MYO has expanded and now is assisting a Pre-school

Mondesa Youth Opportunities Trust has been working for the community now since 2004 and so it is fitting at this time, when we have consolidated our core program, that we find we can serve the community in yet another area; a pre-school, or Early Learning Centre. The educational world now knows that learning, and the development of intelligence, begins in the first years of a child’s life, and without this early intervention, many children may never develop to their full potential.

Little House of Hope is independent from MYO, but MYO assists with their mission by providing some management support and space on our campus.

At the end of this page is a reference with further detail of the link between early learning and academic development over time.

In 2014, MYO was fortunate to be introduced to a German Foundation called “Little House of Hope”. Our first meeting, which included a tour of MYO and a comprehensive review of MYO operating model and quality standards, resulted in their agreeing to make MYO one of their Foundation’s child-care centres.

The “Little House of Hope” was founded in 2007 by a German couple who personally experienced the misery and poverty affecting so many Namibian children. They saw how the AIDS virus and a lack of educational opportunity affected many children and their parents, and they made the decision to do something. They decided to involve themselves with the well-being and development of these impoverished children, knowing that real progress can only be made if it is meaningfully linked with education.

Having made this commitment, the couple returned to Germany and began to involve their friends and acquaintances in their cause, seeking like-minded people who were willing to support a struggling community. The “Little House of Hope” now has a Board of committed donors who, in February 2014, funded a vibrant class of 20 young pre-schoolers from the underprivileged areas around Mondesa and Swakopmund. We have now expanded to include 75 children.

MYO is delighted to add ‘Little House of Hope’ to our facility, and we are honoured to be in partnership with the ‘Little House of Hope’ Foundation.

Detailed information on the foundation “Little House of Hope”

Learn More

 Our motivation – “The amazing potential of young children”

Our DNA consists of just four building blocks, and they are combined in fantastic variety to make us who we are. Among a myriad of processes, these combinations – our genes – trigger the formation of the neural tube in the growing foetus, which ultimately becomes our brain and nervous system.

The brain develops precociously compared to other organs. In terms of weight, its peak rate of growth is in the third trimester of pregnancy and first three months of new-born life. During this period, the neural circuits required to sense and to think ‘wire together’ at connection points called synapses. Sensory neurons take the lead in wiring to each other and to other parts of the brain. Then language connections start to dominate, before higher cognitive functions – such as the ability to imagine and plan – kick in in a frenzy of wiring between specialised areas of the brain. The most intense synaptic activity is before one year of age!

These linkages are reinforced by the child’s interaction with her mother and father in an unconscious game of ‘serve and return’. The child ‘serves’ a volley of smiles; the parent ‘returns’ with eyes that light up , sounds that encourage and touch that comforts. In this simple environment – of sufficient food, love, security and stimulation – the child is primed to learn, and the brain grows in size and sophistication. By the time she goes to school, neural circuitry is well established and the brain is already 95% of its adult size. In fact, the rich experiences of the first six years of life over-stimulate the neural pathways and what follows is a process of pruning and reshaping.

But what happens when the simple triggers of food, love, security and stimulation are not there? Then the brain switches to survival mode. Fight-or-flight neurotransmitters are released that inhibit processes of learning and reasoning. When these conditions persist, stress becomes toxic and the child’s learning potential is seriously damaged. Worse still, this stress changes the very structure of the child’s genes, so that the tendency to cower rather than flourish becomes part of her DNA and, in time, that of her children and grandchildren.

Imagine each child as a tower of building blocks. We know that many won’t reach their full height. However, we generally fail to understand that most building blocks are missing from the bottom, not the top. The Nobel Laureate and Economics Professor, James Heckman, has shown that investments in pre-school learning produce the highest returns in terms of economic productivity. Yet, in South Africa, our spending on education is the inverse of where we would get the best results. As a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita enrolled, we spend most on tertiary education and least on early learning.

The answer doesn’t only lie in realigning public expenditure, but in growing the simple building blocks of food, love, security and stimulation. Surely these are things that can be provided to every young child in South Africa? You can start by reading to your own child from their first day of life – and to another child who might be missing out on the rich experiences that enable us to reach our full potential. Read a story to a child with a full stomach, and you’ll tick all the boxes for her growth and development, sparking connections that associate learning with love and security. Her sense of self-esteem and capacity to aspire will be enhanced. You’ll be putting in place the building blocks of learning and personal achievement.

 Two children with the same potential born in Cape Town

One child, Jemma, is born to a middle-class family in Claremont. The other child, Candice, is born to a poor family in Hanover Park. They have the same genetic potential. But already Jemma is on a completely different life trajectory to Candice, because of factors associated with poverty and pregnancy.

The differences may be difficult to demonstrate in Grade 1, but the gaps in intellectual capacity and performance widen over the years. That’s one of the reasons why four-fifths of Grade 6’s score below 40% on standardised assessments of numeracy, compared with only a half of Grade 3’s. It’s not that Grade 4 – 6 teachers are necessarily bad, but the effects of pre-existing deficiencies become starker. These children can mostly catch up, but full remediation is difficult and expensive. If Candice’s mother had someone to stand by her during pregnancy, provide basic toys and books to Candice soon after birth, found an early learning programme for her, and read to her regularly, the life trajectories of Jemma and Candice would be far closer. Jemma and Candice each represent about 35 000 babies in the Cape Town metropolitan area every year. If even half of the poorer babies could be supported by someone who ‘looked in on them’ regularly, the future of the City would be far brighter!

By Dr David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust

Dr David Harrison of the DG Murray Trust, right, is a dynamic supporter of Rotary International’s Literacy Outreach and is an active member of our District Literacy Committee. He delivered a stunning keynote address at the recent District 9350 Conference and these articles are extracts from his presentation.