In South Africa, 10% of children under the age of 17 are food insecure. For young children in their first three years of life, a lack of nutrition can affect their physical and mental health development. This is where Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres can play an important role in ensuring young children are given a nutritious meal, with food gardens at these centres providing an opportunity to supplement feeding schemes and improve the lives of learners and their families.
It has been just over a year since Vodacom South Africa launched the Green ECD programme, and now more than 250 children are benefiting from sustainable food gardens at ECD centres across the country.
“Vodacom’s Green ECD journey began in October 2021, as part of our commitment to improving the quality of lives of the community members we serve. Through the planting of sustainable food gardens, implementation of energy-efficient and water-saving infrastructure, and education on sustainability practices, we are creating a life-long culture of caring for the planet from a young age. Simultaneously, the food gardens are supporting local feeding schemes, thereby helping address food insecurity in South Africa while providing socio-economic opportunities for community upliftment,” says Takalani Netshitenzhe, External Affairs Director for Vodacom South Africa.
Learners at Grasar Day Care Centre in Olievenhoutbosch, Gauteng, have benefited tremendously from the initiative. “We’ve noticed that our children are not getting ill as often as before now that they have access to and are eating fresh fruit and vegetables more regularly. We’ve also seen a boost in their learning development and general wellbeing,” says Grace Maluleke, owner of Grasar Day Care Centre.
The programme, developed in partnership with local NPOs and other private businesses, includes educational workshops to promote sustainable practices for teachers, parents and community members, which not only ensures the longevity of the gardens but also provides skills development. At Grasar Day Care Centre, for example, many community members have volunteered to be part of the project to learn new skills.
At Hulisani Day Care Centre in Limpopo, teachers observed that many community members have also taken to working in the garden as a form of stress relief – which, of course, has positive implications for their general health, as it is a form of exercise. The centre is also pleased to see children developing gardening skills at a young age, which is certain to benefit them later in life.
In addition, the centres have been able to cut down on costs by growing their own produce, and providing food to staff as well as community members who volunteer in the gardens. In some cases, the centres have also been able to increase their income by selling the produce, or using the gardens as a marketing tool to increase learner registrations.
Having access to fresh water for the garden has made a significant impact on Lady Frere Day Care Centre in the Eastern Cape, too. This is especially important, as the area usually experiences periods of water shortages and drought.
To date, the programme has benefitted 252 children, with other participating ECDs including Divhani Community Creche and Mvelaphanda Day Care Centre, both in Limpopo, RANS Future Kids in Mpumalanga, and Sthandokuhle ECD Centre in KwaZulu-Natal.
Access to digital technology can help improve educational outcomes and provide opportunities for digital literacy training and skills development for both teachers and learners alike. To this end,
Vodacom South Africa also donated ICT equipment and learning materials to the centres in an effort to address the digital divide in under-resourced areas of the country.
“We are extremely proud of what Vodacom’s Green ECD programme has achieved in just over a year. Through our ongoing partnerships with NPOs, the private sector and local communities, we are developing a sustainable ecosystem, which is helping to transform lives while ensuring that we take care of the planet for future generations,” concludes Netshitenzhe.