The Last Stretch

Working with assumptions based on the results from the pilot study in UGU, when the information management system (IMS) project on ECD massification got under way in Zululand, UMzinyathi, Umkhanyakude and the remaining UGU service offices, it was expected that around 500 sites (combined figure) could be identified in the four districts. However, the reality of the volume ECD centres functioning as not-for-profit community based centres started to become apparent about half way through the project. This figure is currently stands at over 800 ECD centres in the process for partial care registration. A limited number of these are private sites and the majority are community based centres in mostly rural, but also peri-urban or location areas in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN).

 

There has been a lot discussion in the past month about infrastructure, much of this relating to infrastructure categorisation framework being done by Project Preparation Trust (PPT) but also due to the conditional infrastructure grant that is due to be released by the department of social development in the new year. Some newly registered ECD centres were put forward to be considered for this grant. For the majority of ECD centres, throughout the district, infrastructure deficiencies form part of, or are in fact the only reason why centres fail to reach full registration. Perhaps second to that is lack of or limited teacher Part of the purpose of the ECD massification is to demonstrate to the “powers that be”, the extent of the need and number of ECD centres that are functioning in KZN.

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Ellie the Elephant – spotted on a drive from Hlabisa service office

Since I am based in UGU, it doesn’t really feel like the end of anything. But as I travel up to UMkhanyakude for the last time (in this project period), reflection is an inevitable task. Although I was in the middle of nowhere, although it was very rural, although the weather was extremely hot, although the service offices were spread out so far and wide, there are certainly a number of thing I will miss about that district. I will miss the ease, energy and openness of most social workers who worked closely on the project. I will miss those amazing days when I would see a tower of giraffe casually strolling across the R22 road or spot my friend the elephant and a baby rhino eating some grass with its mother. Finally, I will miss the magnificent sunset from my cottage door step.

 

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Zibambele Creche

Visits into the Umkhanyakude communities to see ECD centres have not been an easy task (logistically) so the opportunity to do this for the purpose of the case study was a welcomed activity on my part. The first time (22 June) we tried to venture out into Umhlabuyalingana local municipality, serviced in part by Kwangwanase service office, we were deterred by mountains of sand, or what felt like mountains for my little hatchback. The second trip (26 July) was more successful and even the heavy downpours, massive puddles and slippery gravel roads could not dampen the trip. In preparation for our arrival, the chair person of the creche committee, (we called her Gogo – Granny in Zulu) and her team, prepared lunch, had unusually large (and delicious) bananas and presented us with “icansi” – traditional Zulu mats – that Gogo hand made herself. The kids were thrilled to have visitors amongst them and although it was difficult for them to contain their excitement, they were all very well behaved and as far as possible, carried on as if we weren’t there.

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All Hands on Deck!

After a gradual start to the year, March seems to have hit us like a flood. The IMS team as well as the core NAG team have hardly had time to sit down and catch a breath.

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Hanne’s Shelter in Gcilima

The biggest event in our March calendar was the opening of Hanne’s Shelter in Gcilima. The Løvlie family galvanised financial resources to erect this structure in this UGU district community after they lost their daughter in Norwegian bombings a few years ago (2011). Hanne was passionate about, and interested in issues surrounding women, so what better way to pay tribute their daughter, sister and friend?

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Hanne’s Shelter (Gcilima) – All hands on deck

Three years in the making, it was quite unbelievable that after all the efforts from Hanne Løvlie’s family, NAG and Rolf Olsen (of Impande) put into this project, it was finally time to open it’s doors to the community. At an intimate gathering, a day before the official opening, Mr Madikiza (who donated the piece of land where the shelter has been built) and the Løvlie family shared stories of tragedy behind the birth of the women’s shelter. Although there were heavy hearts and tears in the room, laughter and happiness and learning were the focus of that day. There were musical treats from Norway in the form of a traditional dance and one of the Norwegian visitors (Linda) played a beautiful song on guitar. While she sang the song, I couldn’t help but notice the tears streaming down Olaf Løvlie’s (Hanne’s father) face.

