About the Bulungula Incubator
The Bulungula Incubator was established in 2007 to address the challenges of rural poverty in our community while promoting and preserving the positive effects of traditional African lifestyle and culture. This remote rural area fell into a backwater area of the Transkei “homeland” during Apartheid. Development in the homelands, especially of the rural areas, was practically non-existent. Little has changed post democracy, and still today basic government services such as roads, clean water and healthcare do not reach many villages. Formal education has always been, and remains, extremely weak.
The most remote village of this district is Nqileni. The Bulungula Incubator offices are located here and this is the centre of its activities in the area. With a population of approximately 800 people, the closest clinic is a 2 hour walk away, there is no potable drinking water, no access to electricity, no toilets and, until recently, school lessons took place under the trees. Only a handful of people from Nqileni have ever succeeded in achieving their final school year certificate. Almost all adults in the village are illiterate. For their livelihoods, the people of Nqileni are reliant on subsistence farming, government grants, wage remittances from migrant workers and, since 2004, income from the community-owned Bulungula Lodge and later from the Bulungula Incubator. Over half the village population is under 21 years of age and 10% of the adults work outside the village in migrant positions. The health of the population is compromised not only by the inaccessibility of health care provision, but also by insufficient health knowledge, poor nutrition, poor water quality, HIV and cystercicosis.
Nqileni village thus epitomises the most acute poverty challenges of the country: a legacy of non-existent or poor education provision, a limited subsistence economy which forces many people out of the village into migrant labour and an absence of basic government services. Despite this, the village has an immense richness in other ways: there is a strong sense of community and history, the land is incredibly fertile and breathtakingly beautiful, there are still pockets of excellence in subsistence farming, and the people have a strong desire to work towards improving their situation. It is this combination of difficulties and strengths that make Nqileni village an ideal place to develop innovative responses to rural challenges.
The first step in this direction was the establishment of the Bulungula Lodge which was established in 2004, in a joint ownership venture with the community. The Bulungula Lodge is now a Fair Trade accredited eco-lodge popular with international tourists. It provides an income to half the households in Nqileni village and has paid a profit dividend to the community every year since being established. Over the past four years, the Bulungula Incubator has built on the developmental success of the Lodge with a range of projects in the areas of Education, Basic Services, Sustainable Livelihoods and Health and Nutrition. Although it was launched in Nqileni Village, the NGO has now expanded into the 4 villages in the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area, serving a population of about 6000 people.
About the Early Childhood Development Project
Education is a central focus of the integrated rural development strategy of the Bulungula Incubator. Rehabilitation of No-ofisi Senior Primary School was the project that prompted the formal incorporation of the NGO in 2007. At that time the only educational facility available was a collapsed wattle and daub structure where little teaching of any kind took place.
While working in this area we have found it challenging to mobilise the community to exercise their right to demand quality education for their children. Their expectations of the schools in the area are, understandably, limited to that which they themselves have experienced. Few adults in the area have ever experienced any formal education and those who have, have experienced little different to that of dysfunctional schools like No-ofisi SPS. We then established the Jujurha Education Centre (JEC) in mid 2009 as part of our efforts to demonstrate the delivery of excellent education in the area.
Although a few daycare facilities and play centres are dotted around some villages in our area, there are no institutions that offer ECD education. The positive impact of early childhood education is now widely acknowledged: a vast body of research exists to inform societies and educational institutions of its importance. The earliest of life experiences have a direct impact on the development of the brain and future lifelong cognitive ability. The value of early intervention in the lives of all children cannot be overemphasized, yet benefits increase significantly for children living in under-served populations where parents have had little formal education themselves, in environments with limited access to books and educational toys. The JEC addresses this gap with a holistic approach to early childhood education with attention to physical, social, emotional, and mental development. The Centre is open to all 3-6 year-olds of Nqileni Village. In addition to this, it offers library
facilities for the whole community and support for schools in the area through our After School Enrichment and Rural Schools Outreach programmes. During the establishment process of the Centre, we actively sought to build local skills, sourcing and training employees directly from the community. We created permaculture gardens to supplement a planned nutrition programme and we developed appropriate infrastructure in an area with no access to running water, electricity, sanitation or road access infrastructure. We developed a practical curriculum delivering excellent early childhood education and managed to access government funding to support the set-up and daily running costs of ECD centres.
Since its launch in mid-2009, the JEC has trained five ECD practitioners from the immediate area. These teachers started with no prior experience and no relevant formal qualifications. At the end of 2010, each child in the 5-6 year old class (Grade R) was formally assessed for school readiness by an independent registered psychometrist. All the children were found to be school ready, and some were found to have exceptional ability. The testing process confirmed the quality of the teacher training methods of the JEC in an environment where children come from homes with no books, educational devices, very few, if any, toys and parents who are very likely to be functionally illiterate.
Financing for ECD through the Government Community Worker Programme
The JEC was initially established through funds obtained from corporates, foundations and individuals. Although this type of funding is accessible and can even sometimes be very generous, it can be unsustainable and difficult to obtain by communities that have limited fundraising skills. In order to assist communities in the surrounding area to establish ECD centres of their own, we have successfully accessed funds made available through the job creation Community Worker Programme (CWP) and now run by the Ministry of CoGTA (this programme was originally launched as the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) managed by the Ministry of Public Works).
The Community Worker Programme is a nationwide government job creation initiative that provides stipends for wages, training and some materials for community-benefiting projects. Initially we accessed funds from the programme for school and road infrastructure repair, fencing of communal grazing land and the removal of alien vegetation and then began to apply them to our ECD projects. At the JEC training, teacher salaries, support jobs like cleaning, gardening and security are all funded though the CWP programme.
At the end of last year, the 3 other villages with which we work, approached us about starting ECD facilities in their areas. The communities offered to provide the land for the preschools, two huts or other suitable dwellings and we would access funds for renovations to the buildings, the set-up of an organic garden, a playground, ECD training and salaries for teachers and support staff from the CWP budget. Onsite training would be done at the JEC while all ongoing running costs for the school and nutrition programme would also come from the government CWP budget. The first of these preschools was successfully opened on 1 June this year and we expect to launch a further two by early next year.