2010 Cape Town «Birth to three» project

Report from Cape Town February/March 2010

During my sabbatical year in 1998/1999 and whilst traveling and working in Africa, I remember writing in one of my first travel logs that we, of the northern hemisphere, had to learn about patience.  To rush around & get things done as we are used to at home just do not work in Africa. T T T. Things Takes Time. We simply had to learn to slow down.

After that year, I really thought I had learned the lesson, but returning to Cape Town every year for the last 12 years, I have to admit that the test of patience is still on top of my list.  Things are improving, but the pace is very, very slow and I do wonder sometimes how many babies will be reached with what we call ” primary needs covered.”

On the other hand, I constantly see people, mostly women, working so hard trying to change their kindergartens into habitable places for the babies. Slowly we understand and we see how important the first years are.  If we miss that vital period now, we will have to heal many children/adults later in life……

I also see and understand, because of the number of children who need help, that it is not possible to help everybody.  However, with endurance and perseverance, we will achieve one small step at the time. Based on these thoughts, I would like to give a short report on the work with the project

“Baby care”

In order to understand that things can easily be improved, (although it might take longer than expected), we have to recognize that life is different in the Townships.

For example, a “taxi strike” has a great effect on everyone’s lives. Without a car (which very few people working in the kindergarten have), people are utterly dependent on taxis or trains. If they cannot get a taxi, it is simply impossible for many to get to the courses.  That in turn means 3 to 5 students might arrive one day and if we’re really fortunate, 15 the next day. As luck would have it, after two days we had 15 students who finished their 2-week course.

Crawling babies and felted balls                  Discussion groups in the classroom

Besides the theoretical part of the course, which focused on how to understand and see the possibilities of working with the small child, we also had time to make some beautiful felt balls and crawling dolls. And we had some good discussions…..

On the last day of the course, we invited all the principals from the kindergartens from where the students came. Our intention was to make the principals aware of what their staff had learnt during this time. It also served as a good refresher course for the principals.

Accordingly, I drew up a résumé of the two weeks. Among the things we discussed, was the importance of us as role models and what Rudolf Steiner wrote about the teacher’s role: “All upbringings are self-upbringing.  As teachers and educators, we are actually the surroundings for the child to bring itself up.  We must give the child the most favourable surroundings to educate itself according to its inner destiny.”

We all agreed the foregoing is the essence of the work with the child.  We also acknowledged that this is not easy but that we are all on the same path leading to the same goal.

Why and how do we manage to put what we learn about the child’s needs into practice?  That is an ongoing question, not only South –Africa, but all over the world.

– We know that the child needs space to move, but what do you do when you only have a room measuring 12m² and 30 children?

– We also know that the children need educational toys to stimulate their senses, but what do you do when you have only made one doll and you have 30-40 children?

-We know that water is needed to clean the babies, but how do we manage with no water in the room, only a tap outside….

So many things are needed to make it possible. I think the surroundings are essential and important and that several things must be in place. The basic things that you & I take for granted e.g.  Enough space in which to move, sufficient and healthy food, good quality water with which to wash the toddlers, curtains, proper flooring as opposed to just a concrete floor.  Stimulating toys.  Beds on which to sleep and so on….

The need of toys and equipment in all the groups with the smallest child is still enormous.  It just a drop in the ocean when we bring one or two dolls or balls into groups with 30-40 children.

Last year we decided to choose one or two kindergartens – those who had groups with babies – and try to uplift them as well as we possibly could.

It was very difficult, but we chose two developing ECD ( Educare Centers ).

The first being one that requires a lot of help to get the place suitable for small children.

The second has the basics, but needs help not only materialistically but mentoring, the staff who are supposed to look after and care for the babies. Unfortunately, it is very often people who are neither trained nor have any kind of experience with the small child, that is employed to care for the babies.

That is why the baby-care courses are so essential and should take place on a yearly basis.  This will go a long way towards improving the staff’s knowledge and strengthen their interest about the child’s development and needs.

The principals have to commit themselves to

–       being part of the project

–       be willing to change the place

–       send their staff working with the babies to the courses run by CCE .

Thus we have to work on two levels.

One – to make the rooms suitable for small children to be able them to develop and to feel safe and cared for.

Two – to work with and to mentor the teachers who are taking care of the toddlers.

Together with the CCE (Center for Creative Education), it has been decided that next time I visit Cape Town, I will spend one week in each of the two kindergartens to help and mentor plus run a two week baby-care course. And time to get hold of the things that are needed in the rooms……..

In the meantime, the work continues in Cape Town.  The CCE are lucky to have the German volunteers who are working in the kindergartens and who are helping overall, particularly in the two we have chosen for this project.

Since I left, I know the volunteers have been painting the walls in one of the groups.  This is a wonderful start in transforming the rooms into a suitable and warm place for  the small child!  And we have to keep on looking for the possibilities how and where we can change……….
Beds are needed!                                     The blankets shown above were bought with the money donated by two little Norwegian girls – one aged 7 and the other aged 8.

I want to close my small report this time with some thoughts that came up during the course, we talked about the importance of love, but what is love? Some of the definitions as voiced by the students are:
Love is for me a sense of belonging, safety and to be cared for

-Love is healing and giving, and demanding nothing in return

-Love is to share what you have in your heart and give sympathy  to those who      doesn’t   have love.

-Love is to learn to accept the children for who they are


-Love is to love myself and to care from my heart

-Love is the most important thing to surround the babies and all human beings
it is essential to be loved and respected

With that, I want to say many thanks again to IASWECE ,Stjerneglimt Kindergarten  and all our Sponsors for supporting this very important work.


5. May 2010

Eldbjørg Gjessing Paulsen

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