Four years ago, it was a threadbare, mud-block hut with high hopes and an inspired principal but little else, its walls cracking and crumbling in the heat of the sun and washing away entirely whenever rains came streaking across the hills and plains of Loskop, a town deep in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Fast-forward four years later, however, and the picture at Umfolozi Crèche is notably different.
Today it is located where it always was, but in the interim it has been reinvented from the ground up as a hard-wearing, electrified house-building of brick and cement, standing fenced, sure and secure amid rolling grassland and sporting a wide, pillared veranda as well as cambered roofing that keeps it cool in hot weather and, in wet weather, facilitates run-off and helps avoid indoor leaking.
Along with much else, the before-and-after change at Umfolozi Crèche has made it a greatly improved place of early learning and mental stimulation for the approximately 30 village children who attend it while their caregivers are at work earning a livelihood for the family’s survival and well-being. Like thousands of others in the province, these disadvantaged children need all the assistance they can get to prepare for success when they enter the school system and, later in life, the country’s economy.
Refurbs, makeovers and upgrades are staple elements in property management, so fittingly enough the transformation at Umfolozi Crèche came courtesy of Drakensberg Sun Resort, which, together with other role-players, has been supporting its principal, the dedicated Minah Khonzeni Dlovu, in her mission to provide pre-schoolers with daily care and nutrition and a safe, conducive space in which to begin their journey in education.
Drakensberg Sun’s relationship with Umfolozi Crèche, by now already a comparatively long one, goes back to 2015 and arose thanks to recommendations made by staff at the resort, several of whom live in the community served by Umfolozi Crèche and have children of their own enroled at it. Ms Dlovu and her sole assistant teacher, they said, were working wonders with the children, well-known to be a step ahead of other learners when moving to primary school, but the crèche was struggling.
A management team who went to meet the principal saw the truth of this for themselves. They were impressed by her commitment and the valuable goals she was pursuing, but it was apparent that the crèche lacked the wherewithal to achieve them to best effect.
Apart from being housed in a mud-block structure, it was desperately under-resourced. There was no electricity, meaning no heating and lights, thus gloomy, cheerless interiors; floors were bare; books, toys and posters were few to non-existent; education equipment was limited, with the crèche lacking even a proper blackboard; and, among other things, the children were going hungry during the day, thus experiencing discomfort and battling to concentrate on learning their A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s.
Realising that Umfolozi Crèche needed urgent assistance, Drakensberg Sun embarked on what was to be the first of several fundraising drives over the years in support of it, with timeshare owners, hotel guests, and corporate entourages encamped at the resort for conferences, team-building and the like participating in quiz nights, pool competitions and various other initiatives to rally up cash donations, company sponsorships, new or second-hand items, and contributions of time, labour and expertise.
Converting the crèche into a brick-and-mortar building was a major outcome of these fundraising efforts by Drakensberg Sun and other role-players, but only the most outwardly visible one. Inside, the building was electrified and its ceilings fitted with fluorescent lights, in addition to which the resort has had the rooms painted, floors carpeted, shelves installed and lined with books and toys, and the walls adorned with colourful educational posters and – never least of all – a blackboard.
Drakensberg Sun has assisted in other ways too, such as organising fun Christmas events for the young ones and regularly supplying the crèche with food provisions. Indeed, going forward, the intention is to strengthen nutritional support to it by helping it to establish its own vegetable garden and become more sustainably self-reliant.
Further plans in the pipeline – almost literally – are to introduce running water and improved ablution facilities, along with planting trees for shade cover and soil stability and equipping the crèche’s staff with a fuller stock of teaching tools to use in their lessons.
While it is one of several other initiatives, the support being given to Umfolozi Crèche is the flagship of CSI at Drakensberg Sun – a resort where the spirit of goodwill is epitomised by the slogan on T-shirts that staff members wear every Friday: “A head for business, a heart for the world”.