In a hut of the squatter camp “Mzamo’Mhle” near Gonubie, a suburb of East London, Simone Becker, wife of a German Daimler employee in South Africa, went the first steps towards getting the smallest children of the squatter camp off the streets. This was the beginning of the Simunye Daycare Center.
Today’s success of the Simunye Daycare Center lies in the powerful unity of many different people.
“Simunye” from the language of the Xhosa means “we are one”.
Since its opening in 2001, Simunye takes care of 60 Xhosa children of the age between 2 and 5 years annually. The children spend their day in the center in a friendly environment. They receive a breakfast, a warm lunch and a sandwich in the afternoon. The daily routine includes suitable activities for children in regard to preschool education and playful English lessons which will become essential for the Xhosa children in school.
Simone Becker remembers:
… I really wanted to understand why, after all these years post-apartheid in South Africa, there was such an apparent difference between the black and white people.
I visited the squatter camp Mzamo’Mhle near our hometown Gonubie with a few ladies of the Mother Teresa’s group of the catholic church. This is where I met Sister Prudence, a middle-aged Xhosa woman and head of a small clinic in the squatter camp. She was a very friendly and kind person, straight forward and caring. From her I learned to face the various challenges of the people in the squatter camp - food, clothing, healthcare, AIDS- and Tuberculose support. Many of these things overwhelmed me. However, one topic I simply could not get out of my mind: The poverty and neglect of the small children on the streets of Mzamo’Mhle. Each day I realized the significant differences between the lives of my own children which were constantly cared for at home and at a small private kindergarten, playing and learning all day long. Meanwhile, in the squatter camp, the older children watched their younger siblings all day long while their mothers were off to their daytime jobs. Accidents happened daily to these children. The stronger ones ruled the streets and bullied the smaller ones. When comparing the lives of my own children to these children, I asked myself which chances these children would have if they lacked all the basics: Nutrition, education, health and a secure environment.
Sister Prudence understood and sent me to the kindergarten of Yandiswa, a young Xhosa-woman who took care of 10 children in her own hut. My friend Ellen Platz and I brought them food, pen and paper, puzzles and balls that day. The children had fun with their new toys. Not only Yandsiwa witnessed with astonishment that a day with stimulations and routine for the children made it also easier for the caretakers to handle the children.
Unfortunally, Yandiswa’s hut got flooded during each rain. We realized that the hut would have to be renewed. Mercedes Benz South Africa allowed us to use their discarded and waterproof wooden parts. With a donation of our friends and families, Ellen and myself paid a few men of the squatter camp to build an entirely new hut for Yandiswa. Due to the bigger hut, Yandiswa could even increase the number of the children she cared for.
The world childhood foundation of Queen Silvia of Sweden became aware of us due to a South African Mercedes Benz Manager. Their donation of 25.000 $ enabled us to buy a big property in the squatter camp next to the clinic and to build a solid construction. Yvonne Lübcke who was also on an assignment abroad in Gonubie with her family planned a 9 to 5 m² building with two recreation rooms for the children, a kitchen and a toilette. Mike Victor who was a resident building contractor in Gonubie implemented the plan. The house and property we transferred notarially to the catholic church to ensure the use of the building as a children daycare center. But of what use is a building without the people taking care of it in the long run? After many discussions I was able to convince a group of South African and German people to take care of organizational matters together. Thus, a committee for the daycare center was founded. Our joint project was named Simunye. “Simunye” is rooted in the language of the Xhosa society of South Africa and means “we are one”. In my opinion this was a great choice as so many people of different communities were part of the foundation of the daycare center. Afterwards my family and me had to return to Germany. So this was my last step to support the daycare center in South Africa locally.
My path for Simunye continued in Germany. With the help of friends and family who had already supported Simunye in South Africa, I initiated the “Förderverein der Kindertagesstätte Simunye in Südafrika e.V.” Anne Haas who took over the organisation of the daycare center on sight was able to establish Simunye as a Non-Profit-Organisation to the competent authorities in South Africa. The non-profit-organisation on the South African side enabled us to have a non-profit-organisation in Germany, too. The German Förderverein for Simunye was approved as a Non-Profit-Organisation by the local court of Böblingen in 2007. With many donors of the German Förderverein we support the daycare center Simunye in South Africa successfully since many years with our regular financial contributions.
We are proud that since the opening in 2001 more than 1000 children of the squatter camp Mzamo’Mhle have received a caring and safe environment by receiving food, improving age-based development and learning minimum requirements in health and hygiene. A small but important step for more education in the squatter camp and less apparent apartheid.
Finally, I want to say thank you from all my heart to those who helped me realize my dream to make a difference for the children of the squatter camp of Mzamo’Mhle.