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Keeping them safe: Teresa’s story

Some of the children at Teresa's creche. Photo: matthew Willman/OxfamAUS

This week we meet Teresa, a refugee from Zimbabwe, who established her own home-based crèche with the support of Oxfam partner Refugee Social Services (read our interview with RSS’s director, Yasmin Rajah, here).

Teresa, a mother of three, has been running a child-care centre from her apartment since 2010. She spoke to Gladys Ryan in her tiny bedroom, while an assistant looked after the children in her living room.

Of the living room, Gladys reports: “There has been an effort to make the little room look and feel like a classroom. The children greet us and sing for us. They look happy and full of fun. One can see that Teresa puts a lot of care into her crèche and the children in her care.”

Teresa gets ready for a day at her home-based childcare centre. Her face is obscured to protect her identity. Photo: Matthew Willman/OxfamAUS
Teresa gets ready for a day at her home-based childcare centre. Her face is obscured to protect her identity. Photo: Matthew Willman/OxfamAUS

Getting to South Africa

How long have you been here in South Africa?

Five years.

Can you tell us about your journey here and why you came?

My journey from Zimbabwe to here, it was not so difficult because I was using my passport, so I was using the bus to come here. But the main thing which causes me to come here is because of the conflict … in the government, because ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) and MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) were having conflict.

Another issue which causes me to come here is because of my big son who was not able to go to school. Most of the time the teachers were going on strike. Even me, where I was working, I get retrenched. So I decided to come here.

Did you come with your husband?

My husband was already here before me.

What does he do?

My husband is a driver, but right now he’s not working, he’s looking for a job.

The RSS difference

How did you hear about RSS?

I was working in a crèche with another lady called Nosula. She’s from Rwanda but right now she’s back in her country. She’s the one that invited me to RSS.

In December 2010 I managed to get this flat and I started to do my own thing. Then I went to RSS and they provided me with those table and chairs to start my own business, and also the mattresses: a start-up kit.

What difference do you think your relationship with RSS has made in your life?

When I came here I was a nobody, but now I’m someone else. Like right now my husband is not working, (so) I’m able to pay my children’s school fees because now there’s two of them going — one in grade 7 and one in grade 2. I can manage to pay the school fees, I can manage even to buy food and sometimes I will pay electricity. So it changes my life.

Of childcare and challenges

The apartment block from which Teresa runs her creche. Photo: Matthew Willman/OxfamAUS
The apartment block from which Teresa runs her creche. Photo: Matthew Willman/OxfamAUS

Tell us about your crèche.

When I started this crèche in 2010 I accommodate all races – Indians, coloured, blacks from different countries also. The main mission for this crèche is to provide better quality education for the kids.

In my crèche I also offer graduation to those going into grade 1 … and I look for grade 1 places in schools … schools where I send my children.

When they go (to school) it will be perfect because I teach them how to write the numbers, how to draw the shapes, colours, and even the rhyme songs. They go to grade 1 knowing the days of the week, months of the year. They’ll be learning everything here before they go to grade 1, so … it will be easy for them.

Can you tell us about some of the changes you’ve seen in the lives of the children and their families?

Before I opened this crèche in this building, some of the parents were facing difficulties (about) where to leave their children. They just leave their children locked in their houses; no one is going to look after them. And I made the change of opening this crèche and now they will bring their children here and I will look after them.

What are some of the challenges you face?

So many challenges … as a foreigner in this country. Most of the children who come here are South Africans, so for them to pay you – aye – it’s very difficult. So like right now it’s the beginning of the month but not all of the parents already pay me. Some of the parents they just say we will pay you on the 15th but when the day comes they won’t.

Even the stationery: I will end up providing the stationery for the children. If you ask the parents to buy the stationery, they will just say, “I’ll buy.” But … I feel so bad to see the child just sitting, not doing anything. I’ll end up buying the stationery for that child.

You’re saying the kids you look after are mainly South African then, not refugees?

Some of the children are from Congo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe also. They bring their children here. I’m also changing their lives because we are the foreigners together … They feel happy to find me as a foreigner like them, taking care of their children … They will just say, “We decided to bring our children here, maybe you will take care better of them”.

How many children do you look after?

There are 15 but some of them they didn’t come today because of the weather.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your relationship with RSS?

My relationship with RSS… they are very good people. If I get any problem I just call Winnie, and when I go there … makes an effort that all my problems are solved.

Find out more

Read our interview with the Director of Refugee Social Services (RSS), Yasmin Rajah

Learn more about our work keeping vulnerable children in South Africa safe

Your donation will help support refugee women setting up home-based creches