Alasdair and Marjan Ritchie recently attended the retirement of Winnie Tsotso at Masi Educare in Masiphumelele. Masi Educare is a pre-school located in the historic former farm house at the heart of the township. Winnie herself has a long history in the local community having been the principal at the pre-school for over 35 years. She has certainly earned her chance to relax after her years of service to the youngsters of Masiphumelele.
Winnie is pictured here (in orange) at her retirement party with local councillors Mzuvukile Nikelo, Doreen Zaniwe and Felicity Purchase.
As one principal exits another arrives and Thandiswa Mguga will take over Winnie’s role at the pre-school, at least on a temporary basis pending advertisement for the post. While thanking Winnie for her work, Alasdair and Marjan also took the time to get to know Thandiswa and discuss how Masicorp can help take Masi Educare forward. Thandiswa does not yet have the necessary qualifications in terms of the Department of Social Development requirements, hence this will be one of the first issues for Masicorp to tackle.
Pre-schools form the central part of South Africa’s early childhood development (ECD) services. The government provides a subsidy for each child attending a centre, as long as the centre is formally registered. Despite an increase in the number of subsidies to ECD centres, still only a third of young children are exposed to formal child care or education outside of the home. Among the poorest 40% of the population, that proportion drops to one fifth nationally. Not only do ECD centres provide a crucial early learning experience for children under five but they also provide a safe location for children whose parents may both have to work during the day.
The key to making Masi Educare sustainable in the long term is for the pre-school to become registered with the state and receive a subsidy for each student. This means building work to meet safety and fire prevention standards, meals for the children and formal childcare training for the staff. With Masicorp’s help these challenges will be met and hopefully we will be celebrating many more retirement parties in the future.
July 18th is a special day in the South African calendar. On the birthday of Nelson Mandela, the father of the modern nation, everyone across the country is encouraged to give 67 minutes of their time to projects in their local communities. The significance of the number 67 relates to the 67 years that Mandela spent in the service of his country as an activist, leader and president. The day has become formally known as Mandela Day and is recognised by businesses, workplaces, schools and national organisations across the country. This year’s commemoration comes at a sensitive time for the Mandela family as the former president remains critically ill in a Pretoria hospital.
For Mandela Day in Masiphumelele, Masicorp were delighted to welcome a group from the SA Navy to Masi Educare, one of the many pre-schools in the thriving township. Based in Simons Town – just a few miles from Masiphumelele – the majority of the Navy staff live locally on the Peninsula. Despite the inclement winter weather a group of around 30 Navy staff arrived, keen to help where they could and were quickly put to work. Repairs to a leaking roof in a storage room were the first task but there was also gardening work in the schools vegetable plot and the preparation of interior walls that are due to be painted.
Masicorp have a remit to assist the pre-school with their move towards official government registration, which will allow them to receive a daily subsidy for each child and confirm the schools sustainability. With 3,000 children across Masiphumelele relying on pre-schooling for their early development locations such as Masi Educare provide a crucial service. If they can be registered with the state that service will be guaranteed going forward. The help of the Navy was therefore much appreciated by Masicorp and we hope to be working together again in the future as South Africans strive to make every day a “Mandela Day”.
Starting any higher education course is a massive step up from learning at high school. The course material becomes more challenging and you are expected to become more independent in researching information rather than being directed by a teacher. At the same time students are learning to live on their own away from the close circle of family and friends they have known all their lives. It is inevitable that homesickness will kick in at some point and conquering it is just one challenge that our bursary students have had to tackle.
Masicorp goes to great lengths to ensure that all bursary students are well housed for their studies. Although the centre of Cape Town is only 40 km from Masiphumelele the public transport connections are not good and the ever increasing price of petrol has seen bus and minibus taxi fares spiral in recent times. Most students manage to make it back home once or twice a month but it can be a long journey, involving a combination of minibuses and metrorail trains. The convoluted journey offers the reward of a chance to catch up with friends from schooldays, many of whom are now working, or looking for work, in the shops and businesses around the peninsula. It offers a good chance to make contacts for part time work when the university term comes to an end. Although many of Masiphumelele’s residents head off to the Eastern Cape over the summer holidays, the break is a time to earn much needed funds to support the student lifestyle. Already Avile is looking forward to cooking hamburgers again and Ntebuheleng has an offer to work at the Food Lovers Market in the local mall.
The days away from home are spent studying but of course there needs to be time to unwind. Thanks to the high quality internet in the university residences where Avile, Aluncedo and Andisiwe stay, gathering around a laptop to stream the latest movies is a possibility. All students share a room with another student so they have the opportunity to make new friends straight away. However, it is not always possible for Masicorp to secure rooms at the residence and for Zodwa and Ntebuheleng life is a little different in a private house. They share with four other girls and have quickly established a cooking rota to pool their skills (and money) in the communal kitchen.
Sadly it is not always such a pleasant experience. Zodwa and a friend were held up at knifepoint when returning home one evening and their phones were stolen. Fortunately the traumatic experience does not seem to have discouraged her from continuing her studies but has been yet another challenge to overcome in that difficult first semester away from home. Everyone is coping well with the changes in their life over the past six months and all the students were raring to go back to the city to continue their studies when we spoke this week. It is not just academic ability but also attitude that makes a success of higher education and fortunately it seem this year’s students have made an excellent transition to life away from home.
It’s exactly half way through the academic year here in South Africa and so yesterday was the perfect time to catch up with our first year bursary students. With their first four modules completed and the examinations behind them this was their last week back in Masiphumulele before the new semester begins. Next week all five return to Cape Town for the start of four more modules and more long days of study.
Aluncedo has spent the break with family in the Eastern Cape but Zodwa, Ntebuheleng, Andisiwe and Avile all met us for a late breakfast and took the time to update us on their progress so far. And what tremendous progress it has been. All five students have passed all of their respective modules with Avile even modestly announcing his distinction (82%) in computation and numerical analysis. The pass mark for each module is 50% (that’s higher than in many first year courses in Europe and the States!) and everyone made the grade. This is really a huge achievement, which all of the group should be proud of. The first semester of any higher education course can be a serious challenge. For all of the students this is their first experience of living away from home and all of them admitted the step up from high school learning to higher education was a huge leap.
All five students were also pleased with their course content and are satisfied they have made the right choice. Problems with the course material at this level or the move away from home usually materialise in the first semester for new university students. After the first group of modules students usually have a good idea if the course they have chosen is both suitable and enjoyable. The fact that everyone in the group remain confident that they are studying the right course for their future – and of course the 100% pass rate – is a good sign that everything is going well for the group.