Sbongile Kunene’s husband, Phumukwakhe, makes a good cup of tea.
Something she is very grateful for when she gets home from a busy, noisy day running the iThemba Pre-School in kwaMpumuza. “In a few years I can get my pension, but if I am fit to work, I will rather work. If you stay home just sitting, you will get sick.”
The community of kwaMpumuza is very grateful for Sbongile’s dedication and no doubt will encourage her to stay. While this crèche is slightly more expensive than others in the area, Sbongile is adamant that it is worth it – the service is good, the facility is great, the teachers are the best and the fresh food for lunch is grown right outside in the garden. Determined that even those who are struggling to make ends meet can bring their children here, a simple bursary scheme offers parents the opportunity to volunteer two days a week to cook, clean or garden in return for their child’s fees. “I find it so painful if a child is taken away because of school fees. If I see a parent is struggling, I write their name down and try to find a way to help.”
iThemba Projects is an NPO that partners with the community of Sweetwaters to equip and upskill individuals to provide good quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) and dreams of creating a centre of ECD excellence. The iThemba Pre-School, that Sbongile runs, was started when the local Nkosi asked that iThemba do this because there was no other ECD facility in the newly developed area.
Growing up in rural Greytown, Sbongile was always the caregiver – the person children came to for comfort.
She hoped to train as a nurse, but circumstances prevented her from finishing school. She relocated to Sweetwaters, got married, raised her three boys and persevered until she finally completed her Matric in her mid-forties. She looked after the Sweetwaters Primary Grade R class for a few years and then the crèche at St Raphael’s Church. It was here that she came across iThemba Projects. “I loved to attend their workshops, learning new ways and adding onto what I already knew. But I was thinking I need more knowledge and skills to work properly with the kids.” She enrolled for a course in ECD at Midlands Community College and immediately saw the difference that having a structured curriculum made to her teaching.
It is well known that attending a good pre-school makes a big impact on young lives, particularly under Sbongile’s thoughtful, gentle guidance. She has observed that ‘her’ children are not frightened to go to primary school because they know the routines, are more responsible, can think for themselves and work things out. “I am not just babysitting. I play the guitar and sing with them. My favourite activity is working on colours and shapes. They must be busy and asking questions all the time.”
Sbongile’s respectful way of encouraging parents and giving advice on the challenging topic of discipline, has earned her great admiration from the community.
Local schools too are full of praise for foundation the iThemba Pre-School children have received. Many local children can’t wait to come to crèche – meaning that sometimes she must turn away excited two-year olds!
It makes Sbongile happy to know she has planted little seeds which will blossom in the world. Naturally, her garden at home flourishes under her care, producing her favourite veggies – beetroot, pumpkins and amadumbi. “I am not a lazy woman. It is relaxing to work in the garden when I get home.”
What a difference one determined woman can make in the world, especially when she tries her best, as Sbongile does.