Drive approximately 30km on dirt road north of Dududu, hugging the Umkomazi river as it snakes it way through the valley and you will arrive at Ntshaseni area. It’s at least a 3-hour drive from Port Shepstone although referred to as ‘inland’ from Scottburgh.
Here the new site of Sibambesene ECD Centre greets you. “Wow, this place is far,” Nosipho explains as we get out of the car. It’s her first time visiting the site as well. The team at Impande South Africa, refer to this area as deep rural, another phrase for very, very far. We unload the car, some 2l sodas and a box of apples that Zinhle asked us to pick up in town for her on our way through. We understand now why, a few scattered shops on the way in was the only place for people in the community to get their goods unless you want to catch a taxi to town. We didn’t see many of these on our way in either. There’s a morning route that takes people into town and an afternoon route that brings people back to their homes. ‘Popping out to the shops’ – an urban turn of phrase, is simply not an option out here.
It is here that Zinhle founded the Sibambesene ECD Centre back in 2014. “Growing up, when I was still in school, I noticed that there was no place for young children to go during the day. They would just walk up and down the roads, it wasn’t safe for them,” explains Zinhle. “When my parents told me that they did not have money to send me to university I decided that I would open up a creche instead, in my community.”
Like many other ECD sites in the rural South African landscape, Sibambesene, was founded on humble beginnings. “When we first opened there was no land or space for us to use, so we used the changing room of the nearby sports centre”; which now lies directly in front of the newly built site. “There was very little space here, but it was at least a safe space for children to come to and we used what we had, there were 17 children attending the ECD at that time,” she explains.
As soon as the Sibambesene was founded, Zinhle was determined to source funding for the building of a proper structure. “Every avenue I could think of, I applied for funding,” she states. “At one point we had a potential funder who sounded interested in funding the building, and who arranged to come and visit us. They told us that they had the materials that were needed to build the centre. This gave me hope because I know that only serious funders do site visits.” Unfortunately, the promise of a new building at that time was not to be. “When they arrived and I showed them the land that had been allocated to us by the community, their response was that it was too far and that that there was no possibility of the materials being delivered. When I heard this, my heart sunk.” Even now as Zinhle recalls this story, her face is shadowed. “At that time, there was a lot of doubt amongst us whether what we were doing was the right thing,” she explains. “Even in the community, people were beginning to doubt our promises to them of a centre, claiming that that we were false in our prophecies of a safe space for their children to learn.”
In 2018 Zinhle heard about Impande’s (then Network Action Group – NAG) Future Leaders programme. “I heard about this programme through a relative of the social worker who works in this area. I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about ECD, because everything I was doing was from instinct. The Future Leaders programme helped me to learn from other practitioners and see what other ECD centres were doing.”
In 2020, Impande South Africa partnered with Breadline Africa to support the build of standalone classrooms and full ECD centres within the UGU district. “When I heard the news that Sibambesene was going to receive a newly built centre, I was sceptical,” states Zinhle. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up after the previous let down. It was only when the truck of building materials arrived, and my neighbours came running to my house to call me that I realised it was actually happening. The feeling was so overwhelming.”
The site at Sibambesene was completed in January 2021. A standard 2 classroom building with separate kitchen and office area, covered veranda and 5000l water tank. “We now have 33 children who are attending our centre,” states Zinhle. “With the space we can separate children according to age groups. Children have space now to play outside and there is space in the classrooms; they are not sitting on top of each other. Even the practitioners have become more confident in their work and are starting to introduce new ideas and concepts in the classroom,” explains Zinhle.
Walking through the classrooms, you get an immediate sense that the classroom is well organised and used to its full potential. Posters and artwork line the walls, different ‘stations’ are setup throughout the classrooms like fantasy play, reading and so on, recent resources that had been handed out at the Learning Group earlier in the year are also visible. With the next closest ECD centre 17km away the need for safe spaces where young children can learn is apparent.