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A reflection from Mary

mary james | LETCEE

Today is my Dads 95th birthday. Sadly, he is no longer with us to celebrate, but I have spent time reflecting on the values he instilled in us and the lessons he taught me.

Dad was a gentle man…but I do remember him giving me 2 smacks. The first was when I ran to greet the farm Induna, Jonas, a member of the Zulu royal family. Zulu culture demanded that as a child, I drop to my haunches and wait to be acknowledged before approaching him. The second was when I answered my mother’s call with a shout rather than getting up and going to her.

These lessons in the need to respect the leaders of the community in which I found myself have influenced me personally, but also contributed to LETCEE’s ethos.

Our organisation implements a child-focused project in each of 5 communities in the Umvoti municipal area. All are impoverished and under resourced. All have high rates of unemployment and the majority of families in each community are affected by HIV and TB. Our vision is the same in each community: For every child to develop and grow in a nurturing environment.

The easy way to do it would be to implement every project in exactly the same way. Some funders and friends of the organisation have suggested that with our 24 years of experience, and access to research and tested theories, we should put together a master plan which would solve the problems which the children face in an efficient, cost effective manner and then get out there and do it.

We have learnt though, both from my Dad and from bitter experience, that each community is unique. Their priorities and aspirations for their children vary. We have to engage with and listen to the leaders – traditional, political, social and religious- to really understand how we should work and what we should do to really contribute to the quality of life for families and especially for the children.

Mostly, LETCEE has been very successful in working in communities. We have been able to forge strong relationships with the leaders and the community members and we work in a cooperative manner, co-managing the projects with the community liaison committee. This way may be slower moving and sometimes frustrating but we know it is what works best.

Recently however, we moved into a community we had not worked in before. There were so many children in need; so many social problems and it seemed that neither the caregivers nor the leaders cared enough to change things. We rushed in…

In a matter of months we had established a centre, employed staff and determined the opening and closing times. We began to feed the children the food we knew they should be eating, and provided a place where the children could do homework. It was not long before it all went wrong. The community leaders were angry because we had not employed people from the community; the children wouldn’t eat what we prepared and nobody joined the homework club.

Then we remembered again the cardinal rule: Respect the community and listen to the leaders.

After a couple of meetings with the community, the project is flying! Fortunately, we have not had to make many major changes. We have now employed cooks from the community. We chatted to mothers and the children and have reached a compromise on what meals we serve to the 120 children. They now come back fro seconds! We have changed the opening and closing times to meet the needs of working parents and we have made some minor changes to when and how the homework club runs – and now the classroom is bulging in the afternoons.

We are also now co-managing this project with the elected community liaison committee, and the project is changing the lives of the children and their families.

I know Dad would approve.

Written by Mary James


  1. Jane says:

    Great article Mary .Letcee is really doing a wonderful job in the district and should be a model for the whole country.
    Ivan and Ione would be so proud!

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