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Phakamisa: A Project of Pinetown Methodist Church

Chldren served by the Phakamisa ministry in South Africa

South Africa

Phakamisa is a social uplifting and empowerment ministry of the Pinetown Methodist Church in South Africa, funded by United Methodist Women since 2010.

About the organization 

Phakamisa is a social uplifting and empowerment ministry of the Pinetown Methodist Church in South Africa. The organization has been in existence since 1994. It started as a voluntary program, and then became a full time program in 1996.

The word Phakamisa is pronounced pa-ga-mee-sa. It is a Zulu word meaning “to uplift.” The organization seeks to uplift and empower impoverished communities through training, resources and support.

Phakamisa has had the benefit of highly skilled people who are available as volunteers and a paid staff of 25 full and part time teachers, trainers and mentors, the majority of whom are themselves graduates of the program and live in the communities Phakamisa serves. The organization is based at the Pinetown Methodist Church in the small city of Pinetown, and serves impoverished communities within a 50 km radius. Phakamisa provides training to two other settings in Pietermaritzburg and Nyangwini, which serve people living in the outlying areas.

Project and Population Served

United Methodist Women has consistently funded this project for the past 3 years.

South Africa is one of the countries that have taken the global cry for early childhood education seriously. The country’s constitution recognizes children’s right to education, and the government subsidizes costs at registered pre-schools around the country through a variety of programs.

Despite these efforts, much remains to be done. Phakamisa reports that although the government and other non-governmental agencies attempt to meet the needs of communities, the need in South Africa is so vast, particularly in poor communities, that the church and its affiliated organizations play a vital role in empowering and sustaining communities. A 2004 report found that the South African government’s subsidies for pre-schools are very meager, and that teachers find it hard to provide for the preschool children. 

Compounding the problem is the country’s devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic. As of 2009, the country had the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, with 5.6 million people living with HIV/AIDS.

Phakamisa strives to address the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the country’s critical need for pre-school education, and the interlinked problems of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy. Project details are below:

Educare Teacher Training

This program trains adults from disadvantaged communities to teach preschool. Many of the trainees did not receive an education themselves or received an inferior education. The two types of courses offered are the 1 year-long Educare Course, which prepares trainees for teaching 4-6 year-olds, and the 6 month Child Minder course which prepares trainees for teaching 0-3 year-olds. Both courses provide a curriculum that offers practical, hands-on training covering all the necessary concepts required to provide a sound foundation for formal education. Rhythm, music, games, storytelling, creative play, active learning, and respect are integral parts of the courses. Monitors, Phakamisa-trained Educare graduates themselves, visit the trainees onsite to assist in the implementation.

Upon graduating, trainees become Educare teachers. Most Educare teachers continue working in the “crèche,” while some venture out as entrepreneurs to start their own preschool. These facilities are found in churches, community halls, people’s homes, in a wooden cabin, or even under trees.

Manufactured learning equipment such as storybooks, jigsaws, puzzles, games, and toys are too expensive for most Educare Centers, so students learn how to create teaching aids, games, puzzles and musical instruments from waste and recycleables. 

Two hundred to 250 Educare teachers are trained each year. Over the past 18 years, over 4,000 Educare teachers have been trained and 10,000 children benefit directly from the program each day. These children would otherwise not be adequately prepared for formal education.

Wandering Teacher Program

The Wandering Teacher Program has been partially- to fully-funded by United Methodist Women over the years. Phakamisa employs three Wandering teachers who provide free preschool lessons to about 180 children ages 4-6 living in informal settlements with no access to water or electricity. The three teachers are all women from communities in which they teach. Each teaches 2 classes of 30 children each day under a tree, in a community hall or in a cabin provided by a local church.

These children are either from homes where no one is working, or they are orphaned children living under the most appalling circumstances. Phakamisa provides the children with bread and peanut butter each day. In several cases, this is the only food the child receives. For such cases, Phakamisa hands out 45 food parcels each week to the children’s needy families.

Caregiver Program

This program provides support, training and resources to mainly elderly women who care for children orphaned or abandoned through HIV/AIDS. Caregivers in an area congregate as Caregiver groups. Each Caregiver group has a leader who attends Phakamisa’s training workshops twice a month to learn a skill to teach her group back home.

Skilled women called Trainers, local Zulu women who understand the needs of their communities, teach training workshops for caregiver leaders. Trainers teach a variety of skills such as cooking, sewing, literacy, home-based care (how to care for the sick and dying), gardening, parenting skills and beadwork. The Caregiver leader learns these skills and returns to teach her group at home. Trainers monitor Caregiver groups to ensure that what is learned in the workshops is implemented back in the communities, underpinned by emotional and spiritual support and practical resourcing. This leverage principle has enabled the project to impact many individuals and families.

Today there are 260 Caregiver groups with over 1800 Caregiver members providing care to approximately 6,000 children orphaned or abandoned through HIV/AIDS. These children are not necessarily related to the caregivers. Many of the caregivers and children receive no financial assistance from the State, and are living way below the breadline.

Tholunthando Support Group

This confidential HIV/AIDS support group meets twice a month to celebrate life and living positively. The group promotes a healthy lifestyle through education on HIV matters, counseling, social interaction with others who are HIV positive and quarterly outings. Having a close link with Hillcrest Aids Center in Kwazulu Natal, Phakamisa is able to refer people to the Center.

