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Covid-19 lockdown activity report no 4

Social distancing in a classroom. Additional donor funding has enabled us to replace some double desks with single desks, and we intend replacing all single desks in the future.

Like many other educational institutions, Covid-19 has presented us with major and complex challenges. In the report that follows, we outline the steps we have taken to the end of the year to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our learners while ensuring their safety as well as that of teaching staff and parents.

ECD and Effective Parenting

For six months, our young farm children did not attend the ECD Centre, and our Effective Parenting Programme trainers could not visit families on the farms. Consequently, we were pleasantly surprised by the results of  the baseline tests conducted at the beginning of September. We believe this is due to steps taken to ensure that the stimulation and communication between mother and child continued.

We provided each parent with a home pack which included magazines, home-made puzzles and wordless story books, aimed at helping children to identify colours, shapes and sizes, and body parts. Tangram sets were handed out for children of all ages, and the puzzles have different levels of difficulty. This helped children to continue developing their problem-solving, observation, eye-hand co-ordination, concentration and reasoning, and pattern-making skills.

The fact that all the children were restricted to their homes and farms during lockdown made them focus on and interact with each other more. Older children told and read stories to younger siblings they played with during that time. This became clear as three-year-olds could retell simple stories and rhymes, and even describe the functions of different body parts. Older siblings also developed an interest in the milestone posters, and played developmental games with the babies.

We have laid a solid foundation by developing visual material for mothers, and now the older children are taking an interest and can follow the process as well. Positive feedback from the field workers after farm visits had resumed made us realise that we are changing a historically deprived community into an informed one, following the correct steps needed to develop babies and toddlers before they start pre-school at the age of three.

Use of cell phones

It was a challenge for the field workers to reach the families on the different farms during lockdown, but we found ways with the limited technology at our disposal. Every household has one or more cell phones, and although we do not have cell phone reception on the farms, we do have Internet coverage.

Given this, the WhatsApp function on the phones allowed us to communicate with our parents and send them visual and audio material. Farms were assigned to each EPP trainer, and if they needed to meet a mother, this took place at the clinic on a Wednesday. In this way we could monitor both the nutrition and development of babies and toddlers during their vital first 1000 days.

From September onwards the field workers visited every family on farms in the area served by the Trust to observe and assess their wellbeing. We are happy to report that no farm workers were laid off due to Covid-19, and everyone in the district remained healthy and well.

Pregnancies and anti-FASD campaign

The field workers visited six pregnant women and continued to use ‘Suzie Dop’, our Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) workshop doll, to demonstrate the dangers of mothers drinking while pregnant. Five mothers pledged to stay sober. Unfortunately, the sixth woman, a Karoo nomad, has a history of alcoholism, and is still drinking.

Health outreach workers regularly visited families to check clinic cards for scheduled clinic visits. Two babies were underweight, and referred to the clinic in Colesberg to register for baby milk hampers issued as part of the government’s anti-stunting drive. Milestone posters were handed out earlier in 2020, and regular visits helped to keep the development of babies and toddlers on track.

Bigger classroom

Our pre-school will move into a more spacious classroom in 2021. The teacher is preparing for six new three-year-olds as well as 11 four-year-olds — a total of new 17 learners. She will not have an assistant, as we have currently have no interns. Thirteen five-year-olds are ready to move to Grade 00. They know their Basic Concepts in their mother tongues, and are ready for a transition to English in 2021.

All these learners live on farms, and we could maintain and even grow their knowledge during lockdown. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same of the learners in Grade 00, as some live in Colesberg and could not be reached. Five learners have not reached the required level of competence, and we suggested that they repeat Grade 00 in order to provide them with a better foundation for progressing to English-language teaching in Grade R. In total, we will have 18 learners in this class.

Umthombo Wolwazi Intermediate School

We welcomed our Grade R and Grade 6 learners back on 6 July. Children were very anxious, and we put various measures in place to help them cope and feel safe. These included stress release exercises for Foundation Phase learners, done very morning to calm learners and focus their minds. Devised by our teacher trainers, they have been very effective, and popular among teachers and learners alike. We had hoped to extend this to all learners, but this was ruled out by the Department of Education’s stringent Covid-19 prevention measures. Online learning has continued with learners staying at home, but this has not been very successful.

We are grateful for emergency funding from our donors. This has enabled us to acquire all the additional PPE equipment we need to keep our community safe. Although in July we felt the ripe was ripe for our learners to return, we were faced with several challenges, one of them surrounding transport. We usually fit 13 learners into our vehicles, but with social distancing only six learners could be transported at a time. As a result, classes were divided into two groups which would come to school on alternate days.

PPE were bought and distributed among the staff including see-through masks to enable learners to have a better view of teachers while they were teaching. We were ready despite the challenges of social distancing, even in a small school like ours.

Teachers and support staff have worked tirelessly to ensure a safe environment. During a management meeting we agreed that children who failed would not advanced to the next grade on the grounds of age, but should rather repeat the grade, thus giving them a better foundation for further schooling.

The Trust has assisted the school to buy 50 single desks for children in the intermediate and senior phase to enable them to maintain social distancing. This seems to be the way forward, and we hope to replace all the double desks in time.

Food parcels and transport

The emergency food parcel programme for most of the ten Karoo nomad families in our area ended on 30 June. When the country moved to lockdown level three, farmers re-employed the nomads, and they were again able to fend for themselves. Health workers are keeping an eye on the nomad children, and looking for signs of renewed alcohol abuse.

