2008 Cape Town

Last year my report concentrated more on the situation of the babies in the Educare Centres, (both environmentally and on lack of knowledge) and of the importance of the first three years.  So when asked, I was very happy to do a baby course this time.

I started the first week with students from the 4th year at CCE (Center for Creative Education) and we did a celebration and season table, i.e. how to create and produce a simple season table in the classroom or Educare Centre.

I knew the students from last year and it was very nice to be with them again.  This was their last year and whilst they have accumulated a lot of knowledge, they still had many questions which had to be discussed, e.g.  How and why are we making season tables and celebrating the seasons with various backgrounds and possibilities?

During this short week they created 4 tables and we managed to make 4 season dolls in addition to the main lesson and discussion groups.

In my second week I visited a few Educare centres, particularly those with babies.  I did this in order to personally see if anything had changed since last year; that’s is, if the infants were still housed in the poorest of accommodation  and how the teachers were coping under the allocated working conditions.

I also took part in a two day birthday celebration with the big Siabolela group (a group of 30-35 students),

Then I started my main reason for this visit – The Baby Care Course

The first day only 12 students arrived, but by the second day we had 21 and all 21 stayed for the duration of the course.  It was a very nice group.  I did not know any of them, but I knew some of the centres from where they came.

The principals of “Isiseko Sobuntu”, (a group of 10 Educare Centres who started their organisations 6-7 years ago) were sending their staff to the course.  Of those 10 centres, 7 sent the teachers, who work with babies.  That meant that the principals themselves had to look after the babies whilst their teachers were on the course.

I gave the main lesson every morning, followed by discussion groups and questions.  I then suggested that maybe if they wanted to stay for another hour, we could make simple baby dolls, but only if they wanted to and had the time.  EVERYBODY stayed and I understood how great the need was to make and create things for their centres and babies as there was such a lack of beautiful toys.  So we all made one baby doll and everybody was very proud, notwithstanding the main lesson and our subject, The Baby!

I presented my way of looking at the child, the importance of the first years and how we can make use of the Waldorf tools, which are of great help.

We spoke about how the children enter this world, how we meet them, what they bring, what they expect from us. The child’s development, physically, emotionally and spiritually, the importance of role models and imitation, the rhythm in our lives, the child as a sense being, the child’s play, environment, toys etc.  It was quite a lot and we realised we had very little time, but we all did our best and we were all inspired during the days of the course.

Everyone was so engaged and it was both joyful and fun to teach and to have the discussions.  The first few days, they only listened, but then the questions came and we had some very productive days.  The child’s development and the fact that we are role models and that the children do imitate us was not very difficult to understand and we all shared examples from our own experience.

The more difficult part was the senses, how they work and how we recognize them. Especially the life sense was not easy to understand, even though we all feel it, but to put it into words was difficult. We really should have had more time to delve deeper into the senses to fully understand.  But they thought it was very exiting and all wanted to learn more.  So on the last day, we all felt that we wanted to continue and the course was simply too short.

Once more I had the feeling that the women working with babies longed for more discussions and felt the need not only to upgrade the crèche environment, but also to be reminded of the importance of the first few years.  It is also imperative that we talk to each other and share our experiences and our knowledge.  And not to forget the courage to reiterate to each other that this is the most valuable and important profession in the whole world.

To end this report, I want to give you a picture of one little kindergarden I visited one rainy day in Philippi, Cape Town:

Mathew, our driver, collected Nonkanyele, (a field worker) and myself one morning in order to take us to Philippi Township. We were going to visit Peliza’s Educare, who is a student at CCE and the Principal of her Educare Centre.

It was raining, but we had no problems driving to the township, even though it was a gravel road, full of potholes and sand.  Mathew drove very carefully.

As we arrived in Philippi, one of the poorest areas in the township, with only shacks, it seemed to be empty, all was closed and it looked so dark.  Mathew told me the people were inside, locked the doors because either of the rain or because they were at work.  (those lucky enough to have employment, with 40% unemployed in SA)

Finally we stopped in front of two containers.  We had arrived at the Educare Centre!

Pelizia came out to welcome us. By now the rain had become very heavy, so we had to hurry into the container where all the babies were spending the day.  The container was approx 10-12m², the walls were made of cardboard or paper, the floor was covered with plastic or pieces of carpet.  The ceiling had roofing paper and sheet metal.  There was only one window in the container which they had covered with a cloth because of the rain and wind.  They had a stable door and the top part was kept open to let in some light, but with the rain being so heavy, they had to close the door.

When we arrived the children were having free play, mostly just sitting on the floor with some toys or walking around in this confined space.  There were two camping beds for the children on the one side and a cot on the other.  They brought two chairs for Nonkanyele and me to sit on.  The teachers were all sitting on the floor.  A couple of plastic boxes filled with toys of all kinds, plastic and metal and most was broken or very dirty.  The children did play with them, but had to sit on the floor as there was no room to move.

The rain kept pouring and I asked Nonkanyele if she knew some rain songs.  She did and started singing, the children looked up and started singing and it was obvious they all enjoyed that very much.  Later they formed a morning ring, the teacher was singing and making gestures and the children were imitating her, but many of them were still sitting on the floor.

After the singing, it was time for lunch and the teacher brought in a big bowl with water and everyone washed their hands before they sat down against the wall and the cook came in with the food.  Because of the rain, she had to run from kitchen with a cloth over the soup plates.  Most of the children managed to eat on their own, but others needed some help.

After lunch it was time for nappy changing and that took place on one of the camping beds.  Again they brought a large bowl of water to wash the babies and then it was sleeping time.  Three to four children slept on one bed and the rest on mattresses on the floor.

During the time I spent in this baby room, I observed that the teachers were really making the best of the situation. They are very caring and loving towards the children and if in spite of the cramped space, you had a feeling of devotion and that each child was special to the teachers.

On the day we were there, there were two teachers because the principal joined us, but usually there is only one teacher with 17 babies.  They do have a cook who prepares all meals in another shack which has electricity. Maybe the cook helps out sometimes, as maybe the principal does wherever she can, but I don’t know and I did not ask.

It was time for us to leave and Mathew came to collect us. He was very worried because he had trouble getting in due to the rain.  The roads were now flooded and the holes were invisible, so he had to drive very carefully indeed.  On the way out we saw lots of shacks with the water getting in and the floors would have been soaked.  It all looked very sad and the wet weather made it look even worse.  On a sunny day, it probably looks different, but still…….

This is the daily toil for thousands of families in the townships.  One can only admire how these people get on with their lives and, with the admiration, comes the realisation that it is going to take a long, long time, (if ever),  for children brought up in this environment, to adapt to what you and I take for granted as a  “normal, everyday life”.

Thanks again to IASWECE for supporting my flight to S-Africa and to Stjerneglimt Kindergarten  for letting me go for so many weeks 🙂

Arendal 7. November 2008    Eldbjørg Gjessing Paulsen

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