Career driven, academic, activist, mom!

We chatted to one of our beloved team members, Barbara Stemmert, about her last 17 years at Ikamva Labantu, her academic journey, as well as her thoughts on the current state of South Africa. Barbara started at Ikamva in 2003 and is now in the managerial role of Head of Programmes.

What has been the most memorable moment during your Ikamva years?

The 20th April 2012, the day Helen Lieberman and I stood on the stage at the Kwakhanya Early Childhood Learning Centre in Khayelitsha, and addressed the crowd with the vision and purpose of the centre. A dream Helen which came to fruition, and I was pleased to be able to play a part.

Barbara and Mildred Bopoto, Head of Early Childhood Development, at the Ikamva Labantu Seniors Cultural Day, 2019.

How has Ikamva impacted your life?

I consider myself fortunate to be employed at an organization that encourages creativity in developing solutions to challenges our communities experience. The daily work I could liken to an artist’s canvass. The beauty of the painting, not oil on canvass but the humble working together of the entire programme team. Imagine, vibrant colours and various designs that signify the harmonious team effort to radical thinkers trailing off to one side. Each movement of the team imprinting colour and design on our canvas of community development. Over time each one of our colours become a boulder or fade or blend into each other signifying our individual changes. As we influence change in others, we develop ourselves. Ikamva Labantu has taught me to embrace change with patient endurance, as it led to results, I could have never dreamt of.

What has been the most heart-breaking thing you have seen during your work?

The day I visited the home of two deceased children who attended our Kwakhanya preschool. They had succumbed to a fire in their home due to an electrical fault. It was heart-wrenching to see the room they had burnt to death in. I stood there with my team members helpless – offering our condolences to the family as we inhaled the smell of thick smoke in the air. In addition to this, the preschool team who knew the children intimately were filled with grief and needed several debriefing sessions to come to terms with the loss of these young lives.

Tell us about the studying you have done and about your research on Ikamva Labantu.

I am an Occupational Therapist by training who fell in love with community work many years ago. I completed my Master of Science degree in Occupational Therapy in 2019 at the University Cape Town. I chose to explore the occupation of nurturing within the role of a preschool practitioner. The topic of my research was:  early childhood development practitioner’s experience of the occupation of nurturing with children from birth to five years: a descriptive qualitative study.

One of my findings elucidated that practitioners became aware of the attributes and skills needed to provide children with a positive, caring and stimulating foundation within a preschool. The practitioners made this possible only through self-exploration during the psychosocial training. Once they became aware of the effects of their behaviour on those around them, inclusive of their home environments, a general response was to change their approach in how they engaged with others.

What does the future look like for you?

For now, I am filling my life with as many fun experiences as possible and enjoying being a mother to my amazing teenage son. In the near future, I plan to continue studying and I would love to develop my research skills further in writing up our work at Ikamva Labantu.

What does the future of South Africa look like to you?

A very tricky question to answer in light of all the violence, unemployment, poverty and failing service delivery to mention a few that affects our daily existence. It is challenging for the citizen in the street to walk the “straight and narrow” when the leaders we look up to set very low standards. Consequences for their actions is not handed out speedily which results in despair, distrust and feelings of hopelessness.

In saying this we cannot lose hope. We, the citizens of this beautiful land still have control over our individual actions. Together, each positive action is a spark which, together with many little sparks, can make a flame and result in a fire. We need to keep forging ahead by doing good to fight for a positive future for our country.

What does the future of Women in South Africa look like to you?

We have a bright future as opportunities to be educated and skilled to hold positions of influence exist. Raise daughters with standards of how they should be treated and boys who understand what it means to be a man. Both genders learning to respect and value each other’s roles.

If there was one piece of advice you could give women what would it be?

Be courageous! Push forward with all your might and you will be pleasantly surprised by your capacity.

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