The evolution of Lingelihle 'Safe Park'
Kalkeni Village is a very remote rural community about 40 km to the north of Grahamstown in the former Ciskei homeland. With extremely high unemployment rates, the population consists mainly of young children and the elderly; working age adults tend to move into nearby towns to look for employment. Like so many rural parts of South Africa, the area has few services for young children and families.
The Masiphakame women’s self-help group of Kalkeni community was started in July 2008 and its members were concerned that there was nowhere for young children to go in the village where they could be safe and cared for whilst their parents were busy during the day. As a result they decided to establish a ‘Safe Park’ for the children of their community. Making use of their own existing assets, the Safe Park was started in a very modest mud flat owned by one of the group members. This small room served as a learning space for the children as well as a meeting place for the group and a venue for training. The Foundation provided some basic indoor and outdoor resources and ran basic training on how to set up a classroom and run a structured daily programme as well as workshops on family health, nutrition, hygiene and children’s rights.
Having witnessed the group’s commitment and dedication over the course of two years, the Ubunye Foundation was able to secure funding through the Nedbank Foundation for an ‘Edutainer’ (a converted shipping container which comes as a fully equipped classroom for up to 25 children). The Edutainer arrived on an enormous flat-bed lorry at the beginning of 2011 and caused quite a stir as it made its way through this very remote rural area and was then hoisted into position by crane.
In 2012 we were able to help the group to add water tanks, which are very valuable in this highly water scarce area, and a veranda which provides a lovely shaded outdoor area. The group also approached a local farmer for second hand materials with which they fenced off the site, we installed toilets and they have developed their own vegetable and herb garden.
The story of Lingelihle Safe Park illustrates how such projects evolve and develop and how this happens at the pace of the community. Lingelihe started very modestly and has grown organically, step by step as the group has become stronger and has continued to pursue their vision.
It is also an example of the role that individual community champions play in catalysing change and driving development. Nomhlobo Gidane is one such individual and she has played a powerful role as a leader in her community.
A former nurse, Mama Nomhlobo moved to rural Kalkeni in 2000. Describing how she got involved, she says, “I like to be busy, I like to be engaged. I like to do something that will build me as a person, that’s why I joined this group”. Due to her passion for health and working with people, Mama Nomhlobo became a Health Champion in her community, monitoring child health and wellbeing at Lingelihle Safe Park and in neighbouring communities, facilitating workshops and conducting home visits.
“My work is to help teachers in these Safe Parks to be aware of health issues and the cleanliness of the environment thereby minimizing the chances of children having worms and other common illnesses”.
Nomhlobo embraces the idea of community-driven development and motivates others to recognize their own agency.
“What I like best is the way the Foundation encourages us to do things for ourselves and not to take hand-outs… Teaching us how to catch a fish instead of waiting for someone to come and give it to us”
She is an asset to her community and expresses great pride in what her women’s group has achieved, especially at Lingelihle Safe Park. Nomhlobo is also an active member of a savings and credit group and is always willing to share her experience and knowledge with others. She recently travelled to KwaZulu-Natal with Ubunye Programme Coordinator, Kathryn Court, where they were invited to facilitate training on child nutrition for a group of eighty early childhood development practitioners and parents.
“As a result of doing this kind of work, I became a person I never thought I could be, someone who communicates easily with others, works with children and understands the needs of the community.”