For the past 44 years Mdukatshani, a non-profit organisation, has been working with women and youth in Weenen and Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal. In these rural farming areas, children are the main herders, and the organisation’s Animal Health Promotion Club (AHPC) school program aims to build their knowledge through storytelling and activities.
To date Mdukatshani has partnered with four schools in the area and they are planning to extend this partnership to other schools in the region as well. Rauri Alcock, a spokesperson for the organisation, says young children are currently the primary herders and livestock keepers in many, if not most, rural African homes.
“They are willing learners and learn about livestock and their own health in after school clubs. They use what they learn to manage their own health as well as support their homes in improving basic animal health” – Rauri Alcock
Through the AHPC program, Mdukatshani would like to build on the children’s basic animal and human health knowledge so that they are able to identify and report disease symptoms. They would also like to improve the children’s confidence and school performance in subjects such as English, isiZulu, natural sciences, maths and life orientation.
One of the learners who takes part in the program, Nomfundo Ziqubu, from Ngongolo Primary School in the Msinga area, says: “When it comes to injecting goats, I won’t forget it, because it was my first time doing it. And my mother didn’t believe that I am able to treat and identify a sick animal. The knowledge that I transfer at home is very useful to my brothers too.”
The programme gets the attention of the children with the use of a story and activity book and practical activities, which includes questionnaires and small research projects. According to Alcock the story book was designed with the help of the community. It depicts the everyday life of the learners, to make it easier for them to learn and relate to.
“The storybook explores other issues affecting children such as HIV and gender inequality. This is done by following the daily lives of the main characters in the storybook; a boy named Sipho and a girl named Nosipho, who are fraternal twins.
“Each chapter presents a new problem and opportunity to learn about health, the environment, and the ways in which sickness can be avoided and/or treated in both humans and animals,” says Alcock.
The children are now equipped with the necessary knowledge to help their parents in treating or administering medicine to their goats.
Cindi Ngubane, an AHPC facilitator, says some of the parents are unable to read in English, which makes it difficult for them to follow the instructions.
“Normally the medicine is written in English, so the parents aren’t able to read the instructions. They end up under-dosing the medicine when they are treating the goats. So the children are helping their parents in order to use the right measurements on injecting or dosing goats,” says Ngubane.
Mdukatshani was established in 1975 and works especially with women and youth. The organisation firmly believes that the youth is the future of agriculture in rural areas.
The AHPC program, and the lessons learnt through it, can be seen as a long-term investment for the children as they grow up. After finishing school, they can either go on to study agriculture or join the Community Animal Health Worker (CAHW) program. This will enable them to start a small business, which sells products and services to farmers.