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Education in Small Steps and Full Circles


It was my privilege to meet and know Makhosazana Fletcher a few years ago when I was working on a play that I had taken from a wonderful book “God Loves Laughter” by William Sears.

Makhosazana and Steven FletcherMakhosazana and Steven FletcherShe and her husband Steven Fletcher were a part of the cast when the play was presented in San Clemente, California.  I sensed then that she was no ordinary human being.  In January of 2009, Makhosazana traveled to Swaziland on behalf of Micro Steps an educational organization with a philosophy based on the belief that every human being is precious and has great potential. That the job of education is to uncover or "draw forth" that potential.  Quoting from the Micro Steps philosophy, “We believe that school is a part of education, but that education is far more than school alone. The world has many needs. True education can create citizens with vision, parents with vision and this will lead to children with vision.”

Micro Steps believes “…that giving is a natural act (as is receiving) but that all too often the giving of charity creates unintended side effects. We feel that if the right atmosphere is created, both the giver and the recipient of a gift will be uplifted. This is our approach, this is the work we have undertaken and we hope you will join us in your own ways.  “We have chosen education as a place to invest small amounts of money in well considered ways”

Makhosazana Fletcher, Micro Steps, Groveland, CaliforniaMakhosazana Fletcher, Micro Steps, Groveland, CaliforniaI asked Makhosazana what motivated her to become involved in Micro Steps?  “I became involved in this work through the work of my mother-in-law, Mrs. Frances Fletcher, who was living in Swaziland and established preschools and trained preschool teachers for Baha'i preschools. The Ministry of Education recognized her great contribution and asked her to train all preschool teachers in the country, which she did until the time of her passing. She also authored The Tender Years - A Guide and Reference for Preschool Teachers, to enhance this vision.”

Makhosazana said…”As a little girl it saddened me to see some children not being able to go to school because their parents could not afford to send them to school. I was very fortunate that my father valued education so much so that he risked his relationship with the extended family by sending girls to school and so "wasting the family wealth" on them. He had lots of cattle (traditionally considered a source of wealth), which he sold to send us all to school. When I started working, I got involved assisting children who were worse off than I was. Now, through Micro Steps and other experiences I have had, I've chosen to be involved in the education of rural preschool children because more often than not, they do not have much in the way of educational materials.  The teachers struggle continually for even the most basic supplies."

Siyachubeka PreschoolSiyachubeka PreschoolMakhosazana explained that …“Education is not free in Swaziland, parents have to pay for their children to go to school. At the Manzana Preschool there were already 38 children enrolled and more were expected, as it was only the beginning of the school year. They had most basic supplies and even had playground equipment, which is very rare especially for rural preschools. After the supplies were delivered and the teacher expressed her gratitude, I went out to the car and encountered two boys (about 7 and 9 years old) outside the preschool building and asked why they were not in school. They said their mother had passed a long time ago and their father could only afford to buy them food and was not able to pay their school fees. This is so disturbing, but nothing can be done, it is a widespread problem.”

Ngodvwane Preschool is looking for more supplies, books, toys and playground equipmentNgodvwane Preschool is looking for more supplies, books, toys and playground equipmentWhat motivated you, was it to bring change and make a difference in the life of these children?

“You could say that one of my motivations was because I was raised in a rural setting myself and I know the struggles of the schools in rural communities. They don't have the same facilities and resources that one observes and finds in urban schools. The teachers and communities have to make do with what they can get. Moreover, education is a way to break the cycle of abject poverty and raise the standard of these communities emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Even though sometimes, I feel helpless and frustrated that Micro Steps can't reach all the needy schools in rural communities, I believe those children that have been touched, get a glimpse of hope for a better and brighter future. These early years "lay the foundation for subsequent learning" it's important to get involved at this stage of their development to create a strong and good foundation. Some are impacted in ways we may never be able to articulate on paper.”

Workshops organized for teachers  - 9 teachers participated to the workshopsWorkshops organized for teachers - 9 teachers participated to the workshopsWhat did you get out of the trip personally?

“I had moments of exhilaration, seeing the teachers and children embrace the fact that whatever was brought, would make their work easier than it's been. Their gratitude to receive the teacher's manual which will undoubtedly make their job so much easier because they can refer to it when needed. Seeing the joy on the children faces when they see stuffed animals and other toys was rewarding. I had some moments of frustration and helplessness because we can't distribute the teacher's manual and other supplies to most of the under-served communities, due to insufficient resources. Other moments were heart-wrenching because of the devastation of poverty, hunger and the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Seeing small children as young as nine years old being heads of households having adult responsibilities with no chance to attend school, was an eye opener in the sense that the problems are larger than we can even imagine. In spite of all these emotions, there is hope that with patience and hard work, something wonderful will gradually come out of these efforts.”

Marvelous PreschoolMarvelous PreschoolIs there anything in particular you would like to say to our readers to inspire them to get up and be involved; maybe go there to serve?

“ Yes, we would like to encourage your readers to find a way to serve that resonates with their hearts - be that through Micro Steps or some other path."

