SAFE AND SOUND in the FEDTRAW pre-schools

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Busy bees at the FEDTRAW pre-school in Dube, Soweto

The Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW) has started over forty pre-schools for little children in the Transvaal. Learn and Teach spoke to some of the women who run the pre-schools…

EVERY DAY, millions of South African parents go out to work. But who takes care of the young children they leave behind?

Some parents ask the grannie or a childminder to look after their little ones. Others — the unlucky ones — have no-one to leave their children with. They are forced to leave their children all alone.

And that is when accidents can happen. Children play in the streets and get run over. They go near water and drown. They play in old, rusty cars and get hurt.

For these children, the world is a dangerous place.

One progressive organisation, the Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW), is trying to solve the problem of children who have no place to go while their parents are out earning money. Since 1986, they have been running pre-schools in the Transvaal for children who are not old enough to go to primary school.

The pre-schools are warm friendly places where little ones play together safely. And the moms and the dads can have peace of mind while they are at work because they know that their children are safe and sound.

YOU’RE NEVER TOO YOUNG!

Mali Fakier is the co-ordinator of the pre-schools project. She told us some of the reasons why these schools started.

“The main reason was to give our children a safe place to go during the day,” she said. “But we were also concerned about the education of our children.

“You know the saying ‘you are never too old to learn.’ Well, we believe that you are also never too young to learn! You see, the first years in a child’s life are a very important time. This is when children are growing in mind and body. They ask lots of questions and want to know about everything. If the parents are not there to answer the questions, then pre-schools are the next best thing.

“But only a handful of our children have the chance to attend a pre-school. Out of five and a half million black children under the age of six, only 110 000 are at pre-school.”

Ma Mali explained that the government has not built many pre-schools for black children. For example, there are only six DET pre-schools in the whole of Soweto and these are very full. Parents put their names on the waiting list and wait for years. Ma Mali says that she knows many parents whose names are still on the waiting list, even though their children are now in primary school!

Most of the pre-schools in the township are private. But many working mothers cannot pay the fees for private pre- schools. Sometimes the fees are as much as R160 a month. “Because of apartheid, our women are paid peanuts,” says Ma Mali. “They earn so little because of the colour of their skin and because they did not get a good education.

“At the FEDTRAW pre-schools, we only charge R20 a month. And we also take children whose parents cannot afford to pay.”

Ma Mali told us with pride that FEDTRAW has started over forty pre-schools in Soweto, Eldorado Park, Noordgesig and Evaton as well as in Tafelkop in Lebowa. They now have requests from people in Pretoria and other areas around Johannesburg to help start pre-schools there.

150 SMILING FACES

Learn and Teach went along to visit one of the pre-schools in Rockville, Soweto. The school is in a big hall at the South African Legion and Social Club.

When we arrived, we found about 150 children in the hall. They were sitting at little tables on brightly coloured chairs. The children were listening to a story that a teacher, Thandi Buthelezi, was telling them.

When the children saw us, they started laughing and clapping their hands. “Woza! Woza!” they called, inviting us to come in. You could see that these children were not shy with strangers!

Thandi explained to us that it is very important to give our children confidence. Many DET schools, she said, did everything to break a child’s confidence. Children at these schools are afraid to ask questions. They are made to listen to everything in silence.

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FEDTRAW teachers, Ma Elizabeth Mpotulo, Ma Dinah Nkomo and Ma Winnie Mazibuko talk to Saul Molobi of Learn and Teach

At the FEDTRAW pre-schools, the teachers want the children to ask questions. “We want them to leave here with their thinking sharpened,” said Thandi. “And you know, the school principals are now telling parents to bring their children here because they do much better in their exams.”

Thandi then took out some toys to give to the children. These were not just any toys — they are special toys that help children to develop their minds. For example, there were jigsaw puzzles and building blocks. “We struggle for money,” said Thandi, “and the teachers get very low salaries. But we only give our children the best toys. We believe that toys help children to learn.

