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Singakwenza, which means “We can do it” is a Non-Profit Organisation providing Early Childhood Education to economically disadvantaged communities.

From Pietermaritzburg to Washington DC

From Pietermaritzburg to Washington DC

Thank you, N3 Toll Concession, for including this article in your Mobility magazine: (http://n3tcjournals.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/n3tc-mobility-summer-edition-2018-compressed.pdf)

“In November, Singakwenza, KwaZulu-Natal’s award-winning Early Childhood Development (ECD) Organisation, had the honour of sending its director, Julie Hay, to Washington DC where she attended and presented at the world’s largest ECD Conference.
With more than 9 000 international delegates, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Annual Conference is the world’s signature ECD event. This year the annual NAEYC Conference was held in Washington DC and Julie Hay was there to share Singakwenza’s journey with the esteemed international audience.
“I have wanted to attend the conference for a number of years, but knew that I would need to get sponsorship to go. In January I applied to be a speaker for one of the sessions, and was advised in July that I had been selected. I was so grateful to Emirates Airline Foundation for agreeing to sponsor my flights to this opportunity of a lifetime,” says Julie Hay, still beaming with excitement from her recent trip.
At the conference, Hay gave a presentation on “Maximising Resources” and challenged the delegates to come up with what they thought was the greatest resource they had in their classroom.
“I asked them what they couldn’t do without and what was the first resource they would save if the classroom was on fire. A number of items were named, and then I invited them to consider whether perhaps THEY were actually the greatest resource in their classroom. Without an invested, skilled and caring educator in the classroom, resources become redundant, irrespective of how much they cost. However, with the right teacher, all resources, including those made from recycling, become tools of exploring, developing and learning.”
Hay then shared the Singakwenza-experience with the practitioners.
“I explained to them how we work with almost no resources, but how, through our early childhood development and training programme, educators obtain the skills to provide the children in their care with numerous purposeful play activities every day. The delegates were amazed to see how many resources they could make from household packaging that is usually thrown away,” says Hay.
Delegates had the opportunity to make a ball using plastic bread bags and a netlon vegetable bag, and tried out a number of activities with it. “Their feedback was tremendously positive, including a newfound appreciation of the fact that an investment in oneself as an educator is a better investment than the expensive toys that were available at the Expo.”
Hay was able to attend a number of sessions on the days she wasn’t presenting, and says she enjoyed the exposure to a variety of acclaimed speakers who gave her many new ideas that will further enrich Singakwenza’s programme.
“I had wanted to find out how a second language was introduced in a classroom environment that was predominantly single language-based. A person’s brain is at its most receptive to learning languages in the early years and a child can learn up to four languages before the age of 4! However, in South Africa, most of our children are not exposed to the language they will write their Matric in until they are in Primary School. This makes studying in the second language so much harder for them.
My primary focus at the conference was to find what methods various preschools had used and which were most recommended to introduce a young child to a second language. We will be asking some of our crèches to try one of these methods next year.
It was an incredibly beneficial experience and I am truly grateful for this opportunity,” ends Hay.”

Singakwenza…from a dlalanathi pespective

Singakwenza…from a dlalanathi pespective

A dlalanathi perspective on working with Singakwenza…by Linda Smallbones.

It’s early on a Monday morning and we’re all just starting to gather at the venue, getting ready for our workshop. We unload our car, the two of us each having an armload of stuff – shew, this is quite the load for a morning workshop I think as we cart it into the silent, dusty hall.

In rolls Singakwenza, their double cab bakkie packed to the rafters with…recycling! But it’s not actually recycling at all. It’s TOYS! It’s access and opportunities to PLAY! As dlalanathi we are a two-person strong team today. They’re a four-person team and we soon see why. There is a lot of recycling that goes into making toys, but the team unpacks it with efficiency and apparent ease. They’re a team, they’re committed, they’re cheerful and open, and it is a joy to work with them. By the time they have unpacked, the hall is full of colour and the dust seems to have blown away and it is most definitely no longer silent but full of laughter!

This one day workshop we’re running together is actually the start of a working partnership that is ongoing. That’s almost 4 years of working together with one of the most innovative, creative NGOs in KZN. They’re professional and have I mentioned committed? Many times over these years I have seen various 210-065 vce members of the team in and outside of working hours, going where they need to go to promote Early Childhood Education and Development, with the same cheerfulness and commitment as I witnessed in that first workshop we facilitated together.

They’re the early learning experts and dlalanathi brings our expertise in parenting and emotional communication through play. Our joint capacity https://www.pass4lead.com/700-501.html building in home-based, parent-led play and communication is a win-win combination. Using relationship and play to stimulate early learning at home is our joint passion and focus of our partnership.  Together, we promote stimulation for young children, many of whom don’t have access to early childhood education. We promote play, protection and stimulation in the home. No fancy programmes or toys 210-260 vce required, just the significant caregiver and his or her willingness to sit on the play mat with his/her child and make an opportunity for shared joy together. We believe in promoting relationship between the caregiver and their child, of the importance of their interactions as their child’s first teacher. We desire to leave the caregiver with a sense of confidence to play with their child in such a way that their relationship is strengthened, the child’s cognitive, emotional and social growth is being stimulated and they are having lots of fun together!

dlalanathi have been honoured to work with Singakwenza. We’ve had our professional https://www.pass4lead.com/700-505.html skills stretched and enjoyed learning from our complimentary practices as NGOs. Together we’ve learned about what has worked and not worked in piloting a brand new home visiting ECD programme. It’s been fascinating, frustrating, stretching and encouraging by turns, as with anything you attempt for the first time…..this is, of course, the way with all the BEST kind of learning!!!


