Enlarging the lives of Khayelitsha’s children

A community-based and volunteer-run after-school programme in Khayelitsha is supporting working parents by providing a safe space for their children to do their homework and have fun.

A comprehensive after-school programme at Site C in Khayelitsha is giving children in the community a chance to excel at school. 

The Have Fun Children’s Development Programme, run by volunteers, was created as a safe learning environment that encourages children to learn through play while supporting their academic development.

The founder, Thembalethu Mbambisa, 26, started the programme in 2014 as a response to problems children face in the community while also trying to supplement what they learn at school. “Learners at primary level have no guidance after school hours, and parents arrive late from their workplaces,” Mbambisa says. 

This lack of adult supervision contributes to some children falling into bad habits. Thandile Luvuno, 12, has been in the programme for only three months, but she is already reaping the benefits. “I struggled with maths at school [before joining this programme]. What I love about the after-school programme is that the volunteers help us a lot with our school work,” said the grade 6 learner from Hyacinth Primary in Mitchells Plain. 

Mbambisa matriculated in 2012, but he wasn’t able to further his studies. “It’s the time when my parents separated. I was not focused at school. It’s one thing that shifted my focus, I was stressing a lot in those years,” Mbambisa says. 

21 September 2020: Founder of Have Fun Children’s Development Programme Thembalethu Mbambisa arrives early to set up the space. Beyond the usual academic learning, classes include meditation and learning to grow food.

He used his personal experience to give children in Khayelitsha what he didn’t get, including not being able to pursue further learning after matric. In 2013, he attended a workshop for two months that was hosted by Wave of Change. “They taught us about life expectations, goal setting and team building and all sorts of things.” 

The following year he did a leadership course for six months at the Grow Leadership Academy. “We were taught about leadership, entrepreneurship and community development among other [things],” he says. 

Though unemployed, Mbambisa’s dedication to the after-school programme that hosts 20 children has been consistent. 

Msimelelo Mabunzi, 36, the father of 16-year-old Yamkela, who attends the after-school programme, has seen first-hand the importance of the initiative through his daughter’s progress. “She shows interests in the English subject and has also shown an improvement in other school subjects. And at school, we also received positive news that her attitude and character has changed as she participates more in school work,” Mabunzi says. 

“At times, as parents, we don’t have enough time to dedicate ourselves to their needs since we come back late from work and there’s not enough time to do everything.”

21 September 2020: Yamkela Mabunzi answers a question in front of the class. Learners find their school work improves with the extra attention they receive at the programme.

Room to grow

Mabunzi says a free-spirited environment encourages the children to express themselves. “It builds them as they get life lessons from the volunteers. It does not end with school work. Volunteers also act as mentors to the children. It becomes easy for the children to talk and share with the volunteers as they are not as old as us [parents]. Children are free,” he says. 

The after-school programme works alongside two primary schools in the community. Isikhokelo Public Primary and Vuzamanzi Primary are both no-fee schools very close to each other. 

“We also visit teachers twice a month to ensure we measure the progress of each learner, and we even try to ask for strategies on how to deliver the content properly,” Mbambisa says. 

Mbambisa is pleased with the working relationship his organisation has with the two schools as this facilitates support and learning for the children. “The agreement is that the schools identify learners who have academic challenges … We work with their school books to ensure we feed them relevant content, and during this pandemic, we made sure to ask for school work from the two schools we directly work with to use in the after-school, as they closed because of the Covid-19 lockdown,” he says. 

21 September 2020: Learners read while they wait for a session to begin. Many lacked guidance in the afternoon after school but before their parents returned from work.

When the pandemic broke out, Mbambisa partnered with the Pure Good Organisation to provide food to the children in the programme.

But it hasn’t been easy to keep the programme running. In 2016, it shut down because they lacked space, and only resumed again in May this year. “Things were very hectic. The question was how to bounce back and continue adding value to the young ones,” Mbambisa says. 

