In efforts to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus, our nation was placed on a 21-day lock-down which went into effect at midnight on Thursday, 26 March 2020. This urgent, and necessary action by our country’s leaders has had a huge effect on South African citizens, particularly those who are most vulnerable.
The lock-down has seen the closure of retailers, restaurants, and schools including all 3 050 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres supported by The Unlimited Child. While the centres have had to heed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call, many children who rely on the support provided by The Unlimited Child and these ECD Centres would go hungry and not receive the breakfast and lunch they usually receive every day at pre-school.
While nutrition is not a primary support activity of The Unlimited Child, the organisation knew that the children and their families would need additional help during this time. To ensure their physical well-being, the organisation turned to two of its nutrition-focused partner organisations, Rise Against Hunger and Zero2Five Trust, to assist in providing nutritional food packages to families in their community in this time of crisis.
“We are exceptionally fortunate to have many amazing partners, service providers, and donors who we work with on a regular basis to provide holistic ECD services across eight of the nine provinces in South Africa. In this particular instance, we faced heightened time, and capacity challenges that threatened to prevent us from getting food safely distributed to the families prior to lock-down. This meant we had to narrow our focus to the most under-resourced communities in four provinces, namely KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. Through our partnerships with Rise Against Hunger and Zero2Five Trust, we managed to make sure that just over 20,000 families received food that would last a month, impacting almost 71 000 people,” says Candice Potgieter, CEO of The Unlimited Child. “In addition to ensuring as many families as possible would be fed, we also focused on helping all of the ECD centres to support an early learning programme with children and their families during this time through online platforms that can be easily replicated at home. We wanted to make sure that the children stay safe and healthy, physically and emotionally during this time.”
The Unlimited Child’s primary focus is to work with ECD Centres to support early learning through intensive training of practitioners, the supply of toys and resources as well as coaching and mentoring so as to ensure school readiness in children attending these preschools/ECD Centres. Prior to the call for ECD Centres to close on the Wednesday, 18 March 2020, the team worked closely with the ECD centre owners to ensure that the children did not fall behind as a result of the closure. They produced take-home materials for the parents so that they could continue with valuable learning-through-play activities while at home. These materials included easy to understand instructions in their respective home languages, on activities and games drawn from indigenous knowledgebases that the communities would recognise, understand, and be able to easily implement. Through these take home and online initiatives, The Unlimited Child hopes that their efforts will help parents and guardians keep their children occupied, stimulated and safely inside their homes and that most importantly learning through play is continued.
Overwhelmed by the support, Potgieter is grateful to all the partners. “Without the support of our partners and donors, we wouldn’t be able do what we do. We are fortunate enough to be serving our communities in this way and to receive the kind of support that enables us to be agile and innovative to make a substantial difference in children’s lives all over South Africa”, she concludes.