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Growing up in Philippi-East – one of the largest townships in Cape Town, little Ayandiswa has had more than just a life of extreme poverty to overcome, born with a number of developmental delays, he faced the prejudice of a community that did not know how to support him too.

As a baby, Ayandiswa’s mother, a single parent working as a domestic worker and supporting Ayandiswa and his five siblings on her part-time income, noticed that he was often unwell and took him to the local children’s hospital. With only a limited knowledge of English and without a complete education to assist her understanding of his diagnosis, Ayandiswa’s mother did not know exactly what was wrong with him, just that he was different from other children and that he would develop more slowly.

Returning home, Ayandiswa’s mother did not know how to care for him, and, rather than face the discrimination of a community that attached great stigma to children with special needs, kept him shut up in their small shack.

Luckily, Ayandiswa lived next door to the Sunshine Educare Centre, one of eight Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres supported by SAEP. Recognising the value of this critical developmental stage – a time when a child’s life trajectory is set based on their cognitive and emotional learning, SAEP has been working to support under-resourced ECD centres in the Philippi area for over 10 years.

And, having attended SAEP training on supporting children with different abilities, Lucy Sithetho, the principal of Ayandiswa’s neighbouring ECD centre, invited Ayandiswa’s mother to enrol him in her centre as, even though he was of school going age, Ayandiswa was not yet developmentally ready to attend primary school and was only unctioning at the level of a two or three year old.

Lucy immediately contacted SAEP and, together with its staff, began putting together a support plan for little Ayandiswa including special activities for in the classroom and at home. Visits to a state occupational therapist were also setup and, from there, Ayandiswa was registered at a local primary school.

However, this was not the end of the story Ayandiswa. Following up on his progress, SAEP discovered him back at Lucy’s ECD centre just four days after starting his new school. Finding it hard to cope, Ayandiswa had been asked to leave. Wanting to waste no time in finding the best possible placement for him, SAEP’s ECD team took Ayandiswa to a private occupational therapist for assessment and worked with her to place him in a school for children with special needs where he is progressing superbly. Now, when Lucy sees Ayandiswa on his way to school each morning, he smiles and waves at her.