Caring for children, sick people and the elderly is often the unpaid, unacknowledged work of women, particularly poor women, in many societies. South Africa is no exception. It was thus an important step in the right direction when the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) was introduced, including public social programmes as one of its priority areas. It is significant that the design of the EPWP reached beyond infrastructure development, which is the only role with which many associate it.
The EPWP, now in its second five-year phase, seeks to create work opportunities in public social programmes, including community-based health care, social welfare and early childhood development. People, mostly women, are deployed as “volunteers” through NGOs and CBOs, receiving a monthly stipend in return for their labour in some of the most challenging settings in our country. This includes home-based care of the sick and elderly and work with children in ECD centres, after-care and drop-in facilities. The “volunteers” are not employees, and receive stipends rather than wages, and thus are not covered by labour legislation. The stipend varies, but mostly is around R1 200 per month.
Some of the organisations to which “volunteers” are attached are established, reasonably resourced and well run, while others are small, under-funded entities, which nonetheless are a critical component of grassroots civil society and key delivery agents of social services. The experience of the “volunteers” varies greatly, depending on the organisations at which they are placed.
The Department of Social Development is the lead department for services for children from 0 to 4, and, as a provincial competence, the implementation of the EPWP has varied considerably. In some provinces steady progress has been made in providing training for the “volunteers”, particularly in nationally-registered qualifications in Social Auxiliary Work and Child and Youth Care Work. Where this has occurred, future job and career path opportunities have been greatly enhanced. In other provinces, training efforts have been uneven. Equally, the administration of the EPWP for the social sector has differed across provinces. In some, the transfer of stipends to NGOs and CBOs is often delayed, and “volunteers” work for months without pay.
Ububele's strategy of working with the EPWP
Since 2010 Ububele has been providing training in child development and promoting emotional literacy for children to over 40 community-based organisations in Gauteng which use EPWP “volunteers” in childcare settings. The process began with Ububele being awarded a contract to train 100 “volunteers” by the Gauteng Department of Social Development, though the funding dried up, without reasons provided, within two years.
Ububele was left with a challenge. It had developed relationships with over 40 CBOs and with the “volunteers”, who were seeking more training as well as ongoing support, as many of them were working, with limited knowledge and skill, with orphans and vulnerable children with urgent and complex emotional needs. “Dumping” them was not an option. The decision was to seek donor funding, and the DG Murray Trust responded to a proposal to fund the training of 180 childcare workers over three years, both leveraging the initial investment by the state and responding to the articulated needs of the “volunteers” and the CBOs to which they were attached. With each childcare worker interacting with at least 20 children a day, the investment in training 180 “volunteers” would affect 3 600 children.
Training can be a “gift that goes on giving” or an investment which yields long term dividends, but with a proviso – the childcare worker needs sufficient support and capacity-building to be able to continue doing the work. Without adequate ongoing emotional support and further training, the danger of burnout is high. Without regular payment of the stipend, the risk of throwing in the towel is great. Without means of caring for the carers, the whole enterprise is threatened. This is the challenge to which Ububele seeks to respond with its current training programme “Thinking about the Early Child” and its quarterly follow-up workshops.
It is useful to think about the scope and scale of the challenges facing children in South Africa. Of 18 million children, nearly 21% (about 3.8 million children) have lost one or both parents. More than 668,000 children have lost both parents, while 122,000 children are estimated to live in child-headed households (Proudlock P, Dutschke M, Jamieson L et al., 2008). These figures exclude the many children, who for other reasons, mostly associated with poverty, may be seen as vulnerable. The cycle of poverty, and particularly the inter-generational transmission of traumatic, dysfunctional relationships, may create conditions in which children are emotionally or physically abused, neglected or exposed to violence. The prolonged absence of parents and other negative factors may also impact on children’s emotional development and subsequent mental health.
Ububele’s strategy has been to develop and deliver training programmes focused on lay people and para-professionals working with children. The purpose of the training courses is to introduce childcare workers and early childhood development practitioners to the emotional aspects of teaching, learning and development with children under the age of seven. This is about exploring the emotional world of the child, from conception through the first few years of life. In addition, the courses aim to facilitate self-awareness and personal growth in the practitioners themselves in order to increase sensitivity and thoughtfulness in their work.
The courses seek to enhance the practitioners’ knowledge, skill and confidence both in working with the emotional and educational development of children and in how to communicate effectively with parents and other caregivers. The courses are experiential, based on adult learning principles and are accessible to people with limited formal education. The training helps to develop knowledge and skill of the childcare practitioners and provides a good grounding in child development theory and psychosocial support.
The training incorporates an observational component where participants are introduced to the skill of purposeful observation. Between training sessions, course participants observe children closely and record their observations, as well as reflecting on their own thoughts and feelings about what they have seen. Participants take turns in sharing their observations and personal reflections with their colleagues during training sessions.
From mid-2011 Ububele has trained 48 “volunteers” from 21 CBOs across Gauteng in the child development course, Thinking about the Early Child, and held 3 quarterly follow-up workshops.
