Working for an NPO seems to draw people's attention. When I tell them that this is what I do, they always ask what LETCEE does, what programmes we run and where we work. People are interesed in the WHAT. Very seldom people ask me WHY. Why do we run these programmes? Why did we choose this community? Why do we work with young children?
I've thought about why I don't get these WHY questions. I suppose you don't ask because you think you know the answer? Maybe you think we do it because young children are cute. Maybe you think we do it for the fun programmes and activities. Or maybe you don't ask because you know this community is underserviced. You know this community is poor and rural. But do you really know the extent of this deprivation? Do you really know what this level of poor means?
Stats SA released a report at the end of February 2018 that is based on the findings of the General Household Survey (GHS) 2016. Their report gives us an idea of what life looks like for a child under six in South Africa, and more specifically what their early learning and development entails. To be honest, the report made me angry. Although we all "know" these things, do we really understand? I work for LETCEE every day and sometimes, between a funding proposal, stocktake and a toy order, I lose focus of this beast we're tackling. For me, getting angry was good. It made me step back and take stock of LETCEE's work as a whole, and the context we're working in. It motivated me again to continue fighting. Fighting injustice, deprivation and inequality. To fight for these under sixes who really can't fight for themselves. Yes I play just one small part in a whole system, but my work feeds the giant who fights the beast that threatens the future of these young children.
So having said that, this report qualifies what LETCEE does. It gives a clear understanding of the context of our work. I share some of their findings to give you a clearer picture of why we at LETCEE do what we do. I challenge you to read through these figures, to really think about them and to let each one sink in. See your own child, or a family member in these situations. Let the weight of these findings settle in your heart. Because each child is my child and it takes a village to raise a child.
One thirdof large families (>6 members) with young children under 6 years old did not have a single employed member.
This means these families rely on social grants and assistance for basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. Do you know how much these social grants are? A child support grant is R380, while an old age pension, disability grant or care dependency grant is R1600. So if a gogo and aunt live with 5 children (which is quite common), they would have a total of R3500 per month for seven people; R500 per person per month. When last have you tried to live off R16 a day? My food for one meal is more than that! Not even considering transport, clothes, hygiene and shelter. Let that sink in...
Bearing this low income in mind, it is no surprise that malnutrition is a huge issue in our area.
For children under 6 years, these are the stats: 28.5% show stunting (low height for age) 3.8% are underweight (low weight for age) 2.5% show wasting (low weight for height)
The report goes on to say that malnutrition at a very young age needs immediate attention in KZN, but that government feeding schemes target primary and secondary schools, not ECD centres. There is no nutritional support for these young children. This is where LETCEE's vegetable gardens and nutrition programmes are invaluable! We contribute to families' food security and fight malnutrition in young children.
Although these numbers are high, they also give me hope. Stunting is mainly due to chronic malnutrition or malnutrition at an early age. So what these children are experiencing now, are the effects of malnutrition in the past. They are shorter than peers because their bodies didn't have enough nutrients to make their bones grow. Look at that number, more than a quarter of children in SA are stunted! The underweight and wasting indicate their current nutritional status. Do they have enough food right now? Are they hungry and skinny? Look at those numbers, 2.5% and 3.8%. And this is why I have hope. Because a few years ago, based on current stunting figures, more than 25% of children would have been underweight and/or wasted. Now we're at less than 5%. Nutritional programmes like LETCEE's, in colaboration with partners like JAM and The Lunchbox Fund, are tackling the beast of malnutrition.
LETCEE's focus is the young child. We want to see children grow up in nurturing and caring environments where caregivers are confident and capacitated to provide all the developmental support their children need. But I realise more and more that ECD services have to start with the pregnant mother. In South Africa. 20% of pregnant women live in households that experience hunger. If the mother is hungry, the unborn child is also not receiving the nutrients it needs to develop properly. Without maternal support, are we not just setiting our children up for hardship? Kids born to malnourished mothers start their life off at a disadvantage.
35% of births take place at home or before reaching a facility
While we know that giving birth at home isn't necessarily a bad thing, it becomes a problem when the mom is malnourished or young and facilities are far away. Should there be any complications during birth at home, women in our area have to still make their way to a health facility. There is no luxury of a midwife coming to your house or ambulance fetching you. You rely on public transport to get you to the nearest clinic in time, all while being in active labour. And it isn't a short commute. Most primary health care clinics are at least 20 minutes' drive away. Again, the child's development is impacted before it even enters this world. Birth complications often lead to disability in our area. We have one of the highest incidences of cerebral palsy (physical problems due to brain damage) in the country.
Are you getting the picture yet?
Holistic early childhood development can never be just about the education. Even if the child had a healthy mom and was born into a family that doesn't go hungry daily, life can still be a struggle:
Maybe you don't have emotional support at home...
The majority of households in traditional and traditional areas had a disproportionately large burden of care for young children by grandparents and other family members. A large percentage of children were growing up in home environments that did not provide for communication or play to stimulate learning. Children in black African families were never encouraged to imitate daily activities 31% and 35% were never given answers when they pointed at objects and asked for explanations.
36% of children in highest income bracket were read to every day, compared to 20% in lowest income bracket
Or maybe what happens at home makes you so scared of adults that you are extremely anxious around them. So if you do have a learning opportunity, the amount of actual learning is very little...
36% of Black Africans use physcial punishment on kids aged 0-6 years
Maybe you're not exposed to learning opportunities...
49% of children aged 3 did not attend any ECD facility/services, with the percentage increasing to over half of the kids in lower income families
And this is why LETCEE looks at the whole child. We do not just provide play-based learning. Our services are holistic and provide programmes such as parenting courses, nutritional support, sustainable income generation and much more. And while I am just a small part of this organisation, that has been working in this field for 25 years, I am proud to play my role. So today I'm thankful for reading this report. Today I am okay with the fact that it made me so angry and I'm grateful for the opportunity it allowed me to take a step back and reassess. Because on Monday I have to come back to writing reports and funding proposals and when I do, instead of losing focus, I will remember the report's recommendations:
"Increased efforts are needed to strengthen the protection and safety of children."
"Access to ECD programmes for young children need to be expanded."
And as I work through the next lot of admin tasks, I will be proud knowing that my workplace, LETCEE, has already been doing this for 25 years...Written by Annika Hayward If you want to access the report, click here.