as a child of about eight I raised money for the paediatric ward at the local hospital after I visited a friend and saw there were no toys or books,” she said.

When she started the NPO in 1993, James came across many challenges, however that did not stifle her passion to change the lives of the less fortunate.

“The biggest challenge was the total lack of knowledge and the fact that we had no money.

I had to learn as I went but I was fortunate to have a competent and enthusiastic team alongside me,” James said.

When the Anglican church, St James, started Little Elephant, the Rector, Reverend Reg Morgan, was very involved. Jenny Platt, Meryl Thompson and James were selected to run the school.

“As we grew, it became necessary for us to split the three entities, and for me to choose which of them I would continue to run.

My reason for selecting Letcee was that I believed that we could impact more children by improving the knowledge and skills of the teachers,” said James.

Letcee now has three fixed Toy Libraries situated in Matimatolo, Mbuba and Eshane. The Toy Library also plays a very important role in the children’s centre in the Greytown coloured village, Njengabantu, Sgedlane, Potspruit and Upper Thulini, where they also feed the children daily.

James added: “Then we have three mobile units which visit the areas in the communities which are too far from the fixed facilities for the children to walk.

“Our newest mobile unit focuses on ensuring that children with disabilities in Matimatolo and Mbuba can access opportunities for play and are included in ‘regular’ playgroups.

The vehicle also assists some of the children get to their therapy sessions.

“Often when the going is tough I visit a project and the smiling faces and enthusiastic welcomes from the children remind me why it is so important to carry on.

The team I work with also inspires me.

They are committed and passionate.

“I love George Monbiot’s quote: ‘If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.’

“My message is that your strength and endurance is seen and acknowledged. Let’s celebrate and remember that a man has got to do what a man’s got to do.

A woman must do what he can’t.”

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