In another Learning Brief (Thinking about the early child) , Ububele outlined its methodology for course preparation, which includes pre-work with the managers of the CBOs and the prospective course participants. By the start of the course, there is strong buy-in from both organisations and individuals. This results in high levels of attendance and course completion, currently 95%, as well as the development of relationships between Ububele, the CBOs and course participants.
The relationships are further cemented in the quarterly follow-up workshops in which most of the time is concentrated on experiential work discussion groups, where childcare practitioners have the opportunity to share their experiences with each other, reflect on their own responses to the issues experienced by the children they care for and consider different ways of dealing with the challenges faced by children and by themselves, who are sometimes secondarily traumatized by learning about what children had faced. In the opening and closing plenary sessions childcare practitioners have an opportunity to engage in dialogue with the two psychologists who facilitated their training courses, probing both theoretical and practical issues.
Ububele recently visited one of the CBOs from which three “volunteers” had attended the Thinking about the Early Child course in child development. The Daveyton Orphan Resource Centre is situated in a large township adjacent to the East Rand town of Benoni. The centre was started in 2005 by a retired teacher, Ms Merriet Mkulise. The centre currently works with 335 orphans and vulnerable children who are between 3 and 18 years old.
The centre aims to provide holistic care for the children. In the mornings, the older children bring their younger siblings to the crèche, where they all eat breakfast. The older siblings then leave for school, knowing that the younger children are cared for. This ensures that they themselves are able to receive an education and have a space in which they are free to be children, without the heavy responsibility of caring for their siblings. At the end of the school day, the school-going children return to the centre, where they all attend after-care. Here they eat another balanced meal, are given homework support, and are provided with much-needed emotional care.
Ms Nomakhasi Adonisi (51) has “volunteered” at the Daveyton Orphan Resource Centre for 5 years. Apart from participating in Ububele’s training courses, she has had no post-school education or training. She volunteers because of her passion for working with children, the enormous need that she has identified in her community and her belief that she has a positive contribution to make.
In the morning, Nomakhasi and two other “volunteers” work with 56 children between 3 and 6 in the crèche. In the afternoons she is involved in the after-care centre, when the older children return from school. Sometimes, particularly when children do not arrive at the centre, she does home visits.
Nomakhasi explained that one of the most useful things she learned was how to observe children. She described how she had learned to be less judgmental and to think more deeply about possible causes underlying children’s behaviour. She had also become more aware of her own emotional responses to the children.
Ms Mkulise, the Co-ordinator of the Daveyton Orphan Resource Centre said that the training had had an impact at an organisational level. In talking to Ms Mkulise, she stressed that "the training really works" and it is good that her staff members understand child development from birth to primary school. She said that access to training was limited, due to financial constraints, and that other than the training through Ububele, only three of the thirty “volunteers” had received training. She said that she viewed Ububele as a partner in the challenging work.
The application of the EPWP for the social sector is an important advance, particularly for many women who would have done the work anyway, without either any pay or opportunities for training. The policy of categorizing these community carers as “volunteers” raises complex issues about payment, employment conditions and career development, but these are inherent challenges in this approach to creating employment opportunities for people who would otherwise be unemployed. The model for the social sector relies on NGOs and CBOs for implementation, and this, too, has advantages and disadvantages as the capacities of the sector are uneven. Nonetheless, the experience of Ububele has been that many children and families have benefited from the programme, and that leveraging the resources put in place by the state is a worthwhile approach to enhancing its longer term effectiveness.
What might some of the implications be for other implementers?
Ububele’s experience suggests that a central thread in a successful interaction with CBOs and their “volunteers” is relationship building. Creating opportunities to get to know each other, before rushing into a training course, leads to opportunities to probe and understand the challenges faced at community level, to learn about the needs which are experienced and to establish whether there is a fit between what is needed and what is offered. If there is synergy, if what is offered is fit for purpose and if the role players understand what each is able to bring to the relationship, there seems to be a good chance of making progress in a training relationship.
The next step seems to be about building trust in the relationship. For a training organisation this seems to centre on being reliable and caring. It is about organizing the training venues and dates consultatively, following up with prospective participants and confirming course participation. Ububele has found the use of SMS both cheap and effective. It is also about being early for every training session, ensuring that the venue is correctly set up, sometimes even cleaning it. It is about small things, like having hot water, tea, milk, sugar and rusks available before training, and ensuring a fresh sandwich at tea time. It is about creating space to reflect, to share thoughts and feelings in a confidential, non-judgmental space. It is about starting and ending training on time every time, creating a framework of dependability, predictability and containment.
Once there is an established relationship of trust, course participants and their managers feel free to talk about the work, the pain and joy of caring for vulnerable children and the need for support and further training. What has emerged for Ububele is the extraordinary commitment of the “volunteers” to child development. Within these established relationships of trust, follow-up work becomes possible. Based on post-course evaluations and ongoing contact, topics for follow-up workshops are suggested. These range widely, directly influenced by what is experienced at community level. Responding to the articulated needs allows people to feel heard, respected and cared for. This may support “volunteers” to continue their nationally-important work.