Waste to Toys and a whole lot more by Amy Rand (North Dakota)

Waste to Toys and a whole lot more by Amy Rand (North Dakota)

On Tuesdays I join a group of volunteers who make learning toys through an organization called “Singakwenza.”  We transform waste – plastic jugs and lids, bread bags, cereal boxes- into activities that support the developmental needs of preschoolers.  The matching puzzles, jump ropes, lacing toys, and sequencing sets, along with training in how to use them, are provided to women who care for young children.  “Singakwenza” means “We can do it!” and believe me, there is nothing these people cannot do!

I still remember the thoughts in my head while driving the first time to this Tuesday volunteer group.  “Are toys made from trash really the best this society can do for poor kids!?   Just like in my country, why is it that teachers are always the ones having to make more with less?  Doesn’t using rubbish to create preschool activities sidestep the real issue – the enormous disparity in quality education that exists between rich and poor children?”

Those were my questions before I met Julie Hay (below right), Linda Hill (left), and the other amazing staff at Singakwenza.


Those questions are still important to me and critical for South Africa (and our own country) to face.  But the fact is, every day there are young children here missing out on the early learning experiences proved to impact a child’s future.  In addition to the “Yes, we can!” philosophy, Singakwenza is also about, “Children cannot wait.”

Julie founded this organization after a long career teaching early childhood education in affluent communities.  She told me, “Why should people feel they need expensive toys for their children to have early learning experiences?” and, “If caregivers don’t understand what and how children are learning, then even the best toys have little value.”  These sorts of observations are par for the course in conversations with Julie, and they are a window into the philosophy behind this organization.

I’ve heard Singakwenza staff refer to their work as a “hand-up not a hand-out” when talking about why they don’t just give out educational toys.  They are deeply committed to mentoring caregivers who are learning the process of teaching in and managing their own creche (what we in the U.S. call a “preschool”).  It is very common for individual women here to provide informal daycare for neighborhood children whose parents are working.  This person is usually poorly paid and undervalued, despite the fact that she can play a pivotal role in the development of the young children in her care.

Singakwenza staff mentor creche leaders over a two-year period as they develop a structured educational program using recycled materials.  Just think- with the templates, the know-how, good scissors and a marker pen, these women are prepared to support early childhood learning even after their participation in the mentoring program ends.  I am captivated by stories of creche leaders who are uplifted by their new identity as professionals when they find they are growing their own sustainable business.

Tuesday morning “Meet-N-Make” gatherings are what I imagine an old-fashioned quilting bee felt like.  Busy hands churn out the day’s “product” while easy conversation flows.  “What are we making today?” is the standard greeting.  Or you might hear the plea, “Please, tell me we’re not cutting out ‘threes’ again!” (referring to the 350 templates of the number three we had cut out for two weeks in a row).  But usually it’s a delightful surprise to discover what we can make materialize from a bunch of trash:


animal matching cards from toy catalog cut-outs and paperboard, or:


pattern sequencing boards from cereal box tops, soda lids, and colored circles cut from old magazines, or:


skipping ropes, ball toss toys, or binding for homemade board books from recycled bread bags.


First we cut loops from the old bags, then connect these into long strands which are plaited together (what we call “braided”).  I can vouch for how time consuming this project is but also how perfectly weighted and durable these ropes are!


The waste for all these creations is collected by schools and individuals.  At my children’s school for example, students bring in clean yogurt containers, bread bags, and cereal boxes to place in collection bins.  Once at Singakwenza, staff sort the materials in this room in preparation for upcoming projects.



We can always count on learning the how and why of the things we make – whether in conversation or at one of the displays.






Most of the Tuesday volunteers never see the faces of the creche leaders or children who use what we make; but we hear the stories, see the pictures, and believe in the people behind this organization.  We grasp the potential for the Singakwenza model to improve early childhood learning needs throughout South Africa, indeed across this continent and our world.

It sounds easy-peasy: toys can be made from trash for free!  But it does take money to run an organization such as this and I know any contributions toward their work would be welcome.  Furthermore, if you have ideas or leads on ways to broaden Singakwenza’s funding base in order that they might respond to the constant requests to bring their program and training to new areas- please be in touch!

And if you’re intrigued by all this, I encourage you to view this video about Singakwenza.

Several months into our stay here, I commented to my husband Scott that what bothered me more than the crippling poverty experienced by so many was that I just hadn’t met people who seemed to care about changing it.  I have since become acquainted with many people acting to improve things here including these humble volunteers who turn up week after week.  I will miss each of you and our regular time together!


P.S.  It has been said frequently at these gatherings, “Why hasn’t Julie done a TED talkyet?”  Maybe nobody has bothered to nominate her!  So I decided to change that and nominated you, Julie, for a talk and for the annual TED prize.  Who knows, their website says “It only takes one nomination…”  Whether in that forum or another, I dream the attention will grow because I can hardly think of better “ideas worth spreading” than those embodied in the work of this organization!