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.

Covid-19 lockdown activity report no 3

The HCET has assisted the HCI Foundation and eNCA Food Relief to distribute food parcels to 130 families at the Gariep Dam and Norvalspont. Here, some of the recipients appear outside the clinic at Norvalspont with their food parcels. Clinic staff assisted Mary Ann Smith, the HCET financial manager, with the distribution.

The HCET has filed detailed reports about its activities during the Covid-19 lockdown to donors and other stakeholders. The latest report appears below.

Our biggest challenge thus far in this period has been to manage uncertainty and risk. Teachers and learners have prepared themselves to return to school only to have this reversed at the last minute. This uncertainty has added to the stress levels of children, teaching staff and parents. The inability to plan anything has only added to the already high levels of anxiety.

We understand that schools have been closed as part of necessary measures, but this also means that the children no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by a school environment, and they have less opportunity to be with their friends and get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being. Our children returning to school are likely to be experiencing worry, anxiety and fear, and this includes the types of fears similar to those experienced by adults, such as a fear of the unknown, a fear of dying, a fear of their relatives dying, or a fear of what it means to receive medical treatment.

The Department of Education has stipulated that only 50% of the total school may return on a given day. This is not necessarily in the best interest of the child as he/she has already lost over 25% to 55% of teaching hours. In addition, rapid surveys by both Statistics South Africa and the HSRC that have revealed clear increases in rates of hunger among children. Increases in acute malnutrition significantly raise the risk of children dying from pneumonia, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS.

Following ongoing research, Servaas Van der Berg and Nic Spaull of the University of Stellenbosch have stated: ‘It is our view that keeping children out of school is not in the best interests of the child. Consequently, all children should return to schools, crèches and ECD centres without any further delay. The profound costs borne by small children and families as a result of the on-going nationwide lockdown and school closures will be felt for at least the next 10 years. The hidden paradox of disasters is that even if those who suffer today are the elderly, those who will pay throughout their lives will be the youngest.’

At the Hantam Community Education Trust, we are seeking to mitigate the impact of Covid 19 on our children in the most creative and innovative way, while at the same time ensuring the safety of learners, teaching staff and parents.

Effective Parenting and ECD

Although our young farm children are not yet attending the ECD centre and our EPP trainers are not visiting families on the farms, we have put practical solutions in place to ensure that the stimulation and communication between mother and child continue. We have provided each parent with a home pack which includes magazines, big homemade puzzles and wordless story books to help the children with their colours, size, shapes and body parts. Tangram sets were handed out to each family for the children of all ages; the puzzles have different levels of difficulty. The more the children experiment with these shapes the more they develop their skills of problem solving, powers of keen observation, eye-hand co-ordination, concentration and reasoning, matching and pattern-making skill.

The implementation is communicated weekly by WhatsApp with photos and voice mail advice. Each EPP trainer has farms assigned to her, and if she needs to meet with a mother, it is organised at the clinic on a Wednesday. In this way we can monitor both the nutrition and development of babies and toddlers, especially during the first 1000 days. We look forward to real contact time, but at the moment patience is needed.

Umthombo Wolwazi Intermediate Farm School

We welcomed our Grade R and Grade 6 learners back on 6 July. We are dealing with much mental anxiety and have put measures in place to help the children cope and feel safe. We hope to phase in all our grades over the next three weeks. Once this integration has successfully been implemented, we plan to accommodate all the Foundation Phase learners in a creative and constructive way and not only half a class a day going forward. We have the space and staff to implement our plans. Online learning has continued with all learners staying at home, though not very successfully.

We are very grateful for emergency funding from our donors. This has enabled us to have all the necessary additional PPE equipment to keep our community safe. It is now time for all our children to return to school. We are ready despite the challenges of social distancing, even in a small school like ours, and agree with the findings of Nic Spaull and Van der Berg when they argue that trying to mitigate the negligible risk of severe Covid-19 with social distancing in overcrowded state schools is futile, and will just delay learning.

As they have also stated, ‘The department of basic education should acknowledge that it is not feasible for most South African schools to practise social distancing within the classroom.’ The teachers and support staff have worked tirelessly to ensure a safe environment.

Food parcels and transport

The emergency food parcel programme for the 10 Karoo nomad families ended on June 30. When the country moved to lockdown 3, the farmers employed the nomads again, and they are able to fend for themselves. The health workers are keeping an eye on the nomad children, and also looked for any signs of possible alcohol abuse in the period when alcohol sales were allowed. We will continue to assist 18 town school families with food parcels until all the children are back at school.

We are anticipating increasing emergency funding to assist parents with transport costs to school. The taxi owners can only carry 70% of their passengers, so private transport fees have increased substantially. We can only gauge this impact on the attendance once all the children are back in school by the end of July.

Health Clinic

Our health clinic continues to monitor the health of the community, manage the immunisation and family planning programmes and monitor the eight people on ARVs. We are anticipating the weekly clinic numbers to increase as more learners start returning to school. We are happy to report that our lockdown interventions with the 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 so that all adopt the new normal to keep safe.

A total of 87 patients have been seen in this period, and three pregnant women are presently being monitored by our health workers. To date there are no positive Covid 19 cases. Five women received family planning. The eight patients on ARVs receive their medication monthly from the Hantam Clinic and are monitored by the health workers. Thirty one cases of flu and 16 cases of colds and coughs were treated. Immunizations were administered to two babies.

Bursaries

The bursary students at boarding schools were dependent on online teaching during lockdown, but have gradually been phased back into school. All 17 of our grade 10, 11, and 12 students are back at their respective boarding schools.

Youth Development Programme

The nine Culinary Diploma Students completed their practical culinary exam on 3 and 4 June. They all passed, and the results were as follows: two students 80%, five students 70, and two students 60%. They went on a much-needed break, returned on 22 June, and were in quarantine for two weeks. During their absence the trainers planned and tested the dishes, and made the necessary adjustments.

Culinary Diploma students proudly display their baking skills.

We launched a pilot ‘pop-up kitchen’ to test the market and were very excited to find a real gap that needed to be filled. To our surprise we could hardly keep up with the demand and sold R 8 000-worth of dishes in June. The pop-up shop is now fully functional, with the students running the business under the guidance of Chef Maryke.

We are very excited to up-skill our culinary students with additional entrepreneurial skills such as stock control, marketing, financial management, quality control and cost effective portion planning. We are exploring the possibility of establishing a bakery as well.

Six Basic Housekeeping Certificate students, under the supervision of trainer Theo Kleinhans, have now been allowed into a number of venues which accommodate essential workers for the practical part of their course. As they only started again in July, their exams have been postponed to September.

A vote of thanks

Thank you to all our donors for your continued support during this difficult time, and a special thank you to those who have sent us additional emergency funding.We are very grateful. Stay safe !