We first visited Missionvale as volunteers in February 2009. Pam being a retired teacher of special needs children was asked to work within the primary school as an assistant, helping out in any of the four classes as needed. Part of my task was to help out on administrative duties and interact with the children where possible.
When involved with the reception class Pam realised that African children, particularly from the townships, do not have the same development opportunities as children of the same age in the UK. These children did not know how to hold pencils or crayons, or even how to draw or colour. They were just as likely to eat the crayons.
They did not know how to sit still or listen to stories. The result was that the Reception class teacher was spending a considerable amount of time teaching the basics to children and not teaching the syllabus. This was then having a knock on effect throughout their schooling and was obviously affecting the children’s development.
It became obvious to Pam & I that a pre-school group would resolve this situation and the benefits should be reflected throughout the school and in each of the children. We wrote a short business plan to justify the proposal and then created an implementation plan to help in setting it up. We spoke to Sister Ethel about the value of our proposal, which she accepted, and asked her about the possibility of funding. Her reply in her usual calm manner was ‘God willing’!
On our return journey to the UK Pam & I started discussing our proposal and thought that ‘God’ could not do this on his own so perhaps we should offer him some help. He seems to have accepted our offer.
We then started spreading the word amongst family and friends about our proposed project. We gave an illustrated talk to the members of our Church and many people came on board and gave us donations. We have gone out and given talks to Rotary, Inner Wheel, and Scouting members. The Inner Wheel took up our project as a formal challenge and held a fund raising event resulting in a donation of £600.
Our Church has also made some generous donations. We need to raise 24,000 SA Rand a year, which depending upon the exchange rate is about £2400. We have successfully raised enough money so far to fund the project now for a second year. We are extremely grateful to our many friends, acquaintances and organisations for the generous support they have given.
Loretta is the Play & Learn Centre leader, who is just out of training and is fully qualified for the job. She was recruited last October 2009 and the Play & Learn Centre opened then with 26 children on the books. An average of 22 children attend each day, which means these children are off the streets, they have the opportunity to learn and play and are guaranteed a sandwich and a drink each morning as part of the nutritional programme.
Having made a return visit to Missionvale in April 2010 we were absolutely delighted with the Play & Learn Centre. The children greeted us warmly and were keen to interact with us. They have learnt how to use pencils and crayons. They have learnt to sit still, quietly and listen to stories and instructions. The Reception class teacher now has a more manageable class and as a few children have already moved up into the Reception the value of this early training is really noticeable.
As I have said Loretta is newly out of training but Pam was able to give her plenty of advice, suggestions and encouragement in order to develop the group in the future. We created a shopping list of items to purchase for the centre funded by our contributions and these should further help in the development of these children.
Unfortunately there are so many children in the age range 4 to 6 that could benefit from similar opportunities but there is only so much you can do. At least Missionvale now has a viable Play & Learn Centre which will over the years benefit the whole of the primary school and as a result give these children a better education and social skills.
Pam & Colin