Friday, 4 July 2014

Ikamva Labantu: Overcoming Challenges, Making a Difference

If the whole organization of Ikamva Labantu had to be described in one word, ‘committed’ would be one.
Ikamva Labantu started in 1963 by a woman named Helen Lieberman after she experienced the squalor, fear, poverty and desperation in the townships, but she also experienced compassion, generosity and warmth in which she built the foundation of Ikamva.
Our Ikamva story started at the Early Childhood Development (ECD) center. One of Ikamva’s many undertakings includes working with educares (i.e. preschools). Too often in townships children are dropped of in these educares that act as nothing more than a place for shelter and hot meals, or just as concerning the classrooms are severely overpopulated for the amount of space available and the ratio to practitioners (i.e. teachers). Sometimes the structure itself can have physical or mechanical issues making it unsafe to harbor children. In any or all of these cases an educare is classified as ‘unregistered’; this is where Ikamva comes in. Ikamva provides a variety of services to help combat these issues to help educares become registered.  Some of these services include principal and practitioner certificate programs, a stimulating curriculum, community based worker visits, and financial support in the form of stipends. Simon and I were lucky enough to sit in on one of the practitioner trainings, which gave insight to the extensive energy, time, and resources Ikamva uses on the community. The training is a yearlong program that gives women usually without either a high school or college degree the proper skills and certification for employment. Transportation to the center is provided as well as lunch, not to mention the certificate program is completely free to the participants.
During the break Simon came up with a name/dance icebreaker and he got really into it!

Our next stop was 2 minutes up the street to Ikamva’s Wellness Center. The Wellness Center offers many services such as an optic center, and aromatherapy center, testing services, and a myriad of workshops such as dental hygiene, preventative care, and heart disease just to name a small few. It is here that much of our own work is based. Simon and I were tasked with starting a pilot project of finding the links and bridging the gap between the educares, clinics, and the parents. Visiting the clinic was first on our list. After we were able to construct a small card for the educares that allowed them to by pass lines when a child in their educare is sick.
Our next set of visits were to the educares themselves mainly to talk to principles, but ironically most of them were at Ikamva’s principal training. However, we did talk to some principles and gained useful information. Additionally, we were able to see some of the conditions of the educares. The community based worker that accompanied us pointed out some of the problems and what programs Ikamva has to abate them.
Here is a picture of one of the educares we went to.
Outside Mzamomhle Educare

A spacious play area outside for the children

What I particularly liked about this one was that, in my opinion, it was the most realistic example of a good educare in a township. It was a corrugated iron shack, however, it was a good size, structurally sound, and had windows. Most importantly, inside looked like any regular preschool. The walls were covered in educational materials and student artwork. The student to teacher to space ratio was sound. The kids wore uniform. The educare hit all the checkpoints for common errors that CBW had pointed out in earlier educares or it was working its way towards solutions of the issues. Although it wasn't the nicest educare that we had seen all day, it showed a realistic goal that other educares can achieve.

Besides the more serious health and community work we do there, I have particularly enjoyed getting to know the people who work there.  When we first got there, people were a little more distant and formal to us, but you can tell the longer we’re there the more people warm up to us. Last week there was an organization meeting when everyone from the ECD center, Rainbow center (Ikamva’s youth center branch we visited), and Headquarters came to the Wellness center. At lunch we reconnected with people we met at ECD and Rainbow and they were like “When are you coming back to Rainbow?!” or “We miss you at ECD!”, which was really nice to hear. 
To put it briefly, the love and commitment that these people have for this organization and their community is indescribable, but if I had to describe it in one word…it’s beautiful.
Me outside the Wellness Centre

-Summer Rak, ‘16

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