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Olav and Kirsti Løvlie

Part of the activities planned for this pre-opening day was a tree planting ceremony. Luckily I was standing next to a Norwegian visitor who was able to explain to me the significance behind tree planting. He mentioned that when someone passes away, planting a tree symbolises their spirit and new growth from the earth. As I am writing this entry, my twitter account is going crazy with news of the latest bombings in Belgium.

 

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Jurgen (Hanne’s brother) and wife

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Mr Madikiza (in checked shirt)

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NAG and Impande plant a tree

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Hanne’s Shelter staff members

For me, March meant a break from Umkhanyakude, but the rest of the team has had a chance to walk in my shoes for a while. The feedback is conclusive; it is a dream to work with social workers and management from Umkhanyakude district.  So while I was away social workers continued to motivate themselves to set up jamborees and there were also a couple of workshops that were run to get all ward based social workers up to speed with the massification process and thinking behind the workflow board.

 

Cape Town was the backdrop for the next IMS team meeting, or rather field trip. The team presented, along with other partners at a 2-day Innovation Edge workshop. On the Monday night (14 March 2015), we visited Logo Print to see the theory of constraints in action. In essence, to see the work flow board in a real factory situation and to take any lessons from a highly efficient system and apply these lessons to some of the challenges we are facing.

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IMS team at Logo Print (Pty) Ltd

The Zululand team did not have much time to waste because a couple of days after their return from Cape Town, it was finally time to enter into Zululand district. The training workshop was successful in terms of attendance and coming to an agreement on the working relationship between NAG, Department of Social Development (DSD) and Environment Health Practitioners (EHP). Now that we are in all four districts we are well and truly over the half way mark of the project and look towards achieving project objectives.

Umkhanyakude – Seen from Afar

2015 appears to be so far back in the past I can hardly see it. This is where all the work began and we are ready to take all the lessons learnt onto the next two districts, namely Umkhanyakude and Zululand. The first half of the project was filled with stumbles, setbacks, frustrations, accomplishments, interesting characters and passion. Surely nothing could surprise us in our venture to the land of the Zulus.

My little Etios was packed full of application packs and with sun block at hand (because its crazy hot up here), I was ready to for the new adventure!

Ultimately Hluhluwe was chosen as the back drop for the Information Management System (IMS) project in Umkhanyakude. Now I am really no stranger to small town life since I am from the South Coast, but it really does get smaller. Coupled with this was also the sense that I had stepped back in time somewhat. Life is a lot simpler here and the values are closer to traditional schools of thought.

 

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En-route to Hlabisa

Service offices are vastly spread out, so there is a lot of time spent travelling to and from Hluhluwe. I spend copious amounts of time negotiating with cows on the N2, trying to get them not to step out on the road so as to maintain my average speed. And if you didn’t know that I wasn’t a local, it would certainly be obvious by my sheer excitement at the thought of spotting any of the big 5 or other wild animals. Thus far I have seen zebras and some buck on my travels. KwaMsane service office was the first local municipality (Mtubatuba) to have their board installed and this is where the social workers shared a story about a local who had been killed by a lion. Later in the day this story was on the radio news. Quite a chilling reminder that we are indeed in Africa.

A couple of days later while in Ubombo service office, protests began in Jozini and would later move on to Ubombo area. Protests were around service delivery, which wasn’t too much of a surprise, seeing as the service office itself was also experiencing challenges with availability of water. Being in Umkhanyakude has illustrated to me the extent to which differences exist at face value within this province, never mind the rest of the country. Some communities really appear to be amongst the forgotten. However, one thing positive to take out here is that the social workers I have interacted with genuinely care about the communities they service.

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Jozini Municipality

Looking Back and Moving Forward.

IMG_0754 (2)Last year was not without its challenges, we saw the rise and demise of certain or Community Based Organisations, we lost and gained Future Leaders we had grown to love and admire and we were pushed into the tightest of corners where we were forced to stop and just untangle ourselves.

