History (our story so far)
To understand how we got from an organisation primarily focussing on homelessness to an organisation concentrating on ECD, one needs to understand the learnings we had since Straatlig was founded in 2004.
Straatlig was founded by a student with a passion for homeless people and wanted to give these people back human dignity and reintegrate them into the Stellenbosch society. To do this, one of the first strategies was to give people wendy houses in the surrounding communities, with the theory that this will have the most impact in addressing their problems. We quickly learned, however, that not having a house, is the tip of the iceberg of homelessness. All of the people who received a wendy house lost it in the next couple of years, due to various reasons. Not only were these individuals back on the street, but there was also an influx of homeless people into Stellenbosch. The reason was that homeless people move around. When the rumours spread that in Stellenbosch you can get a wendy house, people started to go there from all over the country.
Straatlig went back to the drawing board, and the services changed. A more in-depth understanding of the individuals on the street quickly made us ask how can we have a better impact on addressing the homeless problem. We learned from our beneficiaries that the reason they landed on the street in the first place was because of a lack of proper education, or no positive role models growing up. We realised homeless people in Stellenbosch had children, who were either already on the street or will end up there if there is no intervention in their lives.
Straatlig decided to start to work preventatively with the vulnerable children in Cloetesville (an area on the fringes of Stellenbosch where many homeless people come from). The idea of this intervention programme was to introduce positive role models into the lives of the children. Research indicated that positive role models cultivate resilience and improve the chances that children will not make choices which will result in them landing on the street. This new initiative was called BecommingKids.
Straatlig continued, however, to serve the homeless, and tried to address many homeless issues through responsible giving campaigns, street store initiatives and many others. At the end of 2019, we had an audit of the Straatlig programme. The aim was to determine the impact of the programme in addressing the issue of empowering homeless people in Stellenbosch. The results indicated that instead of empowering the homeless people, Straatlig was sustaining their lifestyle by providing them with clothes, blanket, food and spiritual support. After 16 years, we realised that to have a more significant impact in the next 16 years we need to rethink our strategy.
Our new focus also became apparent through the BecomingKids programme. Initially, the focus of Becommingkids was to create a safe space, where primary school children play and merely be children. After ten years, we introduced specific metrics also to track the impact of this programme. The results showed that the effect of the programme was not what we intended. Many children in the programme dropped out of school, and their lives were on the trajectory of them ending up on the street.
When we investigated the reason for this, we identified one critical issue. Many of them were struggling at school, especially with literacy. These children coped until grade five or six. They started to struggle, lashed out at school and home, get expelled and labelled as a problem child, and finally stopped going to school altogether. When we started asking the five “why” questions to understand the problem better, we concluded that many of these children did not attend a quality ECD. It also meant that these children did not meet their developmental goals on time and were not school ready when they started grade one.
To understand this problem better Stellumthombo launched a pilot programme in 2019 in partnership with Her Voice. The plan was to start a support group for young mothers in Cloetesville whose children were under the age of two years. The group consisted of 5 mothers who met every second week and had the opportunity to talk about their challenges as young mothers in their context. This pilot programme gave us a glimpse of what the problems are,especially the limited access to quality ECD’s in their communities. The options were either that there is no space, too expensive or of poor quality (children not being stimulated enough).
It is in this light that we decided to pivot, and to keep true to findings in current research that the place to have the most effective and lasting impact in the life of a child is during the first seven years.
New Strategy from 2020:
We want to give every child access to excellent early childhood development so that they can have the best possible chance to make a success of their school career.
What will we do?
During our assessments and contact with the ECDs in the Stellenbosch area, we soon realised that many ECD centers are institutionalised babysitters. While it gives the parents the peace of mind that their children are looked after and safe, at many of these centres there is very little structured stimulation targeting the different developmental areas of a child taking place.
The problem is that many of the facilitators do not have the skills or the training to address these needs. It is in this light that Stellumthombo decided to offer free training to the facilitators, educating them on the different developmental needs and examples of activities that make use of recycled material to keep the cost as low as possible.