Friday, 18 October 2019
This morning dawned bright and beautiful, perfect for a jaunt to Durban.  I wasn't however, headed for the beach (as nice as that would have been!) but instead to visit TREE (Training and Resources for Early Education) who have their base in Durban.  The training centre is in the north of Durban and was easy to find (thanks Google maps!)
The TREE centre is made up of a training centre, with residential areas and training rooms, a shop and workshop, as well as the administration block.  The name comes from the original founder who, 35 years ago decided to bring together the small children in her community and tell them stories and read to them under the shade of a tree.  Now 35 years on, the programme is operating in three provinces and has 115 active practitioners, encompassing those trained to level 4 Early Childhood Development (ECD), toy librarians, parents, community supporters and caregivers.

The foyer is bright and welcoming and there was a fabulous display of the Uthando Project.  Uthando is isiZulu for "love" and the aim of this project is to provide a doll to love for every child in KwaZulu Natal!  The fabric doll is made to a standard pattern, so there is no variation on size and quality but they can be personalised (eyes, hair, mouth etc) and dressed however the maker chooses.  So t
here were girl and boy dolls, long hair, braided hair, curly hair, hats or scarves, modern or traditional dress, every variation you could think of.  For some children this will be the only toy they have ever owned and so you can see how special this is.  For all you crafters out there, you'll be pleased to know I have had permission to copy the pattern.  Nokwanda gave me a tour of the centre, there is a shop which stocks items for the Early Childhood Development projects, some of the items are made in the workshop on site and others are imported in. 

There is a wealth of knowledge in the manuals for ECD centres.  These guides are based on the key learning themes which provide a foundation for early learners, they encourage learning through play and give ideas for practitioners to make toys and resources out of scrap material, so that not everything has to be purchased before the learning can take place. The manuals empower the practitioners whilst ensuring that the key themes are covered and so children are ready for learning when they enter school at Grade R.

The skilled craftspeople in the workshop make wooden toys, everything from blocks, stacking towers in bright primary colours, weighing scales for early maths work, and items like radios and ovens for fantasy play (role play).  They even take commissions and will endeavour to make any item requested.  In addition to the standard puzzles you can send a photo and have a personalised wooden puzzle made out of it!  How lovely is that?
After the tour I met Ruby Motaung, the Director.  She has been with TREE since May 2018, having moved from the Department of Social Development where she had responsibility for Early Childhood Development Policy.  She is very ambitious for TREE to become accredited to deliver ECD training to level 5 and 6, and to offer a Diploma in Early Childhood Development.  This ambition supports the long term aim to professionalise the delivery of ECD and ensure that there is an established career structure in place for practitioners.  She is currently engaging with universities and the Govt and hopes to achieve this by 2021.
Longer term she would like to follow a cohort of learners through their early learning and on into Primary to be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of professional ECD approaches.  Most interestingly for me, Ruby is very keen to work collaboratively with other ECD training organisations, of which one, LETCEE is very close to GAGA's heart!  She believes a fully collaborative approach across all training providers, Government and NGO's is the most effective way to reach the maximum number of children.  This collaboration is not limited to ECD, in the current TREE operations, other social services, like the Department of Social Development, Department of Health and more are encouraged to use the facility of the Toy Library as a base for reaching out to the community.  Ruby showed me a before and after photo of an ECD centre, before TREE it was a rough, block built building, after TREE it was a colourful, bright and welcoming container toy library, decorated with colourful murals and an open door policy! TREE is another project currently supported by the Helwel Trust (like ACAT yesterday) and today's visit was really a fact finding one for GAGA, as there are so many synergies with the FSR creche and preschool we currently support.

After the meeting at TREE I headed off to meet one of the stars of our Sangobeg scholarship programme, Tutu! The meeting point was the shopping centre, Pavilions, off the main N3.  Wow! it's vast.  Sadly I couldn't find parking in the shade (oh, did I mention we've had another scorcher today 😏😎) but rushed to make our meeting time.... luckily we were both running late, so arrived at the meeting point almost at the same time! 

Tutu has been part of the GAGA family for many years, and from a very tough start in life she has had a stellar academic career, thanks in part to her determination and natural intelligence and aptitude but also thanks to our wonderfully funded Sangobeg scholarship programme. This scholarship programme allows individuals with natural talent and potential to fulfil their ambitions to attend tertiary education and Tutu is one of a select group of alumni! Tutu achieved a bachelors degree in Physiotherapy and is now in the second year of her Masters Degree in Public Health.  She made time to meet me in her work lunch break, in spite of having exams coming up at the end of the month.  Following the exams she will embark on her research project, the topic is currently going through the approval process.  She hopes it will be approved for her to conduct a year long study into the impact of traditional medicine practices on the under fives.  Tutu was inspired to choose this topic after witnessing the effect of an onion enema on a small baby, the baby spent a year in intensive care and continues to have significant difficulties with the absorption of nutrients from food resulting from the damage done to the stomach and bowel.  No doubt this will be a heartbreaking field of study but undeniably valuable and compelling. It was wonderful to make Tutu's acquaintance and I cannot wait to share more of her successes with you as time goes on. Now back at the lodge I am against the clock as load shedding will start in  minutes and we will be without power for two hours.  This coincides perfectly with sundown at 6 pm!  Funny story to leave you with, before heading home I popped to the ladies at Pavilions and was in the cubical when load shedding started there!  Oh my, pitch black for a few moments until the back up power source kicked in!  Thank goodness I didn't go straight to the lift!!!!