Thoughts on a visit
Chair of Topsy UK, Rodney Waldeck, visited Topsy SA in early 2023. What follows is an uplifting account of the enormous strides that have been made since his last visit some 5 years ago.
Late February 2023, and a visit to Topsy’s Rufford House. For three of us from the UK it was a 5-year gap since the last opportunity to be there. It was a first visit for the 2 resident South Africans in our party. We followed in the footsteps of our fellow UK trustee’s first visit with family and friends in December 2022.
Hard work and resilience, enterprise; professionalism, hope; cheerfulness and life-enhancing laughter; care for others that isn’t mawkish or condescending; rally-style driving skills, and somewhat indulgently, fury. Fury at the completely unnecessary hurdles Topsy staff and people in the communities face on a regular basis. These are a few of the words and phrases that come to mind when trying to describe what we saw, and the people we met at Topsy’s Centre, at nearby areas and in the town of Balfour.
The large garden flourishing at the Centre on that visit remains, beautifully manicured.
The two cornerstones of Topsy are the Early Childhood Development programme and the Vegetable Gardens. A description of each is aided by observing the precept that a picture is worth a thousand words, so a few follow:
There are more than 800 gardens, helping to feed more than 8,000 people living in an area that stretches over some miles from Topsy’s Centre.
The gardens are organised and tended by families and schools in Topsy SA ‘s food resilience programme: a programme linked to the Foundation’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) work. Topsy’s trained gardener is available to provide advice, and Topsy provides seeds for the different planting seasons. Enterprising despite the conditions; hard work in the sun.
This head of household also gets seeds from Topsy. Although he is unemployed, he has started a course to improve his welding skills. He hopes to find work at Eskom’s coal fired Grootvlei power station, and is fortunate to be on the waiting list should a much-prized vacancy occur. Much prized, as official unemployment in this municipal area is close to 40%. He is, however, number 57 on a list of more 200 names!
Better to be on the list, however, then one of the men sitting on the ground near the power station, seeking cover in the baking heat, hoping that some employer might turn up offering a day or two of employment – as I passed by, echoes of Faulkner sounded.
Our itinerary was organised by Marianna Pretorius and her colleagues. Maria Minie, Nompi Sibeko, Nokuthula Mkwanazi, and Topy’s fundraising staff member, Zinhle Lukhele were our guides. Mieke Mashinini and Poppy Mthimkulu were our rally drivers – more on that later. We continued to individual homes and gardens and a few of the 25 pre-schools supported by Topsy. Some were in the neighbourhood of the Centre. Others were further away near the electricity generating station, concluding with an opportunity to visit people included in Topsy programmes in the Balfour town area – about 6 miles away.
At the Centre we met some of the visiting children, along with Topsy staff. Children from 25 EDCs (Early Development Centres) that are part of Topsy’s programme attend the Centre once every month at 8 am for a minimum of 4 hours on a rotation basis.
On these visits children have a health check, with medicines given for opportunistic infections, and referral arranged to State clinics where necessary. Where time permits, children over the age of 3 are also included in a hearing test project, using an innovative test developed in South Africa, and administered by Topsy’s senior nurse. There is also a welcome opportunity to play, and the children are given a nutritious meal.
Our next stops were at 3 ECD centres, one of which was close to the power station. Unusually, the centre had a multi-racial intake of children. Staff from the ECD centres can use a visit to discuss issues and developments and access advice from Topsy staff.
The impressive and enthusiastic Heads of the pre-schools had taken part in the formal training programmes started, organised and paid for by Topsy begun in 2016. The qualifications they had obtained were, for most of them, the first they had gained.