Sometimes when we think about innovations, work with technology or conduct research, we can forget about people. People often get hidden in terminology; the ‘user’, ‘client’, ‘beneficiary’, ‘participant’, ‘test case, ‘use case’, and the list continues. However, at the end of the day, it is people’s realities that we want to shape and improve. All the decisions we make in terms of the work we do, need to be guided by those whose lives will be impacted. Now, the only way to improve that reality, is to understand it. And an important part of understanding it, is to hear about it from the people themselves.
Bearing this in mind, we believe that an important part of how we discuss our work is not only presenting technology and process, but the insights into the lives of the real people behind the innovation. Here, meet Ncumisa. Some insights into Ncumisa’s life, and her thoughts on early childhood development (ECD) centres, add immense value to our thinking around innovations to better her life, her centre and hence the lives of the children in her care.
Ncumisa had lots to say during our conversation, which can be unpacked in later posts, but perhaps what stood out the most is the role she sees ECD centres playing in the broader community. That will be the focus here.
Ncumisa is 39 years old. She was born and raised in Gugulethu, a township outside of Cape Town. She studied public administration, completing her level N6. After studying, she worked at Metrorail and Golden Arrow. At the age of 22 she decided to stop working and to assist her mother in the running of her ECD centre instead.
Sinako Educare, the family’s ECD centre, was started in 1996 by Sofia. Sofia was a domestic worker. After becoming a pensioner, she wanted to start her own business. Something that struck her was the environment in which children were growing up in her community. She wanted to assist those parents who needed to work and could not take care of their children during the day. Ncumisa describes the environment her mother saw:
Sometimes you can hear, you are sitting here and you hear the scream. Someone is looking for their child. Sometimes it’s a rape during the day and then there’s the ‘loose’ children. Anytime you want to call the child to send to the shop, you just stand outside and you will find the children playing outside. So that is why she decided to open the crèche.
After her mother passed away, Ncumisa and her siblings got together and decided to keep the crèche running. This was not merely a business decision. There is a commitment and a sense of responsibility to the community, both parents and children, in the reasoning behind keeping the crèche open: “We won’t let the children and parents suffer for looking for another crèche, whereas they know this crèche”.
For Ncumisa, ECD centres play an important role in communities:
The population of the children is high now and the safety of the children also. Because you know when your child is in the crèche they are in a safe place and in the safe hands of the people that are there. You don’t worry when you are going to work that you will get the call that your child has been raped or that your child has been killed. Your child is in good hands.
Working with children was not Ncumisa’s desired career path, but her time in the centre has changed her thinking. She loves working with children and she is a businesswoman: “I like working with kids a lot, but first I was not interested because it was not my dream to work with children. But now, since I’m with them, the bond is becoming so tight. … I cannot go back to working for anyone else now. I like it. I did enjoy this a lot. I don’t dream now for going to work for somebody else.”
When asked about her hopes for the centre, Ncumisa noted the following:
To upgrade, to upgrade, to upgrade the standard. Because we also want... the parents when they come here you know my child, the place is clean, my child has space where they can play, they’ve got a nice beds, they’ve got a nice clean mattress where they can sleep. And then the education also, they’ve got all the facilities because also we need to have, even if it’s a dummy computer, so the children will know how to type computer and also the toys. We need to upgrade, to upgrade the standard.
Her sentiments are obviously a reflection of what she wishes for her centre, but she clearly looks at the situation from the perspective of the parents and children in her community. She wants them to be proud of the centre and to get the most benefit.
What is also striking about her vision for the crèche is that it extends well beyond having better facilities, it is about impacting her broader community, a legacy left, no doubt, by her mother:
I’m just dreaming now the crèche must be big, so that I can employ and open the doors for other people who don’t earn, who are sitting at home, who don’t get work. To come to join us and learn with us. Because you know my mother, the time she started the crèche, two of her teachers are now owning their own crèches, two of them. They are owners now of their own crèches. So you come each and every day, you learning, we learning. Now I know this, I know that. Each and every day we must learn something.
Here, Ncumisa taught us a bit more about the bigger picture of what innovations and technology-use in the ECD arena should be able to affect. In seeing what she values we are able to target our interventions and ideas in ways that are meaningful to real people. Because without buy-in from those on the ground, the biggest and boldest ideas will mean much less.