When professional development involves giraffes, art and a life changing adventure

by Freya Lucas

August 21

When asked to sum up the experience of volunteering to teach and deliver professional development in Swaziland in one word, Kate Preece lands on ‘singular’. While it may seem a strange place to start, Ms Preece explains that her decision was “the singular most amazing experience of my life. It stands out, on its own, as number one”. 

 

During her time in the Matjana classroom, in Kaphunga, Swaziland, Ms Preece lived in the school hut, teaching by day, and delivering workshops about art for preschoolers when the children went home for the day. 

Matjana preschool has been operating for 12 years, providing high-quality early childhood learning opportunities for the five year olds of Ndabeni area Kaphunga, in Swaziland, Africa, and was established by was established by Michelle Brear, a graduate of University of Western Sydney (UWS), as part of her studies. 

 

Ms Preece became involved in working with Matjana through working at Djalaringi Child Care Centre, located on the UWS Kingswood Campus, where she got to know Michelle and was invited to visit Matjana in 2013. 

 

“When I think about my time there, I see a blur of people, animals, landscapes, sunrises and children on swings, for hours on end,” Ms Preece says. 

 

“I hear laughing, crowing, the roof nearly blowing off the hut, and the occasional old bus, rumbling down the rocky dirt road. I taste the endless rice,potato and cabbage – and I feel the humble, natural life of the people in the village, and the open way in which they welcomed us.”

 

Ms Preece woke up on her first volunteer day, and was surprised to see the playground slowly filling with preschool children as the sun came up. 

“I looked at another educator surprised, wondering where the children had come from” she said “There were no adults walking them in. That’s when I found out the children bring themselves to preschool. For some of them, the walk is 45 minutes. I couldn’t believe it” 

 

Another moment of comparison, and gratitude, came when Ms Preece visited the home of the preschool’s teacher, Ncobile. Having spent her day, heavily pregnant, working with the children, Ncobile set off on the 45 minute round trip to collect water for the school, carrying 20 litres back up the hill, balanced carefully on her head. 

Struck by the continual efforts by the educators to make a real difference in the lives of children, even in the harshest of conditions, Ms Preece recently reached out to The Sector for support, not only in encouraging others to volunteer at Matjana and expand their horizons, but also for a far more pressing reason. 

 

“The preschool recently lost the roof to their kitchen and their swings in a storm,” Ms Preece said, explaining that the kitchen is where the children receive what is, for many, their only cooked meal for the day. 

“The mothers and grandmothers of the school are currently cooking on open fire out on the road but are struggling because of strong winds,” she added. While the school sometimes receives donations of food from World Vision, they struggle to raise enough funds to purchase food and pay the teachers, and food is the priority. 

 

The teachers are women from the local community who are committed to the education of the children in their region. 

 

“The need for education within the area is in such high demand they are needing to build a second building to accommodate 4 year olds as well, but have not been able to raise enough funds to achieve this yet. They are desperately needing financial assistance.” Ms Preece said, encouraging early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in Australia to consider how they might raise funds for such a worthy cause. 

“I went there with an open mind, and no particular expectations, as I had no idea what to expect” Ms Preece said. “I am still reeling from it all, and processing the trip. I will continue to be humbled by the wonderful, life changing experience that was Matjana preschool” she said. 

 

The educators and community of Matjana have welcomed Australian early childhood professionals to participate in delivering professional development, and programs which offer “an unmeasurable life experience and opportunity to strengthen the education of children across the world,” Ms Preece said. 

 

To make a donation, or learn more, please visit the Matjana website, here

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