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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

‘We are the custodians of the change-makers of tomorrow’ says African ECD chief

Cape Town – We are the custodians of the change-makers of tomorrow, says Candice Potgieter, chief executive officer of non-profit organisation The Unlimited Child.

“Shouldn’t we be doing as much as possible today – no matter what it brings – to secure those tomorrows?” she asks.

According to Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla, more than 630 schools were affected by the floods in KwaZulu-Natal. Along with the damage to the region’s schools, thousands of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres were also impacted.

Global research has proven that some of the most important learning and brain development takes place during early childhood, between the ages of 0-6 years old. This is why ECD is so important – and why it is crucial that the programmes facilitating this fundamental stage of development are still able to operate under any circumstances – in any location.

The Unlimited Child has been operating as an independently registered non-profit and public benefits organisation since 2008.

It comprises a network of 3 200 early childhood development (ECD) centres located throughout South Africa, and is also present in Lesotho and Zimbabwe since 2021. These centres have one purpose: to get children school-ready.

The Unlimited Child programme was developed with the inherent understanding that agility is a key driver in giving thousands of children from under-served communities a chance to become fully immersed in the programme, and in turn reap the benefits of this essential foundational learning.

Toys and equipment to support the programme were carefully selected to allow movement between locations, should this be necessary, to ensure continuous learning. Childminders were taught how to become fully-equipped ECD practitioners through sustained professional development, with ongoing mentorship and coaching as the landscape evolves.

This flexibility has proven essential in times of distress, as the programme can be temporarily relocated to a church or town hall for example, and qualified practitioners can continue carrying on the programme while looking after the children’s needs and enabling their development.

Support from donors and partners has also been a critical component in the programme’s success. Following the recent floods, all 887 ECD centres located in KZN received support from various partners, private donations and humanitarian outreach programmes. A further grant will help repair damages to 331 ECD centres within the network, from replacing toys and equipment to fixing common infrastructure damage.

The strength of the network has grown through regular engagement over many years.

Continuous communication with the centres and practitioners ensures that the status of each centre is always known, and their needs can be tended to with great efficacy. The ability to better understand the ever-changing requirements of each centre provides a solid foundation that can carry the programme through any storm.

This swift response to ensuring children remain within a cycle of early learning, no matter what the outside factors are, reinforces The Unlimited Child’s tried and tested model that is underpinned by its solid reputation. Disasters can be mitigated swiftly and effectively because the programme has a network of partners willing to assist immediately because of its proven track record.

When disaster strikes, it is crucial that civil society comes together and works hand-in-hand to do whatever is necessary to protect the country’s most vulnerable.

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