Toddlers have marched into the gates at St Francis Educare Centre in Strandfontein every morning since 1981.
They would wave goodbye to their parents and guardians and spend the rest of the day with their teachers who not only taught them, but also treated them as their own children.
St. Francis Educare Centre was the first creche that was established by the Grassroots Educare Trust, that provided a school-readiness programme, Grade R, to roughly
1 500 pre-schoolers, said principal at St Francis, Geraldine Lambrechts.
Ms Lambrechts, whose husband, Reverend Canon Desmond Lambrechts, is a former parish rector of St Francis of Assisi Anglican Church in Strandfontein, said the educare celebrated its 38th anniversary on Saturday August 31.
St Francis was one of the first child-care projects in Strandfontein, established as a result of churches which had been provided with cost-free community sites on condition that child-care facilities were accommodated for working parents being forcibly removed to the area during apartheid, she said.
St Francis is housed in the Anglican Church hall and has four dedicated classrooms. They have developed a sound foundation for learning and early childhood development.
When schools in the area opened up for Grade R, they continued with their Grade R classes. They grew from one Grade R class to two Grade R classes, which is still currently running as a community-based Grade R.
They are the longest existing Grade R in Strandfontein being registered with the Western Cape Education Department. The centre is also registered with the Department of Social Development in terms of Section 30 of the Childcare Act 74/1983 as amended, and became the first registered centre in the area to enrol babies.
The educare was elated when they finished the building and furnishing of the classrooms. The parents had a hand in completing the classrooms. They also received funding from the Department of Social Development, affording the centre with legal occupational rights to the classrooms until 2023.
The most memorable moment for St Francis was a visit from former president, Nelson Mandela on Monday June 9, 1997, the day after the classrooms were inaugurated. Mr Mandela said: “Visiting the St Francis Educare Transformation Centre was a moving and unforgettable experience.”
When Mr Mandela visited the creche, he handed one of the teachers, Tamsyn Florus, 49, from Strandfontein one of the lollipops, he was handing to the children. It was only when he looked up at her he apologised for mistaking her for one of the children, she said. “I was so shy when I met him but when he handed me that lollipop, it broke the ice,” she said.
She has been with the educare for 24 years. She has a passion for working with children, and loves working with them. Her son was
3 years old when she started
working at the educare and she was 25.
“There are new things you learn every day, you’re never too old to learn from children. You can’t wait to get to work and be with the children,” she said.
The centre’s daily programme is geared to creating a therapeutic safe environment so that all children can enjoy optimum physical, emotional, social and intellectual development, said Ms Lambrechts.
They currently have over 80 children who are part of St Francis Educare.
Ms Lambrechts, who is also a former senior professional nurse with experience in training, coaching, school health services and psychiatric nursing, has been with the centre for 25 years.
“Running a community centre can be a challenge but I love working with my children and staff. The community is supportive, however, there are needs in the community too. We are still struggling with fees not being paid consistently but we try our best to accommodate that,” said Ms Lambrechts.
The youngest teacher, Megan Ziervogel, 22, from Strandfontein, sees herself working in this profession for a long time. She started working at the educare in 2015 when she was 19, she said.
“I love working with children. I have always wanted to work with children at a young age. I would help my family with their children and babysit them. I love the trips we take with the children, it is so much fun,” she said.
St. Francis’ annual concert and graduation of their Grade R pupils will take place at the Strandfontein Senior Secondary School hall, in Frigate Road on Saturday November 30 at 1pm.
For more information on the centre, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 021 393 22 41 or 076 571 7201.