“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela.
One of the most uplifting days during the six months assignment was the graduation ceremony for women from the community who had successfully completed training to become early childhood development educators or home based care workers. The training required a commitment from students to complete lengthy assignments at home in addition to attending college two days per week for a year or more. The joy, pride and sense of achievement the graduates felt was obvious to see from the celebrations on the day. Typical quotes from graduates were along the lines of “I’ve always loved children, but I wasn’t sure how best to help them. Now I have been shown the way and I am confident”.
The scheme run by Safe and Sound in collaboration with Project Hope has had a major impact in Munsieville; 30 women have graduated and have helped develop 608 children at level 4 ECD centres and another 20 women have provided home base care to another 315 children. In 2014, Safe and Sound will work with these graduates to train mothers within the Munsieville area to provide theirs and neighbours children with stimulating education from their own homes. In total 1,023 children from Munsieville will have benefited and 50 women will have taken on employment that is also personally rewarding.
There are some children in Munsieville, often due to lack of identity documents, who will not have attended the reception year of education offered at either ECD centres or primary schools. These children are at great risk of not enrolling for formal education or dropping out at a young age. Project Hope has begun a school prep scheme whereby such children can attend informal classes at the homes of volunteers in the weeks leading up to the start of primary school. The scheme familiarises the children with the routine of attending classes, leaving home in the day and being with other children; it also assists the caregivers of these children by offering visits to the primary school their children are scheduled to attend in the New Year.
The challenge now for Project Hope is to demonstrate that these schemes have a lasting and positive impact for the development of the children who participated. Gladys and Thandi have worked together to design a study that will attempt to assess if children exposed to ECD from the Safe and Sound scheme have a long term advantage (in terms of educational attainment) compared to other children. Their study will aim to follow all consenting children enrolling at either of Munsieville’s primary schools in January 2014 by collecting their end of term assessments (that score children on seven aspects of development). The second arm of their study will look at the percentage of children with different pre schooling experience enrolling and continuing in primary school for one, two or three years.
These ambitious studies are for me exciting as they represent a very serious attempt by Project Hope to evaluate one of its major programs. However, such studies don’t always pick up unexpected positive impacts. Many of the families invited to attend the school prep were among the most marginalised in the community, the families themselves often keeping a low profile due to language barriers or fears of deportation. Saffiera noted that the caregivers gained confidence from being welcomed to visit the local schools and are now much more willing to assert their rights with respect to having their children registered for education and access to health services.