With a population of nearly 200 000 people, Alexandra is juxtaposed next to the richest square mile in Africa, housing some of the poorest people in South Africa. The township is devastated by many social issues including high unemployment, teenage pregnancy and poverty that remain problematic.
As one walks through the streets of Alexandra, colloquially known as “Gomorrah”, one cannot help but notice the cluster of Day Care Centres in the community signifying that the need for child minders is growing exponentially.
Moved by the scourge of child-headed households and rising levels of teenage pregnancy, Emily Mahlobo, Founder of Owethu Day Care decided to do something about it. She opened her day care centre despite the rising cluster of day cares in every corner of her community. Emily wanted to make her centre stand out as the top Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre in the community.
She installed CCTV cameras at the Day Care centre giving her a bird’s eye view of each child, a key feature that stands out in the area. She says that many parents are happy to find the added benefit of knowing that their children are watched vigilantly.
Adorned with bright colours and caricatures of Disney characters, Owethu Day Centre draws you in. The warm welcome you receive from Emily, her staff of 10 and her beaming children, makes one understand why her day care centre has grown from 27 children to 110 children in nine years.
“Initially, the day care had no food, no resources and a shortage of skills. However, we had a desire to start something that could potentially help ease the burden in the community and that is how we started,” she said shyly.
With the help of the Early Care Foundation (formerly known as the ASHA Trust) and The Spur Foundation’s Full Tummy Fund Initiative, Emily began to grow the day care, purchasing equipment, extending the building and increasing capacity to accommodate more children in Alexandra.
Her passion for children is evident as she walks into the various classrooms and the children’s faces light up with a resounding “hello gogo”.
“The day care centre is a result of the support I received from many women in the community over the years. From the friend who encouraged me to become a teacher to the nurse who persuaded me to open my own centre, there has always been strong women cheering me on,” she says confidently.
Emily and nine other women from the local ECD Forum realised they needed to be more than a babysitting service. They approached the Early Care Foundation for assistance to better themselves so they could provide improved services and quality education / development to the children in their care.
The Early Care Foundation develops and facilitates early childhood development training programmes for under-skilled practitioners of home-based crèches in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Western Cape.
“The programme taught our cohort basic ECD Training (meal planning, curriculum design), Financial Management, Child Development and Inclusive education (how to identify children with special needs / learning disabilities and assist them). It was beneficial for me because it really gave me insights into how to run a day care centre with the best interests of the children at heart, while remaining profitable,” Emily says.
She gives a nod to the Full Tummy Fund for helping to build the community of women who are changing the lives of Alexandra’s youngest residents and supporting ECD Centres through the funding invested in their training, donations of educational equipment and carrying out mini make-overs for Mandela Day.
Owethu Day Care centre is one of 39 ECD Centres that are supported by the Full Tummy Fund. To date, the Full Tummy Fund in partnership with the Early Care Foundation has trained 78 women including 39 Principals and 39 Practitioners in various programmes including the C.A.R.E Skills Development Programme, Money Management Skills Programme, Child Development and Inclusion.
The training inspired Emily to think beyond her own crèche. She decided to give back to women in her community and now on a constant basis, she shares her learnings and pushes others to elevate their craft.
In the nine years since she opened her doors to the first six children, Emily has built her business empire that includes a second school. Her future plans include opening a Grade R class and building an Adult Day Care Centre that looks after the elderly in the community.
“My heart bleeds for the elderly. It is important that as a society, we prioritise the welfare of our senior citizens,” she says.
Emily has a vision to, in future be a proud owner of several businesses that serve the needs of the community, creating employment and imparting skills to many women in the community.
In the midst of poverty and many social ills, people like Emily are changing the trajectory of the lives of children in Alexandra. As one drives away from the township, one cannot help but admire the many budding entrepreneurs in the township that have a dynamic spirit of entrepreneurship and continually work to eradicate the endless social ills.