Durban, 01 Dec 2023 – Following the noteworthy achievement of being awarded the prestigious Mandela Rhodes Foundation Äänit Prize, in September 2022, Dr Jessica Ronaasen, National Programmes Lead at the DO MORE FOUNDATION (DMF), in collaboration with key partners, has successfully spearheaded a transformational programme across South Africa. Their collective efforts have led to the upliftment of 42 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres spanning six vulnerable communities with the implementation of a Parent Education Programme named EAT LOVE PLAY TALK (ELPT).
Dr Ronaasen, along with three other Mandela Rhodes Scholar alumni, was honoured with the Aänit Prize, in recognition of projects that have significant potential to deliver meaningful social impact for Africa’s most marginalised populations. Subsequently, the funding from the award received by Dr Ronaasen and the DMF was directed towards the then-newly created ELPT programme.
“The funding support we received as part of the Aänit Prize, along with the contribution from the JD Group enabled the expansion of our EAT LOVE PLAY TALK programme into new communities and new ECD sites,” says Dr Ronaasen. “For children to thrive they need to grow in environments that provide responsive caregiving, nutritious meals, and early learning through play. As a result of the programme, we are seeing a flood of positive outcomes ranging from improved nutrition in lunch boxes to enhanced meal planning and parents/caregivers’ increased involvement in their children’s day,” she adds.
As a key organisation championing food security for improved ECD outcomes in South Africa, the DMF recognises the crucial role of parents/caregivers in addressing the challenge of hunger and malnutrition in communities. It does so by partnering with multi-sectoral organisations that support the delivery of ELPT Train-The-Trainer sessions, which build the skills of ECD principals and practitioners to speak about nutrition and play with parents/caregivers in their local communities.
Beyond the six community sites, the DMF has extended the programme’s reach to several business sites, notably expanding the ‘Nutrition Leader’ component into South African communities through collaboration with the Seriti Institute. Since March 2023, the DMF and Seriti Institute partnership has facilitated the empowerment of five cohorts with 370 nutrition leaders from the Work.Grow.Learn, aRe Bapaleng and the National Youth Service Programme. The leaders are now equipped to confidently deliver nutrition and play messages in their local communities through the ELPT programme. Upon completion of all seven sessions by year-end, the first cohort of ELPT facilitators will receive certificates marking this milestone in their commitment to empowering communities with vital knowledge.
“The current climate emphasises the crucial need for nutrition and public health messages to resonate with families and communities like never before,” states Dr Ronaasen. “Caregivers want to do right by their children, and it is wonderful to see how local leaders are becoming champions of nutrition messages in their communities.”
The significance and necessity of national programmes such as EAT LOVE PLAY TALK is underscored by reports such as the one released by Statistics South Africa, revealing that 23.6% of South Africans in 2020 were affected by moderate to severe food insecurity, while 14,9% experienced severe food insecurity. Additionally, a report compiled by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group indicates that these figures are compounded by the country’s R480 child support grant which stands 28% below the food poverty line of R663 and 43% below the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.
Through initiatives like ELPT, driven by visionary leaders like Dr Ronaasen, and a network of over 260 partners, the DO MORE FOUNDATION is dedicated to combatting food insecurity, addressing malnutrition and uplifting the lives of South Africa’s young children.