Lwazikazi Sokutu shows us that making a difference in a struggling community is child’s play. By Bianca Hartel
In stark contrast to the sometimes palatial suburban homes making up the nearby Durbanville area, the remotely located Klipheuwel informal settlement is a picture of poverty and the harsh realities faced by so many South Africans. Residents gather around communal taps to fetch their day’s water, which will have to be boiled over a fire or gas burner used to fight the bitter cold winter’s evening ahead.
A remarkable woman
Lwazikazi Sokutu emerges from the sea of shacks and her infectious smile washes away any semblance of this community’s plight. She’s proud, happy and unashamed. Despite not having access to electricity, running water or basic sanitation services, Lwazikazi has never wanted to leave Klipheuwel, and instead left her steady job to start a day care so as to allow the parents in her community to find employment and provide for their families. ‘I saw that at the end of the day I needed to change something and make a better life for myself and the community here,’ says the 28-year-old. Single and with no children of her own, Lwazikazi is committed to the 32 young children who attend her crèche.
All the right reasons
For many, starting up a new business venture is fuelled by the desire to earn a living or make a name for themselves. For Lwazikazi, though, community well-being is at the forefront of her efforts. Having lived in Klipheuwel since 2003, Lwazikazi is very familiar with her community’s daily struggles. ‘We are very far from everyone and everything,’ she says, explaining that in order to get to Cape Town, Klipheuwel residents have to take a long-distance train from Malmesbury that runs just once a day. ‘Looking around, I could see people who had no option but to stay home. They could not leave their young children alone for 13 hours or more. I wanted to do something,’ she continues, divulging her strong desire to see the community move beyond the poverty in which they live.
Deciding she wanted to take matters into her own hands, Lwazikazi first approached her community. ‘Initially, some people were a bit apprehensive, because I had nothing but an idea. I realised that I had to have something to show for it.’ After negotiating the use of a large shack, which acts as a church for the Klipheuwel community, Lwazikazi, along with the two other women she employs, began offering childcare services for toddlers up to the age of three. ‘When we started, the crèche would open at 7 am, but I soon realised that, having to take the train, many parents were leaving home much earlier than that. Now, we are open from 5:45 am, so that all of the parents can drop their kids.’ Lwazikazi closes the crèche at 6 pm, but takes every child not been collected by that time to their homes, as she knows that their parents could be stuck on a train. ‘It’s very important to me that all the children are safe,’ she stresses.
A sustainable future
It was not too long after starting the crèche that Lwazikazi knew she had to do something more than just look after the children. ‘I knew I had to go to school so that I could run the crèche properly, so I went to the Sustainability Institute. I wanted to learn about early childhood development.’ Situated in Lynedoch, the Sustainability Institute is an international living and learning centre providing learning experiences in ecology, community and spirit.
‘The school where I am studying is very inspiring. I’m trying to practise everything they are teaching us there,’ says Lwazikazi of her course in early childhood development, which sees her attend one week of classes every month. The programme is intended to enable the sustainability of communities via a focus on early childhood development, and teaches participants to facilitate the all-round development of young children in a manner sensitive to culture and individual needs. ‘Ever since I started my studies, I have seen the benefits of sustainability and it’s inspired me to take the initiative,’ says Lwazikazi excitedly of the vegetable patch she decided to start growing
Having proven it to be an invaluable service to parents of the Klipheuwel community, Lwazikazi’s crèche is a great success despite a serious lack of resources. With only 12 mattresses and little hope of acquiring any other learning materials or toys without a hefty donation, Lwazikazi encourages playing and singalongs to engage the young minds of her scholars.
Nonetheless, she, along with other community members, is working hard to get assistance from the Department of Social Development. And despite Klipheuwel’s ongoing difficulties, Lwazikazi remains positive and believes that instilling a love for learning from a young age will greatly improve the community in the future. ‘I want the children of this community to be able to start their lives differently – not in the normal way that it goes here, with their first taste of education being in Grade 1,’ says Lwazikazi.
She has dreams of the crèche growing and eventually becoming a Montessori school that will help mould these young minds – and produce intelligent, free-thinking students with the ability and the desire to shape their community for the better.