Receiving an invitation to LETCEE’s 25th Birthday Celebration was an exciting prospect, though I could not have imagined the type of day that was in store. As a software provider from Redefine Software I have worked with several ECD organisations, LETCEE included, providing a solution to remote data collection. I am often confronted with the numbers and statistics of the work that is being done to aid our most vulnerable communities. Seeing such statistics really emphasizes the position many of the children in our country are given at the start of life, however no amount of numbers can connect you to the stark reality of the situation until you visit and personally engage with these communities.
Mary and her team put together a wonderful excursion into the community of Njengabantu giving her guests the opportunity to see first-hand the work they are doing, and the people’s lives they are changing. At the first stop we visited a site where the Mobile Toy Library had set up. The Mobile Toy Library Truck travels around the community bringing play and toys to children, most of whom are not fortunate enough to have toys of their own. Seeing the children playing and laughing and learning together was an uplifting and joyful experience.
The next stop was a SmartStart playgroup. We were enthusiastically welcomed with a song from the children of the playgroup, who were all dressed up in traditional outfits with colourful beads and beautiful patterns. The SmartStart playgroup is equipped with all sorts of toys and materials for creative activities. The walls are lined with paintings and pictures done by the children. Toys to stimulate the children both physically and mentally are laid out. The enthusiasm shown by Fezeka, a LETCEE SmartStart Club Coach, showed me again how passionate the LETCEE staff are about their work. Before leaving the playgroup we were once again treated to singing and dancing from the children, who took their turns to dance in the circle as others sang, clapped and encouraged each other.
The caregivers and play facilitators look after not only their own children, but the children of all homes in the community, as if they were their own. The care and enthusiasm with which they engage and play with, and encourage the children makes clear how deeply they care for them. One of the caregivers spoke about the impact that LETCEE has had, particularly on the women in the community, and how encouraged they were to have support to provide the stimulation that is so vital to young minds.
Moving on we were shown the other side of LETCEE’s work. As Mary explained to us, it became clear to her in the early stages of LETCEE’s development that the aid provided in terms of Early Childhood Development was simply not enough to give these children and communities a chance at improving their circumstances. Thus LETCEE has made a great effort to empower the communities they support, and encourage members to work together in endeavours that will uplift the greater community. One of these projects is the vegetable gardens. Vegetable gardens are worked by the community members to help provide a self-sustaining model that provides fresh vegetables all year round. The hard work and labour is paying off as the two vegetable gardens we visited were flourishing with a host of different vegetables. Another community endeavour is a local brick building start-up. Concrete bricks are moulded and sold to local builders, where there is a high demand. This provides work to young men in a place where consistent work is scarce, and helps to bring money into the community.
The beautiful valleys of Njengabantu and breath-taking viewpoints stand as a stark contrast to the reality of the circumstances that most people who live in these vast areas are dealing with. These children are the future of our country and deserve care, love and opportunities to learn and grow. The tireless efforts of Mary and her team are inspiring, and LETCEE gives hope to those who are most vulnerable.
Returning from our excursion we entered a wonderfully set up hall for lunch, amid singing from the LETCEE staff, a great choir in their own right. Sharing a meal with, and getting to know the LETCEE team better showed me the level of pride that each staff member has in the work they do, and how much they believe in the cause they are working for. Organisation members themselves have been uplifted, and given an opportunity to learn and earn qualifications. They have a shared purpose with which they all strongly identify.
Thank you to LETCEE for opening my eyes to the life changing work you have been doing for the past 25 years. I wish you continued success as you share the wealth of love and care your organisation possesses, for the next 25 years and beyond.
Written by: Duncan Frickel