Ubunye works in very isolated and economically impoverished rural villages. Five years ago, in most of these villages, there were no pre-school services and this was a key priority identified by the communities with whom the Ubunye Foundation first started working. Over the last five years we have worked with rural women’s self-help groups to establish ‘Safe Parks’ or non-formal pre-schools in order to make sure that these rural children can get the best possible start in life. The Safe Parks provide a structured daily programme as well as nutrition programme because a child with an empty stomach cannot learn or thrive. Each site was started by a women’s group using their own resources and they were run on an entirely voluntary basis for the first three years. Ubunye was able to access formal training for two teachers at each site and these teachers looked after the children on a voluntary basis. However, no-one can volunteer forever, especially when they have their own families at home and are struggling to put food on the table.
In order to be sustainable in the long-term these 9 Safe Parks need to be registered with the government’s Department of Social Development in order to be able to apply for public funding. Unfortunately, the registration and funding system for ECD sites is highly dysfunctional, (nationally but particularly in our province), and despite much hard work over the last two years with support from Ubunye, the groups have not yet been able to achieve this. The process is hampered by overly complex bureaucracy, poor local government capacity, significant backlogs and funding shortages.
Since 2016 Ubunye has been able to raise funds to provide a basic stipend of R1000 (approx. $80) per month for each of the 14 teachers whilst supporting the groups to complete the registration process. These are passionate and committed women but there is a risk that they will have to look elsewhere to earn an income in order to support their families and this will seriously jeopardize the future of the Safe Parks.
As of 2018 all 9 sites are now fully supported by the government and the teachers are earning a salary.