By Grow ECD
The Little Lambs centre in Imizamo Yethu, built by the women of Hout Bay has become a beacon of hope and one of the most successful ECD centres in the country. Its remarkable story keeps growing thanks to support from the local community.
In Imizamo Yethu (IY) Hout Bay, Little Lambs Christian Daycare and Educare Centre provides high-quality holistic care, Early Childhood Development (ECD) education and nutritious meals to 300 preschool children. The organisation also ensures that its teachers get fully qualified and it sources ingredients for the meals it provides from the local community.
For women especially, Little Lambs, which started almost 25 years ago, it has been the catalyst that has empowered them to have better lives. This school was built out of a collaboration between the women of the IY, a neighbouring farm community, and a Cape Town couple who wanted to make a difference. A classic women empowering women, good news story.
Marlena van der Walt says, “In 1995, my husband and I got involved with the Kronendal farm in Hout Bay through the church. It was a huge vegetable farm and the farm workers lived in extreme poverty under the dop system - we wanted to help them.”
Continuing, she mentions, “I started by making soup for people working on the farm. Then our mission turned to creating a daycare where some mothers would look after kids, (many of whom came home from school to a lot of drunkenness and terrible conditions), so that other mothers could go to work. Initially, the women on the farm did not want to look after the children because they were illiterate and couldn’t help with their homework. These women were ashamed, and so we started teaching them to read and write. Soon, mothers from IY, the neighbouring township, approached us and said they needed childcare too. And that’s how we slowly started, first with only 16 children in a double garage and portable toilets on the farm."
In 2003, Little Lambs secured a lease and established the formal school on the boundary between Penzance Estate, a middle-class suburb, and the IY township. Since then, the school has grown to take 300 kids working from 11 buildings and providing children with three nutritious meals a day. It is probably the largest and one of the most successful ECD centres in the country.
Marlena further says, “We did not do this alone. So many community women stepped in to help at the preschool. We realised that empowering these women was the key to bringing real change and progress to their lives and so we helped them become qualified teachers. Their transformation was nothing short of inspiring. Our first teacher, Tokkie Moses, was very committed, selling flowers in the morning and then coming to help with the kids. Ellen Silinga, a domestic worker who lived in the township, became our first qualified preschool teacher. And so we grew, and as we grew, we educated more and more children.”
“As the farm women became empowered, they had the courage to tell the farmer to abolish the dop system. My husband negotiated with the farmer, who then gave the workers some land, and built proper cottages for them. He also supported a few of the workers with permaculture training so that they could start growing their own vegetables and flowers.”
“Local women gathered at Little Lambs and we’d teach them to do domestic work, like how to sew, and how to use a washing machine and vacuum cleaner. They made beautiful handbags with T-Bag designs. It became a very sociable place. Nurturing, educating and feeding children is the core of what we do, but it started with helping women, and with the women helping us. To this day, all the characters; the trustees, principals, teachers and our major funders – are all still women.”
Little Lambs has been incredibly blessed with ongoing funding from remarkable women, in particular; Elke Zwicker, Marlis Schaper and the Kinderhilfe Kapstadt organisation. Little Lambs is now well-established and apart from funding and a few administrative tasks, is run by the women employed there.
“We are always looking for more funding, especially from the Cape Town community. By supporting our children, your money empowers the entire IY community because parents can work, teachers get qualified and we employ local and buy locally, so there is a large community upliftment element. We have 300 kids, so we directly impact 300 families,” she says.
Little Lambs is governed by the SEEDS (Schooling, Education, Empowerment, Development and Support) Trust, also established by the van der Walts back in 2015. SEEDS Trust General Manager, Roger Falls, says, “The SEEDS Trust has expanded to work on various projects, but Little Lambs is one of our most successful, for the kids and the teachers who are all level 4 (Grade R) qualified. For our kids, we have achieved an education level where they are sought out by primary schools because they can read and understand what they are reading.”
The future is looking bright at Little Lambs. After many years of successfully overseeing the school, the much-loved headmistress, Geraldine Daniels, has recently retired. She has officially been replaced by a new principal, Ethel Kubalasa, who is highly qualified with a degree in education.
Ethel says, “As a principal I love collaborating with teachers, offering feedback, seeing them grow, and improving their classrooms from day to day. It is my wish to lead with wisdom, truth and vision for Little Lambs Christian Daycare, to help shape minds, conscience, and future respectively. I am not just a principal, I have to inspire others, to change people (children, teachers, parents and the community) and to never give up even when faced with challenges that seem impossible."
Finally, Roger also mentions, “We’re excited about the future of this school. One of the best things about being based in Hout Bay is how the township and middle-class communities help each other. With our school literally right on the boundary between the suburbs and the township, we are a representation of this remarkable community spirit.”