Vodacom’s commitment to halving its environmental impact by 2025 remains a key priority. This pledge is being put into action in a new Vodacom Green Early Childhood Development (ECD) Programme where the company will facilitate the planting of vegetables at various ECD centres across the country. The Programme aims to ensure access to food through sustainable farming at these centres, improving the quality of life for the children and the communities they serve.
“The latest figures show that over nine million people in South Africa are facing high levels of acute food insecurity. For children, with the basic right to food out of reach, learning often falls by the wayside. Urgent, immediate action is needed through sustainable farming practices, which can help to reduce these food gaps now and, in the future, as well as to support education while preserving our planet for the next generation,” says Takalani Netshitenzhe, External Affairs Director for Vodacom South Africa.
Eight ECD centres within Vodacom’s education ecosystem will benefit from a six-step sustainability journey where viable food gardens are being planted and will supplement feeding schemes while promoting sustainable practices, contributing further towards the company’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Programme.
Sustainable access to healthy food a priority
With the alarming food-insecurity figure in mind, the first step of Vodacom’s Green ECD journey is to ensure access to food through sustainable farming at these centres. Through partnerships with local NPOs and private businesses, the Green ECD Programme will see vegetables and fruit trees being planted at the ECD centres to supply the children with healthy food.
To complement these sustainable gardens, the programme will also run educational workshops and sustainable farming training for educators and parents on sustainable farming practices. This is something that can be filtered through to the children’s families and other community members. This will help to maintain the food gardens and ensure sustainable food production while addressing the need for skills development. In addition, educators and parents will be able to use their new-found knowledge to guide young children in making better choices for the planet.
Completing the sustainability journey
The installation of clean solar energy and a sustainable water supply has seen each ECD centre fitted with a 5 000-litre JoJo Tank to collect rainwater, as well as six solar panels and energy-efficient appliances and lighting. With these initiatives, children can be cared for and educated in safe spaces that not only have a low impact on the environment but can also sustain them.
Vegetables and fruit planted in the gardens, including tomatoes, butternut, spinach, beetroot, and peaches, have been chosen for their nutritional value and their ability to withstand varying growing conditions. The food gardens also provide opportunities to supply local vendors and increase access to fresh produce in the area.
Vodacom has already kitted out many of these centres with laptops and tablets, to be used as resources for educators and children on how to follow sustainable practices. This aligns with Vodacom’s education ecosystem approach, which aims to leverage digital technology to enhance access to education and teach children why caring for the environment is so important.
The ECD centres benefitting from the programme are Grasar Day Care Centre in Gauteng, Lady Frere Day Care Centre in the Eastern Cape, Divhani Community Creche, Hulisani Day Care Centre and Mvelaphanda Day Care Centre, all in Limpopo, Strydenburg Day Care Centre in the Northern Cape, RANS Future Kids in Mpumalanga and Sthandokuhle ECD Centre in KwaZulu-Natal.
“At Grasar Day Care Centre, we want to create a safe, educational space for the young children in our community. For many, the only healthy meal they receive is with us at the centre. The sustainable food gardens are not only nurturing their physical wellbeing but nurturing their minds with learning opportunities. This will lay a solid foundation for their education in the future,” says Grace Maluleke, owner of Grasar Day Care Centre.
At the end of 2021, several volunteer days were held at each ECD centre, where participants could assist educators and members of the community with gardening activities and join in introductory workshops to sustainable farming methods, such as permaculture. Green infrastructure has been installed at two of the ECD centres with the remaining installations to take place early this year.
“We are excited to go on this green journey and help look after the planet for the next generation. By receiving training in sustainable practices, and using digital technology as an educational resource, we can pass on knowledge to not only the children at the centre but to the rest of our community. This can empower them with new opportunities to transform their lives,” adds Maluleke.
“ECD is recognised as a national priority in our government’s National Development Plan: Vision 2030. Through partnerships with local NPOs, private businesses, and communities, the Vodacom ECD Green Programme is ensuring children are given the best start in life with appropriate learning material, nutrition, and infrastructure. This supports our efforts in going further together to connect the next digital billion to a better future without a cost to the environment,” concludes Netshitenzhe.