Up to September, we assisted nomad parents who needed to go to town to receive their SASSA grants with transport, as lifts were not as regular as before. Families that still had no employment were assisted with food parcels to end September. They can now commute to town either with lifts from farmers or using their donkey carts.

We have assisted parents with transport fees by giving them a three-month payment holiday. We thank our donors for the Covid funding that has enabled us to do this.

Health Clinic

The Hantam Community Health Clinic continues to monitor the health of the community, manage immunisation and family planning programmes, and monitor the eight people on ARVs. Our clinic never closed, and we are happy to report that we had no Covid 19 casualties in our community. Moreover, our lockdown interventions with mothers has ensured that no child or adult has gone hungry or cold. Our health workers continue to inform and educate the community around Covid 19, familiarising them with the ‘new normal’ for staying healthy and keeping safe.

From January to November, 979 patients visited the clinic, an average of 89 patients seen and treated on a Wednesday. Eight women tested positive for pregnancy. Six are from farms in our area, and are being monitored by the field workers. One was a visitor from town, and the eighth woman had a miscarriage during her first trimester. Our clinic referred her to the Lowryville state clinic in Colesberg.

During the lockdown months the clinics in town had a shortage of family planning as well as chronic hypertension medication, which placed our parents in a precarious situation. Fortunately, the Trust could order and pay for the necessary medication from the local pharmacy with Covid 19 emergency funds made available to us by some of our donors. This helped us to walk to extra mile for the already stressed and anxious members of our community.

A total of 77 women received family planning on time, thereby preventing unwanted pregnancies. Babies were immunised on the dates recorded in their clinic cards, and the sisters coming from town ensured that the various immunisations were available at all times.

Patients suffering from high blood pressure are very good about coming to the clinic for check-ups: 511 check-ups were done, which would not have been possible if the clinic was closed for six months during lock down. A total of 316 people visited the clinic for flu medication; they all received 3 in 1 flu tablets as well as cough mixture.

Bursary students

This has been a challenging year for our 17 bursary students who could only attend school for 19 weeks. The schools our bursary students attend have large learner numbers, and struggled to implement social distancing. As a result, learners could only go to school every second week. They also received school work via WhatsApp, which enabled them to work from home.

The students received reports after assessments in October; unfortunately, the last report does not accurately reflect their progress, as they have been assessed on a reduced curriculum. We are worried about them coping in 2021, and will keep an eye on those who might need interventions.

Youth Development Programme

The 2020 Culinary Diploma Students completed their practical cooking exam on 3–4 June. They all passed, with two students scoring 80%; five scoring 70% and two scoring 60%. They then went on a much-needed break and returned on 22 June, entering a quarantine period of two weeks.

Pop-Up food shop

Due to Covid 19-and the Level 5 lockdown, these trainees were not able to complete their six-month practicals in the hospitality industry, so we had to find a new solution. Eventually we decided on a Pop Up shop, a facility at the training centre in Colesberg where people could buy frozen meals. We launched a pilot in June, and were delighted to find a real gap in the market. To our surprise, we could hardly keep up with demand, and from June to end October we sold frozen dishes to the value of R32 000. The Pop-up shop remains fully functional, and is run by the students under the guidance of their trainer, Chef Maryke Jeffrey.

We also trained our culinary students in additional entrepreneurial skills including stock control, marketing, financial management, quality control and cost-effective portion planning. This will be a permanent module in 2021.

Students performed their final practical exams on 2—5 November, and wrote their City & Guilds theory exams. All the students passed, with two scoring 80%, four scoring  0%, and three scoring 60%. Six Basic Housekeeping Certificate students found positions at venues employing essential workers. They have completed their practicals, and wrote their exams on 10 September. Five passed and one failed.

Four housekeeping trainees are employed at Merino Inn as cleaners and housekeepers, and one as a waiter/cleaner at Chargo Deli. The student who failed in June could not pass the housekeeping exam for a second time in November. She was interviewed and employed by Wimpy as a scullery worker. The work requires less skill and isn’t as demanding.

The June 2019 intake completed their final exam. One dropped out and one failed the practical exam. The eight who passed are all gainfully employed. The one who failed had the opportunity to recook her menu in November, which she passed with 78%. We are busy interviewing students for 2021, and will have a waiting list for the July 2021 intake.

Handyman course

Covid 19 has taught us that we need to equip students with skills that will enable them to generate an income. Many businesses in Colesberg and elsewhere have been forced to shut down, and finding conventional jobs will become more and more difficult.

As a result, we have decided to pilot a handyman course in 2021, consisting of six skills modules taught over 23 weeks, for students aged 17 and older. This time frame will enable two intakes of five students each, totalling ten learners. The catchment area for students will initially be restricted to Colesberg.

The skills modules are roof maintenance; basic plumbing; basic cement work; tiling and painting; basic arc welding; and servicing lawnmowers. Each student will receive hands-on training by a handyman facilitator. Students will receive a certificate from Hantam Community Education Trust once a module has been successfully completed.

  • Our grateful thanks to all our donors for continued support during this difficult time, and a special thank you to those who sent us additional emergency funding, words seem inadequate in expressing or heartfelt gratitude. Thank you and stay safe.