Curious, I asked “are there any male teachers or are they all female?”  Makhosazana said ”I encountered a male preschool teacher at the Malamlela Preschool.  He is the only one that I know of and he continues to be an inspiration and source of continuity for the children as he has been teaching for many years. I visited his school early one morning and as I walked toward their classroom, the children came in and started singing. They taught me a few songs.  The preschool is actually part of another teacher’s house and there is talk that the community should build a preschool as the number of children keeps growing every year! "

Before we go, Makhosazana, would you share some of the highlights of your trip?

Gilgal PreschoolGilgal Preschool"Our goals were the procurement and distribution of preschool educational supplies; the printing and distribution of The Tender Years, making sure that copies of the book were presented to the Ministry of Education and four District Regional Training Centers for Preschools; a workshop to be conducted for nine teachers in one area of the southern district; initial appointments for public lectures for science students in three high schools and engineering students in a technical college by Dr. Stephen Scotti, an Aerospace Engineer working for NASA, who got connected with Steven, Makhosazana’s husband via Face Book; the identification of two preschools for the installation of playground equipment designed and donated by Dr. Scotti.  He was looking for a service opportunity "some place in the world." Steven told him about Micro Steps and rural preschools and the need for playground equipment. He got inspired to design, paid for fabrication of playground equipment and made a trip to Swaziland to have lectures for science students in three high schools and one technical college - also to supervise the installation of the playground equipment for two schools in two villages."

Manzana Preschool - Teacher and children outside their classManzana Preschool - Teacher and children outside their class"There was this amazing lady who established a preschool in her community from scratch after her training with Mrs. Frances Fletcher. She worked there for two years until someone discovered her and begged her to come to another community (her present location from 1994 to present) to start a preschool. She agreed. During this period, she had to move her class from a teacher’s quarters, and then to a library. She realized that if this continued, she wasn’t going to be able to deliver her services satisfactorily as there were more children than the space provided. She took action. From her meager wages of E300 per month, (about $30), she decided to save a good portion of the money for a preschool building. It was a great sacrifice on her part to save this amount of money. When she had saved E10, 000 she started making cement blocks. Some community members realized how determined she was and joined her efforts. Pretty soon, the roof, window frames, and door-frames were donated by an organization. Then the rest of the community decided to get involved in the project. Now she has a solid building and many happy children are enrolled in this preschool. She is such an inspiration to her community and she inspired me too."

Magubheleni PreschoolMagubheleni Preschool"As mentioned earlier, one of the teachers proposed that we offer workshops for teachers.  Nine teachers responded.  They proposed that we start the workshop with prayers.  Introductions were made, each teacher telling the group where they teach, how many children they had and the many challenges they faced with the increasing number of orphaned and vulnerable children and how they were dealing with the situation.  Listening to them relating these challenges, gave me a glimpse of how each one of them is doing their share to alleviate the impact of the crisis in their own way.  What Micro Steps was doing for rural preschools was discussed.  A short story about honesty and bravery, from a book of short stories was shared and discussed and everyone participated."

Siyendle Community PreschoolSiyendle Community Preschool“We talked about how to use The Tender Years, the role of the teacher in the education of the child, procurement of teaching aids and recipes for making various things, observation of the child and hygiene.  We talked about recycling materials and using the “recipes” in The Tender Years on how to make simple items so they don’t have to buy everything and that nothing should go to waste.  The workshop was highly participatory.  Makhosazana related that from this group there were teachers trained by Mrs. Frances Fletcher.  One of them related a story that she had recently lost her husband and her in-laws stripped her of everything she owned except her two small children.  She mentioned that she didn’t believe that she could continue to live, but during the training, she received unconditional love and encouragement and found hope and new friends.”

“On the day I arrived at Mawelawela Preschool the teacher had to go to the clinic and as she is the only teacher, she asked the children to stay home. It is also common practice for most rural preschools to ask parents to not send their children to school when weather conditions are very bad or when a teacher is unable to come to school. “When she arrived later at the school, she was overwhelmed – a load of educational supplies and newsprint had been delivered.  She asked for books, a chalkboard and playground equipment for the children and I made note of this, but could not promise, of course, but we are hopeful that in the near future she will receive the supplies she needs so desperately.”

Sibovu Preschool - Micro Steps purchased the largest roll of newsprint to be delivered to the Principal's OfficeSibovu Preschool - Micro Steps purchased the largest roll of newsprint to be delivered to the Principal's OfficeWhat’s next and sustainable for Micro Steps? I asked.

We are hopeful that our efforts will contribute to long-term sustainability.  To our present and future donors, we thank you again for supporting Micro Steps’ efforts.  We are very fortunate to have generous support that enables us to provide educational and other assistance to needy rural preschools which in turn gives hope for a better and brighter future.”

Micro Steps - Education in small steps and full circles, a charitable organization is very fortunate to have your generous support that enables us to provide educational and other assistance to needy rural preschools, which in turn gives them hope for a better and brighter future. Educators agree that children who attend  preschools jump start their peers who were not able to attend. Many countries in the world struggle with the cost of  elementary, secondary and high schools and simply do not have the extra funds to create and maintain the cost of preschools. In the early 1980's Mrs. Frances Fletcher began to train preschool teachers in Swaziland. For more details, please visit their website at http://www.microsteps.org

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