The future is in the hands of the youth, but their development starts before they can even walk; this is Carolyn Reid’s fervent belief and passion, and why she dedicates her time and skills to ensuring that children under five, in the most disadvantaged areas in Johannesburg, have a hand-up before they begin pre-school.
In 2007 Reid was approached by a friend who had been working in Alexandra, training people in home-based care for the chronically and terminally ill. "My friend found that many of the homes she visited had people looking after children, but there was no stimulation for them. Instead they were fighting, screaming, uncontrolled – or just sleeping. She asked if I could teach these minders how to stimulate the children. It was supposed to be just for a year, so my friend and I put together a basic programme which ran that first year for 15 women," says Reid.
In the first year, her programme, Masenze Ikusasa – which appropriately means "building the future" – teaches the practitioners how to make art projects such as dolls, charts, puzzles and much more from recyclable material. These are used to stimulate the young children and teach them how to count, identify shapes and colours – Reid shows off one the dolls made from a sack of oranges filled with newspapers. The teachers are also taught how to make puzzles from discarded pictures and cardboard.
As Reid was flooded with requests to continue the course, and with her passion for teaching, she agreed to extend the course from one year and took it upon herself to formalise the training. Throughout the course she puts in her own money and time to ensure that the practitioners, who spend hours with the children, are fully equipped to arouse their minds and entertain them.
"You can change the world by giving these children an opportunity to learn at that age.When they hit school they fly, they have all they need to excel," says Reid who lights up when she talks about the children. "This is such an exciting time in their lives. The need to learn is so ingrained in little children, no matter where they come from; you just need to stimulate and guide it so it can become a tool they can use for the rest of their lives."
Reid qualified as a teacher in the 1970s for up to Grade Three, primary and pre-school training. Though she has taught most age groups she found herself the happiest when she was with the younger children. She has worked for a non-governmental organisaation which focused on arts and culture education, and started training programmes in inner-city schools training – in garages, on top of high-rise buildings and in vacant shops: "Working like this I realised the huge impact of people using their hands and getting practically involved in things; that’s where and when I got a lot of ideas that I use in the course."
Reid’s focus is not only stimulating young children, but also empowering the practitioners who, before the course, had no qualifications or formal training. "My vision was to give them enough basic skills so that the children’s foundational skills were being developed. Probably 90 % of the people on the course go on to get formal qualifications. There is a hunger for people to get the skills, they are just not aware where to get them."
One of Reid’s most successful practitioners is Beauty Mokgotho who joined the course the first year it was held. From a rural background but growing up in Soweto, her life was not easy. After completing the course she continued studying until she qualified as a teacher in 2011. Now, as well as her day job, Mokgotho continues to work at Masenze Ikusasa as a facilitator.
These successes are what keep Reid going: "There are times I think I am mad because this is hard work. My original aim was that the ladies in Alex must own this; it’s their project. I had the ability to start it but I want them to take it up on their own. I will do what I can to help them get to the next level of their lives with the little I have." (Athandiwe Saba, City Press, South Africa)