In 1996, Nomaweza Victoria Mangqwengqwe started Umnqophiso after completing her studies as a pre-primary school teacher. Victoria felt strongly about the need for pre-school education in her community, so she pursued many different resources in order to make it possible. After obtaining permission from Umnqophiso Primary (a local primary school) to use an old prefabricated classroom of theirs, Umnqophiso began and 80 children were enrolled and housed in this small classroom in Lwandle, a long-established community situated adjacent to the N2 highway between Somerset West and Strand.
In 2000, Umnqophiso was no longer allowed to use the prefabricated classroom so it moved into three zinc structures on another property. These structures were extremely cold and wet in winter, very hot in summer, and often used by other members of the community.
After a long struggle and due to the dedication of Victoria, her staff and the parents the school moved to its permanent premises at the start of 2003. The school has become a wonderful testament to the difference one person can make within a community.
The school also runs Phakamani, a training and skills development programme for women in the community (which includes training on skills such as sewing, childcare, cooking and nutrition), and an after care centre for children in the area.
History of the school
Nomaweza Victoria Mangqwengqwe starts Umnqophiso in a disused prefabricated classroom at a local primary school.
Umnqophiso is registered as an independent pre-primary school with the Western Cape Education Department and becomes part of a pilot study to determine the need for pre-school education. Another unpaid teacher (Somikazi Mtya-Panyane) joins the teaching staff.
Helene Rykaart, a retired social worker and community developer, trains Victoria to do administration work. This is the start of a long friendship. There is still no money for salaries. Parents are asked to contribute money towards the school.
Alice Noncedo Thafeni joins the school as a general assistant. Due to budgets being strictly adhered to and financial support from the parents, Victoria, Somikazi and Alice are paid small salaries. The Department of Health helps to feed pupils for the year. The After Care Centre is formed.
The school can no longer use the prefabricated classroom. Victoria acquires permission to use two zinc structures. The new facilities are shared with other organisations (churches and choirs) within the community. A local business offers the school guidance and financial assistance and supports them for the next three years. Ntombodidi Patrolia Ralarala joins Umnqophiso as an unpaid volunteer teacher.
A third zinc structure is obtained. The school becomes a Section 21 Company and land is leased from the municipality with the hope of moving the school there some day. Mothers in the community see the children learning and want to learn too, so Phakamani Womens’ Group is born.
The land that is being rented is bought from the municipality, paid for with parents’ contributions. The school is finally able to pay a small salary to Petra. Ncumisa Ntendiyo joins the school as a volunteer general assistant. An accountant volunteers to train staff on bookkeeping. Elise Elsing assists with the planning and construction of a new building for the school and helps to attract sponsorships, like the German Embassy. Phase one of the new building is declared open at the yearend graduation.
Umnqophiso moves into the new building. Skills development with the mothers increases through Phakamani. Weekly training commences to improve the level of teaching. The school wins an award from the Women’s Hope, Education and Training (Wheat) Trust. Ntombifuthi Jack joins the school as a classroom volunteer and Jackie Magama as a gardener.
In partnership with Switzerland Rotary Club the second phase of building commences. A three day spiritual camp is held for Phakamani. The Department of Health withdraws its subsidy to help feed the children and the Mehrbach family helps in its place. Upon a visit to her mother in South Africa (who helps Phakamani improve sewing skills), Christie Worrall from Canada becomes involved with Umnqophiso. Sadly, Christie passes away on returning to Canada. With the help of Christie’s mother, a Memorial Scholarship Fund is started for the benefit of the children of Umnqophiso whose parents cannot afford school fees.
Second place is achieved in the Global VIVA (Vision, Innovation, Value, Achievement) awards. With the help of Keith and Rini Stuttaford, the Children of the Universe Foundation (CUF) in the UK partners with the school. Victoria embarks on her Bachelor of Education degree (Foundation Phase) through the University of South Africa (UNISA), so that she is able to teach up to primary school level if need be. Her studies are funded by CUF. Adult literacy training is offered by Phakamani.
Ntombifuthi starts assisting with the After Care Centre. Godfrey Ralarala is appointed to assist with gardening and ground care . With the help of CUF, three trainee teachers a (Nomvume Sophazi, Noncedo Mtya and Ntombenkosi Yoywana) are appointed.
The trainee teachers complete Level 4 courses in Early Childhood Development (ECD). Victoria, in honour of her being one of the top students in the field of ECD, is invited by UNISA to be part of an interview panel of the Higher Education Quality Committee to share her story of the struggle of starting Umnqophiso.
Victoria is officially made Principal of the school. Two more classrooms are built, with the help of CUF. In partnership with Work Travel South Africa, overseas students start to do volunteer work at the school for periods of two to three months. This is a great opportunity for both the volunteers and the children to learn about and understand different cultures.
Five teachers complete Level 5 courses in ECD and Ncumisa goes on an advanced computer course. Victoria is still studying through UNISA. The family who has been helping to feed the children since 2004, moves back to their home country, and so the school needs to find alternative support for the following year.
Meals on Wheels and ADRA fund two meals a day for the children and a snack for the children at the After Care Centre. Umnqophiso is awarded a silver certificate in the Eco-Schools programme.
Three teachers (Victoria, Somikazi and Nomvume) are nominated as a team for the National Teacher Awards competition. They win as ‘Top Achiever’ in two district clusters (Metro East Education and Metro North Education). They progress to the provincial stage and win as provincial finalist. The school is recognised and declared by the Western Cape Education Department as an official model school to help other pre-primary schools in the area of Lwandle and Nomzamo in Strand.
The three teachers represent the province at the national stage in the National Teacher Awards and finish in fifth position. Two assistant teachers (Zimkhitha Gedezana and Fezeka Mtengwane) join the school, enrol with Northlink College to complete their ECD Level 1 certificate and receive a monthly stipend from the Western Cape Education Department.
Zimkhitha and Fezeka continue with their studies and enrol at Northlink College and complete the ECD level 3 course. Click Foundation sponsors 20 small laptop computers as part of the Reading Eggs programme. Following a donation from the Thomas Charitable Trust, work commences on an additional building consisting of a school hall, two classrooms and a set of ablutions. The opening ceremony of the new building is held in November. TBI partners with the school providing and constructing shelving in the classrooms and assisting with financial resources and financial and non-financial guidance. Spur Group Foundation assists with buying classroom equipment and assists with teacher development and salaries for the After Care Centre teachers. Erinvale Golf Club assists with buying new tables and chairs for all the classrooms.
Zimkhitha and Fezeka are now studying for their ECD level 4 certificates at Boland College in Strand.