Making the numbers count

Children’s minds are like sponges. They absorb everything, no matter how young. This is just one of the many universally-accepted truths by parents and researchers alike.
It’s why many parents try to teach their children as much as possible from an early age. And they also opt to send them to day care or creche from as early as three months. It is often out of necessity as both parents work, but it also gives children a head start in learning.
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They learn about colours, shapes and sounds; with toys to help them along this journey. They learn to open books and recognise animals by sight first and then by words. There’s technology too that opens up another world of opportunities.
 
I have often heard parents say, “My child picked it up at creche. He/she is learning so much, learning how to read and learning how play with other children too.” My own experiences as a parent, mirror this.
These are crucial moments and important development milestones that shape young minds as they prepare for “big school” – known as grade one. I recall my pre-school days fondly. For me, it was the start of learning not just alphabets and numbers, but learning about life.  And so, it jolted me when I realised that many children do not have access to early childhood development  – ECD – and miss out on reaching their true potential.
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Can you imagine how lost this child feels?
Is it fair that this child misses out because his/her parents cannot afford to pay for pre-school?
And then we wonder why literacy levels in South Africa are so poor…
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I talk of just one child, but the numbers are overwhelming.
 1 147 000      The number of children at risk of missing early childhood developmental milestones.
6                      The number of pre-school years to lay a strong foundation.
2008               The year we began to do something about it.
1372               The number of pre-schools we support.
211034           The number of children we impact daily across 7 provinces.
29 000 000    Our investment since 2008 in South Africa’s future.
These statistics are from The Unlimited Child, a skills development non-profit organisation that has been working to level the playing fields. Today marks the start of another mammoth journey in the organisation’s history. Their aim is to raise funds to support 5 000 ECD centres by 2021 and impact the lives of more than 600 000 children.
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Six South African adventurers plan to summit the world’s highest active volcano – Ojos del Salado – on the border between Argentina and Chile in South America. The peak is 6893 metres and the conditions are undoubtedly harsh.
I chatted to one of the adventurers Wallis Watt ahead of the journey to find out more. Watt is also the Chairperson of The Unlimited. (Please note – NOT The Unlimited Child.  The Unlimited is the organisation that funds the operational costs of The Unlimited Child as all donations go solely to the pre-schools.)
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It’s a risky journey that you will be embarking on, but you say it pales in comparison to the struggle faced by children aged 5 and 6 in South Africa. How so?
It really does because, even though there are clear parallels between the treacherous adventure we are going on and the struggles faced by the children, there are also stark contrasts. For one, I am doing this voluntarily and hope to experience personal growth as a result.  The little children out there have no choice when it comes to their pre-school education. They trust the adults of the ‘village’ to do what’s best for them. When that ‘village’ doesn’t have the resources, then charity organisations, like The Unlimited Child, become essential to their futures. My little adventure will become wonderful memories soon but a child’s preschool education (or lack of it) impacts their life forever.
But, why is this something South Africans should care about? Is it not government’s responsibility?
An age-old debate and one that we chose not to waste energy on. The Unlimited Child is not in the game of finger-pointing. We prefer to get stuck in and shift lives daily. The alternative; leaving more and more little ones, whose growing brains are yearning for strong foundational education, without that vital input, is unacceptable.
Are you hopeful then that South Africans will support this cause financially?
Oh absolutely, I have already seen support coming from my own network which has been super. The Unlimited Child needs, and appreciates, every cent. The great thing is that The Unlimited covers all the operation need a of The Unlimited Child, so every cent donated goes directly into the program. Visit www.makethenumberscount.co.za to find out more about how our expedition is being used to raise awareness and how your numbers (money) will be used to impact the numbers (success rates) of our future adults.
Tell us more about the team and how you have all come together to prepare for this expedition?
There are six of us in total; two team members come from the Cape, Sean Wisedale is the expedition leader and three of us are KZN-based so preparation has been done in our local groups. The whole team will only come together at the airport in Johannesburg on the 12th Feb en route to Chile. Sean is the first African to have climbed all Seven Summits (the highest mountains on every continent). He is incredibly experienced so having him as our leader gives me immense comfort. It will also be incredibly special because my dad, Iain Buchan and my husband Ken are also on the expedition. They’ve both done extreme adventures before and I am very excited to be doing this one with them. The two Cape-based team members are Dr Peter Berning, a lifelong family friend, medical doctor and experienced adventurer, along with his son, Clyde. It’s going to be a really special experience to be with people I love, who also share a passion for shifting the lives of children in SA.
You are hours away from your journey – what’s going through your mind?
So many things. Are we all ready? Have we prepared enough? Have I shaken the bug I had a few weeks ago. But then, there’s also the only  stuff  I really should be focused on right now; the new place I’ll be exploring, the new physical and mental boundaries I’ll be pushing, the invigoration of surviving a treacherous expedition. I’m also looking forward to the beauty and remoteness of being in the desert and the mountains. My mind is so full, but I am so eager to set off and improve not only my life but the lives of so many children in South Africa.
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And, that begs the question – what are you doing to improve the lives of South Africa’s children?
If you or your company, whether you are a CEO or an employee, are in a position to donate financially, please do. Every cent makes a difference. You can make the numbers count. You can uplift the lives of South Africa’s children. 

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