Gautrain Management Agency gives back

While empowering passengers with accessible and reliable services, Gautrain also aims to empower communities by supporting care programmes and people with disabilities. MARISKA MORRIS visits a Gautrain Management Agency beneficiary to learn more

In the unassuming Alexandra Disability Movement compound, bordering Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, sits the Pillsbury Childcare Centre, a beneficiary of Gautrain that provides an invaluable service to parents in need in this area. The centre houses 22 children with severe disabilities and offers day-care services for an addition 10 children.

In spite of numerous struggles, the centre has become an institution servicing the community for two decades already. It all started at a meeting of the Alexandra Disability Movement to learn about the needs of the community. One mother expressed the need for a day-care centre.

Because of her child’s severe disabilities that required 24-hour care, the mother unfortunately was unable to look for employment.

The organisation stepped in by employing some mothers to take care of the children on its grounds. Soon afterwards, however, the programme was halted because of a lack of funding and because some children were being neglected.

A year later Alexandra Disability Movement founder Jerry Ntimbane received funding from the United States company Pillsbury to reintroduce the programme with independent caregivers to ensure the health and safety of the children. Within a few years the centre started accepting permanent residents.

“Through the day-care centre, we realised that the children were cared for mostly by their grandmothers. When the grandmother passes away, there is a problem with caring for the child,” Ntimbane explains. After nearly 20 years, Pillsbury withdrew its business from South Africa and, with that, its funding to the centre. Fortunately, the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) stepped in.

Ntimbane recalls his first encounter with GMA. “It was a shock, because when they visited the centre, they didn’t even stay for 10 minutes,” he says. “They asked me to explain and as I was speaking, they said they understood and left for another meeting.” For Gautrain, however, there was no need for a lengthy meeting.

On arrival, the organisation’s representatives knew that the centre met the requirements set out in the GMA’s social investment programme (SIP): providing community care and assisting people with disabilities. In fact, says GMA CEO Jack van der Merwe, “there was no way we can’t help”.

“We realised that if we could make the centre sustainable and keep it running, it would free up the parents to look for jobs and help an even wider audience,” she says.

In 2017, GMA started donating to the centre. “With the little bit that we gave, they were able to upgrade the facility and its security as well as acquire new wheelchairs. We wanted to do our bit as Alexandra is very close to our hearts and near our offices in Midrand,” Van der Merwe says.

Because of its location, the Pillsbury Childcare Centre was prone to burglaries. That is why, with the GMA’s help, it was a priority to install security cameras and electric fences were installed to prevent crime. The funding has also made it possible to subsidise the stipend paid to the 16 caregivers working at the centre.

Some of the caregivers are unemployed women from the community, while others are teachers in training. Five of them are qualified physiotherapists. This means the children can participate in various age- and disability-appropriate activities.

Some children participate in more structured activities in a classroom-like setting, while those with more severe disabilities are entertained with books and toys in a more informal environment. It is evident that all the children are happy and healthy, the latter being an equally important aspect made possible by the GMA contribution.

Children in the care of the Pillsbury Childcare Centre participate in a range of age- and disability-related activities whether it is listening to stories, playing with blocks or learning skills in a more formal classroom setting.

Ntimbane explains that the government subsidies received by the centre are often unreliable, with a challenging number of requirements. When food is purchased, for example, the receipts need to be kept as evidence and the funding approved. This might result in bulk purchases, with some of the perishables expiring.

GMA assisted the centre in creating an account with Makro, which has allowed Ntimbane and his team to purchase food on a more regular basis with clear evidence of how the money is being spent. “Now, we can ensure that the children receive a healthy, balanced meal every time,” he says.

Although located within an old building, the Pillsbury Childcare Centre is spotless and offers an invaluable service as is evident in the high demand among parents. “We have a waiting list, with some applicants waiting up to three years,” Ntimbane explains. Even with assistance from Gautrain, the centre lacks the funding needed to take on more children.

The centre is eternally grateful for the GMA’s contribution. “We would just like to show our appreciation to GMA. They came at the right time,” Ntimbane says. “The work relationship has been great, with clear communication channels and flexibility to shift funding where it is most needed. We’ve truly experienced ubuntu with Gautrain.”

In turn, GMA only has high praise for the centre. “We are very happy with how they run the centre and handle the finances,” Van der Merwe says. “The programme is only part of GMA’s vision to give back.

“We believe we are part of the community; thus we have to be sensitive to their needs and help where we can to reinvest. It is the right thing to do, which is why it is part of our policy,” he concludes.

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