“We teach our children to work together from the very beginning. Our games are not competitive. We do not want to develop the spirit of competition among our children. And that is how education must be.” Are the FEDTRAW methods working?

“Yes!” said Thandi. “Our children treat each other as equals. When they play they share everything and they treat each other with respect.”

“APARTHEID — A ROTTEN TOMATO!”

We asked Thandi how one teacher can look after so many children. “Oh no!” she laughed. “There are more than seven teachers here. In fact, we try to have one teacher for every 15 children. In that way, we can give each child the attention he or she needs.”

Just then, we were joined by two other teachers, Ma Winnie Mazibuko and Ma Dinah Nkomo. They had been in the kitchen making lunch for the children. It smelled delicious and our stomachs began making funny little noises.

We asked the two teachers about how they were trained. Ma Winnie explained that many of the teachers do not have matric or even Standard Eight. “But this is not important,” she said. “It is more important that our women feel that they can help build a new South Africa by doing something for their communities.”

All the pre-school teachers are given a three-month course in Early Learning at Funda Centre in Soweto. The course is run by Ma Mali, who was a primary school teacher for many years. Afterwards, the teachers go on follow- up courses which are also run by Ma Mali.

“The course was hard work,” remembers Ma Dinah with a smile. “But it was also a lot of fun. We were in an ‘each one, teach one’ situation. We encouraged each other to write non-sexist and non-racist literature. We workshopped songs and short stories and by the end of it, we had written a book called ‘Our Mama’.

“The book is full of stories and poems by the FEDTRAW women. One poem starts: “Apartheid is a rotten tomato. Freedom is a sweet potato.”

The stories try to explain to the children about apartheid. Ma Winnie explains: “As mothers we did not know how to tell our children about apartheid. And our children were always asking questions. How do you tell your little girl that she can’t go to the beach because it is for whites only? In the book, we tried to think of ways of talking to our children about these problems.”

CLOUDS AND RAINBOWS

Not everything is plain sailing at the pre-schools. There are some difficulties. “One of the problems is getting fathers to come to meetings,” said Ma Winnie. “Many fathers think that children are women’s business. We are trying to show the fathers that having a child is both parents’ responsibility.

“Another problem is that we are harassed by the health authorities. Not all the pre-schools are held in halls. In some communities, the councillors refuse to give us halls. So we have to hold them in people’s houses.

“This means that there are a lot of children in one house and the health authorities complain. But we ask them: “How can you say it’s okay to have ten people living in one house, but it’s not okay for us to look after children in our own homes? At least in our pre-schools they are safe.”

The pre-schools have also been harassed by the Security Branch. They said the teachers were teaching the children politics. It is only in the last few months that these visits have stopped.

While we were talking, a little child in brown trousers arid a woolen cap came up to us. He was wearing boots with pictures of clouds and rainbows on them.

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It’s playtime! A FEDTRAW teacher leads the children outside for fun and games

“What’s your name?” we asked him. He said his name was Xolani Vilakazi.
“Do you like this school?” we asked.
“Yes! I love it here,” he said, clapping his hands.
“How old are you?”
He scratched his head and lifted five fingers, counting one by one: “One, two, three, four and five… I am five years old!”
We all laughed. It was good to see such a happy child.

It was getting late. The big brothers and sisters were arriving to fetch their younger ones. It was time to go home. But before we went, the children asked if they could sing us a song. They sang a freedom song about Comrade Mandela. And when we asked them who Mandela was, they told us he is their leader.

As we left, one of our colleagues said he wished he was still young enough to have the chance to attend a FEDTRAW pre-school. He’s a little too old to do that now!

NEW WORDS
confidence — if you have confidence, you are proud and sure of yourself
non-sexist — non-sexist ideas say that men and women are equal in every way
non-racist — non-racist ideas say that all people, whatever their colour, are equal

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