Since they are a not-for-profit organisation, some volunteers have had to leave the programme and they often struggle for resources. “Facilitators lost interest as the organisation is registered as an NPO with no intentions of generating income. Staff felt pressured and dropped out,” he says.

Recruiting volunteers when the programme restarted this year was hard. “I was now challenged to rebuild a team of individuals [who] are willing to serve the purpose of the organisation, even though there is no stipend.”

The group of volunteers is made up of motivated individuals who provide different skills. Mbambisa is responsible for maths, transformational leadership and health and wellness. Anovuyo Matshisi, Nonzaliseko Cebo and Lihle Martin do visual art in the form of pottery. Martin also does portrait and mosaic art. Lwando Sando teaches photography, Xolisa Bangani does permaculture (where children learn to grow food) and Samkelo Madokwe teaches English.

21 September 2020: The learners stretch as part of the warm-up exercises to prepare them for the afternoon session.

Have fun, children 

The idea behind the Have Fun Children’s Development Programme was to inspire learners to enjoy being taught. “School should be an environment where kids are happy and even want to go to at all times,” Mbambisa says.

Have Fun Children runs from Monday to Sunday between 2pm and 4pm. The programme caters to children between grades five and seven. Wellbeing and academic performance are equally weighted, with the focus including meditation, playing games and transformational leadership, which sees children examining their life experiences, values and future aspirations.  

In collaboration with the Ikhaya Garden, which is also in charge of running the school garden at Isikhokelo Public Primary, Mbambisa says on Sunday children attend a practical session at the school. “We plant things like carrots, spinach, cabbage, spring onion, tomatoes and herbs like mint. We are teaching children to learn to grow their own food.” 

Mbambisa co-facilitates the session with Bangani. 

21 September 2020: Founder Thembalethu Mbambisa instructs learner Sesihle Sami.

Another aspect of the after-school classes includes visual arts where the children are encouraged to express themselves with painting and pottery. Mbambisa says he wanted art to “assist the kids to develop the skill of business through learning pottery – designing coffee mugs, plates, indoor decor ornaments – and then selling the artefacts as part of fundraising for the organisation”.

The programme also has a strong focus on learning, and the volunteers incorporate creative and innovative ways to teach using board games such as Monopoly. “We believe that games instil creative thinking in children,” Mbambisa says.

In addition to school work and art, there is also fun and health awareness. On Saturdays, the children exercise and are taught about healthy eating. The diversified after-school sessions expose children to a variety of skills and prepares them to “identify their interest of study at a very young age”. 

Poet and children’s book author Madoda Ndlakuse is project coordinator for the Eastern Cape chapter of Nal’ibali, a reading-for-enjoyment campaign. “When children attend after-school programmes, they can benefit from a richness of story and language that might not otherwise be available in the classroom,” Ndlakuse says. 

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“Children can use their imaginations and possibly even discover hidden talents … Children have an opportunity to socialise, learn teamwork and have fun … It is beautiful to see these skills translate into success in the classroom and children doing well academically. They are benefitting from their increased understanding of words, diction and vocabulary. Their ‘story bank’ is rich, and they are reaping their rewards, gradually changing the narrative of ‘I can’t read’ to ‘I love reading!’.”  

Mbambisa says the community has helped keep his organisation afloat. The parents and even volunteers donated money for the excursions the children took before Covid-19 hit. “When we need assistance with finances for travelling to events or [for] admin purposes, we either ask from parents or take from our own money and that is one of the major challenges, as it is not consistent,” he says.

One of the outings was a trip to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. “We took children to Kirstenbosch for exposure and to experience other places other than being boxed or limited to Site C,” Mbambisa says. 

For the work to be sustainable and effective, Mbambisa says the organisation is currently in need of laptops, cellphones, uncapped wifi, projectors and printers. “My dream is to see Have Fun Children build a small institution situated in Khayelitsha. I kindly ask for this assistance as this will benefit young individuals in shaping their future at a very young age.”

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