Early Childhood Development (ECD), entrepreneurship, and dreams of becoming a speech therapist motivate JumpStart success story, Siduduzile Mthembu. There’s nothing small about her educational ambitions, which took some time to get going. There’s everything big about her determination to come back from hard times. Her life’s focus now is her work as an educator, entrepreneurship, and the dream of becoming a speech therapist. These things keep her in the books – literally and metaphorically. She wants to make a real difference to Katlehong, the community she cares about most. Sometimes you take a detour to get to where you’re supposed to be…
How did it all start?
After matriculating at Alafang High School I started an accounting diploma at Mangosuthu University of Technology in 2009. Plans didn’t go well. The stress of my studies and the pressure of changing my family’s future led to depression. Although it felt like failure, the skills I learned informed my small business many years later. It took two years to recover and I’m glad I pulled through. Sometimes you go in different directions before reaching your career dreams.
What followed was a year supervising the Reahile Primary School aftercare programme, and then a successful referral to JumpStart. I started my internship at Izibuko Primary School in 2016. I loved making a difference to the children in my community for two happy years.
What did you learn as a Jumpstart tutor?
I started thinking about developmental milestones when Mrs Bogogolela encouraged me to observe certain children carefully. She opened my mind to how I could assist them better. The overcrowded classrooms made it difficult to reach all the children, but she helped me understand just how much the Jumpstart programme aided her. Our presence as tutors gave educators an opportunity to focus on those children needing additional support. The Izibuko teachers coached and encouraged me, which motivated me to support my mentors in any way possible. I wanted to push the youngsters in my classes to achieve more than was expected.
Who influenced you significantly?
I was surrounded by many great mentors at Izibuko Primary, but the children taught me the most. They drove me to become the best version of myself. I realised they are more open to learning in the early stages of education. Their eagerness showed me how big a difference I could make. The classroom became my new happy place, a place of possibility, growth and hope.
What was difficult about leaving JumpStart?
I was sad to leave the children I’d come to know and love. There was still so much more to achieve. Mrs Bogogolela advised me to become the best version of myself, so I left to start my placement training, a requirement for my ECD studies through Montessori Centre, South Africa. After graduating in 2019 I’m thrilled to be a pre-school teacher at Hillkruin Montessori.
What is your philosophy of education?
For me, “the child is the client”. When educators and parents push their ideas and ideals onto their children, children don’t work independently or develop at their own pace. Our job is to provide all resources needed in this process, and then to trust the child’s initiative. I have seen first-hand how a little extra attention and encouragement makes a significant difference.
Thoughts on Covid19?
Working in the private sector has shown me that life goes on, regardless of the pandemic. Children are resilient and adapt seamlessly from the classroom to online learning. This is the power of privilege. The same cannot be said of the children where I come from. For months they went without ECD education and have probably forgotten most, if not all they learnt this year. Like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others..”
I recently launched Thari e Ntsho, a catering supply business operating in Katlehong. ECD work takes place during the week in the classroom. Catering happens on the weekends, so there’s a great opportunity to expand my creativity and earning potential. My goal is to grow the enterprise to cater more widely in time. However, Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings halted that. Safety is a great concern for the families we serve and the staff we employ. It was a painful decision to close our doors. Beyond the lost revenue, people depend on us. I look forward to reanimating my business when the economy reopens and love being in service to my community.
What are you reading?
To keep my teaching skills sharp, I revisit a classic ECD text, The Young Child in Context by Marike de Witt. As I adjust to the new way of teaching online, my first port of call is the Global Montessori Network.
Tips for JumpStart tutors?
Depression is a very serious condition that can affect anyone. I’ve gone through the worst, so I want to tell people: don’t lose hope. Reach out and talk about it to someone at Lifeline or SADAG. Remember, you are not alone. Sometimes a wrong turn is just your way of finding your real path and best purpose.