Big Hope for Little Hearts

The Midlands MagazineJanuary 24, 2023

A look at how a group of educators is creating change and helping children thrive through play.

In Nottingham Road in April 2022, armed with strong coffee and chocolate croissants, a group of passionate educators and creators came together in answer to a worldwide funding challenge presented by The LEGO Foundation in partnership with Lever for Change. Identifying a worldwide underfunding problem in the ECD sector, this Build a World of Play Challenge – a 900 million Danish Krone (just over R2 billion) – called on organisations around the world to work on bold, sustainable ideas to help build a world where every child under six has the chance to learn through play.

The commitment to early childhood upliftment throughout the world drew on LEGO’s 90 years of insight into how powerful play is in supporting and meaningfully impacting children’s learning, well-being, and holistic development. “The aim of the LEGO Foundation is to redefine play and re-imagine learning. We want to build a future where learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. This ambition is more critical than ever. Children grow up facing rapid change, global challenges, and a highly interconnected world, all of which affect their future prospects.”


Inspired by LEGO and its commitment to creating opportunities for learning through play, Nami Futhi (“and me also” in Zulu) was born. “Right from the beginning, we shot out of the starting blocks with our action plan and although we advanced to the second round, we were not ultimately one of the final ten recipients for the funding award,” says Rebecca Wakeford (Midlands Community College Partner and ECD Training Head). “However, in working together, we soon realised that our Nami Futhi team had the passion and expertise to rise to the challenge locally and to build a sustainable early childhood education model driven by one critical goal – the need to end play poverty.”

The Thriveby5 report (South Africa’s first index to track early childhood outcomes) indicates that 65% of South African children between the ages of 0-5 fail to thrive, meaning they will struggle significantly as they reach primary school. Tracking gross motor, fine motor, early literacy, early numeracy, and cognitive skills, the index concludes that a jarring 71% of children who reside within KwaZulu-Natal bear the brunt of this ‘failing to thrive’ statistic. The shocking school dropout rate across the country reflects this, with 40% of children who enter the educational system never completing Grade 12.

“This is where the private and NPO sectors must step in. Government provision for the ECD sector is seriously underfunded and undervalued, with perilous effects on the future outcome of all our learners. We continue to fail our country’s children, increasing the barriers to learning and widening the performance gap between the richest and poorest households at the point of entry into school.” says Jennifer Hindle (ECD Programme Co-ordinator).

“There is a wealth of  research showing how learning through play and effective early literacy programmes provide fundamental building blocks for all formal learning and so our immediate plan of action is to encompass world-renowned LEGO play programmes and a South African contextualised early literacy programme in our teacher and caregiver training and support,” says Pippa Moore (Operations Head and LEGO Play Box trainer) Nami Futhi currently supports 117 children, sponsored primarily through donations by private individuals who appreciate just how critical these early years are in predicting educational success. The community has made a start with Jennifer Hindle’s two current and successful early learning centres (Siyakhula and Sikhulile) in Nottingham Road. The founders of Nami Futhi are passionate about ensuring that every preschool child has access to quality early childhood education.


Through community partnerships with the Midlands Community College (ECD training) and LOVE Notties (an environmental, education, and humanitarian champion partner who assists with feeding children), Nami Futhi is bringing hope to families in the Nottingham Road community by providing quality early learning education to the most vulnerable children, who ordinarily would not have access to pre-school education.

Nami Futhi combines resources to address factors that impact the holistic development of the child, “We cannot overlook the child’s environment and have to take the broader community into account”, says Nosiphiwe Sibisi (Coordinator for Home-based Learning Programs). Parental awareness beginning with pre-natal health, the significant impact a parent can have on their child’s life, and the importance of pre-school are areas that go hand-in-hand with quality educational provision. “We cannot continue to exclude children with special needs”, continues Rose Upfold (Social Enterprise Coordinator), “We need to address ways to reduce poverty, to improve the health of the broader community by providing training opportunities and facilitating social enterprise.” To bring about real change and to be sustainable, Nami Futhi must engage with the local municipalities to prioritise early learning initiatives and, where necessary, drive government policy change and direct funding for this purpose.


Though the challenges are many, where there is passion, there is always hope and at a time when negativity is rampant in the country’s conversations, we do well to recall Nelson Mandela’s words, “Remember that hope is a powerful weapon when all else is lost”. Nami Futhi seeks to collaborate with local individuals and businesses to enable positive, measurable change in early education. Jennifer says, “For the equivalent of three takeaway coffees per week, you can sponsor one child’s year-long learning. We want to install playground equipment, purchase the literacy programme for each centre, and more. Believe as we do that early intervention has the greatest impact on our country’s future, and you understand that the time to act is NOW.”


“Although our Build A World of Play Lego Application has not given us funds, it has given us Nami Futhi” says Pippa and together with the community, Nami Futhi can affect change. In the words of Albert Einstein: “Learn from yesterday. Live for today. Hope for tomorrow”.


Words by: Pippa Moore and Jennifer Hindle