As a network working with hundreds of organisations and government departments, it is imperative that we allow our work process to flow within the office space and that each staff member is clear about their responsibilities and those of their co-worker. 2015 was a year of strengthening those bonds, re-strategizing and reviewing internal and external approaches to the work.

We welcomed a few new staff members mainly for the Information Management System program and the integration process was as smooth as can be. With interns, it was ups and downs and we learnt a great deal about the responsibility of mentoring and monitoring. We have also seen the numerous programs that are both facilitated and run by NAG taken from various pilot phases and mature in their own right.

What I am getting at is that the lessons learnt in 2015 are those that will help us create a stronger network within NAG and our numerous stakeholders and allies in 2016 and the years to come. With a new year we uphold ourselves to new excellence. We renew our dedication to the community of UGU district and KZN at large and all those we work with and represent. We will not be deterred from our vision and our goals as the plot thickens.

Thank you for the relentless support and here’s to a new year

Happy 2016

Network Action Group.

 

Fruits and Labour

It seems like a life time ago that we first engaged with UGU district on ECD massification or Bhalisa Inkulisa project. Now, a few months into the project, we are beginning to see our inputs materialise into quantifiable results.

Conceptualising new ways of working in the form of jamborees has yielded more benefits than what we originally thought it would. One of these is more efficient use of time and resources since around ten ECD centres are called to one location and given all necessary information to successfully apply for Partial Care Registration (PCR). ECDs centres are also equipped with knowledge from other stakeholders like Community Development Practitioners (CDP) and Environmental Health Practitioners. Jamborees have unexpectedly served as a medium for word of mouth; on a number of occasions more centres have attended a jamboree than were invited.

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Ezinqoleni Jamboree

Communities are enthused and so are the service offices. The project appears to have injected life into an often forgotten area of social development.

Phungashe service office was my final destination before the feedback and troubleshooting session at the first UGU working group. It has been some time since I last visited so I had forgotten how long and arduous that journey could be. True to form this time was no different, however, coming away from the office having accomplished what I set out to do lay a pseudo cushion on the metaphorical hard floor. On the journey back to civilisation, I had my eye on nothing else but the petrol gauge, thinking that I may not make it back. But soon after I was distracted by the mist that had fallen on the valleys of Umzumbe municipality. Relief is the word that came to mind when I saw the Port Shepstone turn off.

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En-route from Phungashe service office

The working group was held on Wednesday 9 December and it served as a positive way to close off the year since most ECD centres will be closing Friday 11 December or have already closed for the festive season. The collection of people in the room, from members of provincial department of social development (DSD), to the deputy chief education special for ECD from the department of education (DOE), management staff from Environmental Health as well as provincial, district and service office DSD representation provided a space to conversation to stretch further than just PCR, which can only lead to better alignment in the district.

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UGU Working Group

 

Praying For Rain

And so the long drive to uMzinyathi district began on a Sunday afternoon. The atmosphere in the car was a culmination of excitement, for having finally reached this stage of the project, and curiosity of how the next two days would pan out.

When I try to visualise a rural setting, well, I do not really have to try hard because there is an abundance of rural communities on the south coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. And although I had been informed numerous times of the extremely rural setting in uMzinyathi, I was still in shock when we drove past uMsinga local municipality. When you travel through the Northern Cape you expects to see a desert, however, in the middle of KZN I saw something that had an uncanny resemblance to a desert. There was no grass, yet cows continued to graze. There was dull, life-less sand and copious amounts of aloe trees, and dried up rivers and streams. This kind of dry setting only magnifies the apparent poverty that exists in these parts. The only thought that was in a continuous loop in my mind was to pray relentlessly for rain.

Elandskraal set the backdrop for the first IMS workshop. The uMzinyathi group was eager to explore new ways of thinking and very open to the Network Action Group (NAG) Team. The new systems thinking was also welcomed by Environmental Health Practitioners (EHP) who were keen to be present at the workshop.

