Ten members of staff from GrandWest have volunteered to participate in an early childhood development programme that aims to stimulate the minds of young children in Cape Town’s disadvantaged areas.

The Finding Thabo pilot project will be run by Stellenbosch-based NGO The Reach Trust. In addition to receiving physical assistance from the GrandWest staff volunteers, the project will also receive funding of R25 000 from GrandWest.

The Trust’s focus is on early childhood development and reaching young children via its innovative brain stimulation games, learning apps and other innovations. Since its inception in 2012, The Reach Trust has transformed the lives of more than 10 million people across Southern Africa.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, a child’s early years are vital for later health and development. This is because of how fast the brain grows during the period before birth and into early childhood. The brain develops and change into adulthood, but the first eight years are crucial for building a foundation for future learning, health, and wellness.

Finding Thabo will work with children between the ages of three and six years of age who are based at early childhood development centres in surrounding communities. The project is specifically designed to be implemented in low resource environments.

Enrolment began in May this year, and GrandWest staff will be involved through to February 2022. 

Explaining GrandWest’s participation, General Manager Mervyn Naidoo said, “We believe that every child has the right to high quality stimulation which, according to global research, provides the foundations for lifelong learning. The children we reach today will have richer, more fulfilled lives and who knows, perhaps one of them will be a future leader of our country?

After receiving their introductory online training, the ten staff members will be required to identify five early childhood development centres they wish to support. Their work will include explaining the Finding Thabo programme to the teachers, distributing material for the training, and collecting relevant data from each centre in order to evaluate the progress.

Staff expressed their reasons for volunteering:

Christalene Veneel, Food & Beverage Department

“I love being around children. They are honest, free spirits and full of joy. Seeing them smile, with their eyes lighting up, is the most amazing thing in the world. Who wouldn’t volunteer to be with the best people in the world, the little ones? What I want to achieve is simple – just making learning fun.”

Carla Van Huyssteen, Finance Department

“Through all that has happened the last year and half, giving and promoting child development is still as important as ever. I have a passion for kids and their growth, that is why I volunteered. My achievement will be to make a difference in each child’s life. Starting small is just the beginning of the differences we can make in the future of these children.”

Layla Essop, Finance Department

“I decided to volunteer for the programme because I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to learn and thrive by different stimulus activities, and introducing a unique programme like this into the curriculum can aid educators to be better teachers, and kids will learn through play. I loved the idea the first time I heard about it. It gave me a heartwarming feeling and I immediately felt like I could offer some assistance. By doing this I would hope by the end of the programme the kids would be able to interact through language and be better able to express themselves. Also hoping to create awareness around education and different forms of play while learning.”

Luann Robertson, Slots Department

“The reason I decided to volunteer is my love for kids. I always dreamed of becoming a teacher but life happened.  I have four kids ranging from three to 14. I believe the crèches and educare centres I sent my kids to, played a major role in the foundation of their education. And here I have the opportunity to give back.”

Edwina Oerson, Slots Department

“I personally volunteered to be an ECD champion because I always wanted a career that allowed me to help little kids by helping them to read and expanding their minds. The pilot project is helping me to do that, thank you for the opportunity.”

Yolanda GongothaFood & Beverage Department

“Immediately when I saw the advert about volunteering I grabbed it because I like keeping myself busy especially with things that involves community. And I have been hoping that one day I would help my community with something, so to me this is a big opportunity and I’m so happy about it.”

Audre Bird, Surveillance Department

“Being a youth leader I am constantly involved with kids; I find this as a great opportunity. And this being a first for the company, I wish this to grow.”

Roxy Alima, Food & Beverage Department

“It’s a passion to interact with children and I volunteered to see an improvement in the early development of a child’s brain. It worked for me in my ECD years after being raped at the age of three, and thankfully never disturbed my education levels.”

Angeline Freeman, Casino Admin Department

“My son benefited from this at an early age, from stimulating the brain, and I wanted to give more exposure and guidance for the ECD in my area.”

Helen Mguda, Shop Steward

“Our kids spend most of their time on social media, listening to pop star music all the time.

The programme will assist in identifying and also noticing what happens to them in a world that is violent towards kids. If we can continue with the programme it will assist in helping kids to express themselves openly and identify the good or bad (be able to choose between wrong and right). 

I want to achieve:  kids being able to identify and read different situations without being told (broader picture of what is happening around them) and be able to talk and express themselves confidently without favour or fear.  Learning through play is fun and can be remembered easily more than reading the book – visuals attract kids more than words or talking.”

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