Umzinyathi: Social worker presenting on their current PCR system

Umzinyathi: Social worker presenting on their current Partial Care Registration (PCR) system

Over the two workshop days some interesting and necessary debates arose between social workers (service office managers, supervisors and auxiliary social workers) and EHPs, and were able to resolve other things that might create blockages in the system. The workshop created a platform for the NAG team to network with all the services offices in an informal environment and the different offices interacted with each other too.

Umzinyathi: Xoli presenting the new Work Flow Board

Umzinyathi: Xoli presenting the new Work Flow Board

Umzinyathi: Pseudo social worker office set up for role play activity

Umzinyathi: Pseudo social worker office set up for role play activity

The scenery around UGU training versus uMzinyathi was like chalk and cheese. If you sat on the circumference of the lapa by the wooden benches, overlooking the pond, you could easily forget that you were there for work. We were also surrounded by a plethora of rich green trees and bushes.

Since the IMS system and work flow board were tested in two UGU service offices, the social workers who used the system last year (2014) shared their experiences, challenges and successes. Although the system follows prescribed steps, the two test offices did work differently, but only marginally. This shows us that there is always room for change and improvement to suit the four different districts. Now that both training sessions have been completed, the real work begins.

UGU: Unpacking the Application Pack

UGU: Unpacking the Application Pack

Endless Learning

If you did not already know, September is National Literacy Month. This sets the perfect stage for one of the stories in this insert. Allan Greenspan, an American Economist, said it best “To succeed, you will soon learn, as I did, the importance of a solid foundation in the basics of education – literacy, both verbal and numerical, and communication skills”. Whilst children in Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres are learning different colours and shapes, numbers and new words, I am also learning new things.

The second phase of Information Management System (IMS) Project is to get all the sites that Zola found, on to the road towards Partial Care Registration. To clarify, it is a legal requirement for any person taking care of 6 or more children on behalf of their parents or care givers, to register that site as a partial care facility to ensure that the children are free from any harm, and that they receive appropriate brain stimulation for their age.

So one thing I had to learn is to get comfortable with the Work Flow Board that was developed to help social workers manage their workloads and to facilitate easy identification of blockages in the registration process. I needed to befriend the board, talk to the board, and play around with the board. This involved us all getting stuck in (the new recruits) by standing on chairs, fighting over whether we thought the board was straight, which it wasn’t, drilling holes into the wall, and trying to avoid drilling holes into any body parts.

Testing out the IMS Work Flow Board

Testing out the IMS Work Flow Board

I often hear a lot of organisations’ names being thrown around the office, Nal’ibali happened to stick in my head. So I did a bit of digging and found out that they are all about literacy. Nal’ibali issues newspapers every month with children’s stories that can be cut up and turned into a book for ECD centre practitioners to read to the kids. On a site visit in Vulamehlo to Senzasonke Creche, I saw even more of what Nal’ibali are doing to change the future by impacting the lives of children today. They train teachers on how they should read to children, with participation the children’s participation (referred to as Magic Carpet), but also encourage children to tell their own stories, where the teachers act as scribes so that the kids can take their stories home. Resources are scarcer in rural communities, however, Nal’ibali have attempted to close this gap by providing reading books to centres that they have trained.

Little boy reading a book provided by Nal'ibali

Little boy reading a book provided by Nal’ibali

Recently I have found myself in rooms with seemingly important people. Learning how these people interact, what is important to them and how to have productive conversations. One of the social workers that I will be working with was very eager to share the dress code in service offices that I will have to adhere to, especially for occasions where a visit to the ”Induna” (local traditional leadership). I also had to learn how to read a baby’s facial expression just before they are about to vomit because this cute baby (picture below) managed to catch me unawares! I had to react very quickly to avoid imminent disaster.

Satisfied face of a baby that has just vomited

Satisfied face of a baby that has just vomited

Mr Bull: King of the road

Mr Bull: King of the road in Harding