This year the group sessions provide elective classes such as cooking, parenting, home-based care or beadwork.

Phakamisa understands the dire importance of ensuring that people who are HIV positive have a nutritious diet – a difficult task for people living in poverty. Therefore, Phakamisa hosts a compulsory morning class in vegetable growing.

Overall Project Impact

In 2012, the communities trained 242 pre-school teachers. With over 4,000 Educare teachers trained, 10,000 children aged 0-6 are now receiving a foundational preschool education this year. Some of the teachers have qualified for equipment grants from the government to help purchase toys and equipment’s for their classrooms. Others have qualified for the government subsidy, which helps them towards the cost of feeding the children every day. Others have qualified for a monthly salary from the government.

Children are receiving a structured, good, preschool learning program, proving to be ready for formal education upon graduation from Phakamisa’s programs. Several principals of primary schools have begun recruiting students from the Educare-trained centers, and at least one primary school has partnered with the Educare center, identifying it as a successful kindergarten setting.

Elderly women in the caregiver group are supported emotionally and trained in basic life sustaining skills. Phakamisa has trained1600 caregivers, caring for over 6000 orphans.

With the love and care found at Phakamisa, people with HIV/AIDS no longer feel marginalized, isolated and ostracized because of their condition. For example, when 8 members of Tholuthando Support Group died within 2 months of each other, the group could have abandoned the meetings. Instead, some members proactively divided into groups of twos and threes and began visiting people whom they knew were HIV-positive but not attending clinics or support groups. These members started these visits to encourage others to lead a new lifestyle. Consequently, Tholuthando is growing in membership.

Overall, Phakamisa trains people to meet their own needs so they are empowered to build up their communities. Without the support Phakamisa receives, the communities would not be as self-sustaining.

Success Stories: Stories from Interviews


Thuli was a grade eight dropout in 1999. Her mother, who oversaw the Methodist Church crèche and was a Phakamisa graduate, sent Thuli there to learn to be a child minder with 0-3 years olds. She returned in 2000 and 2001 for the Educare and then Supervisor’s Training. She also completed her high school credits. She was certified by the government to assist with kindergarten modules, entered college, and returned to share supervision at the crèche. This year she will complete her Bachelor’s in Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and plans to begin her Honors work in early childhood psychology. She continues to work at the crèche as a teacher.

Thuli keeps track of her former students. This last week she attended the awards ceremonies for two of them, now in grade 9. One received Top Student in her class; the other “Best Learner.”

Her words about herself: “I never thought I could be something good, something perfect to someone else.”


Zincle was child minding at home with 6 children in her small Educare Center and heard about the training offered at Phakamisa. With only a very basic education, Zincle nervously enrolled in the 6 month Child-minders Course. Quickly her fears diminished within the supportive environment at Phakamisa and she grew in confidence and skills. Finishing the course Zincle continued with the longer Educare Course and graduated with a local government-recognized certificate. Today Zincle is proud of her state registered school, which has grown from 6 to 36 children.

“Parents want to send their children to my school,” Zincle proudly explains, “because they know I am a good teacher.”


My name is Lindiwe. I go to Tholuthando support group. I am HIV-positive. I found out in 2003 while my husband passed away and I was so sick and thin. Now I am much healthier since I’m taking my anti-retroviral medicine and I go to Tholuthando support group. [Support Group leader] Glenda is helping us, sometimes she invites people to teach us how to live positively and eat well.
I am looking after myself and I have a grandchild. I am so thankful to God and to Tholuthando.


My name is Thembi; I found I was HIV-positive in 2004. I came to Tholuthando and met Glenda and am so happy about this. I went to the hospital for treatment and so I’m much better.

Glenda helps us know about food and everything and they Glenda and Tholuthando give us a lot of love. I’m so happy.


One of our Caregivers is Nomonde. She has learnt to sew and makes hay boxes, slow cookers or wonder boxes as we call them. (It’s a large fabric bag filled with polystyrene chips, where one places a pot of boiling food to continue to cook slowly.) She proudly says she is no longer a housewife—she can make wonder boxes so now she is a business woman! She’s so proud when people come to her home to collect a wonder box and walk out carrying it! 


Margaret turned 73 in July. She received her first certificate of any nature from Phakamisa when she was 70. Now she has 4 certificates! At last she is becoming a real person, she says. 

Nonkululeko Shezi

My name is Nonkululeko Shezi and I’m the only one working in my family of six. Before Phakamisa took me in I was tempted to do wrong things just to provide for my family, for there is nothing more painful than watching your family suffer from poverty having to sleep on an empty stomach knowing you can’t do a thing.

You have helped me and my family so much that we will enjoy Christmas like every family. From a very ugly cocoon my life is flourishing into a beautiful butterfly and that’s all thanks to you. Don’t ever give up on us. Continue doing your work of helping us, because I can’t find the right words to thank you. You have changed my whole being.. I pray that with what you have given me I can also help others. Enjoy your Christmas holidays knowing you have provided the same for me.

Thandi (Wandering Teacher)

I greet you all in the name of Jesus Christ. I write this letter to thank you for changing my life. Thank you for giving me a salary every month; I am a breadwinner and you really changed my family’s life. I thank you for supporting Phakamisa. May God be with you all, and know that you are not only helping me but all of my family. Thank you is not enough. May God Lord be with you. Remember blessed are those who give. I thank you. 

Last Updated: 04/07/2014

© 2014 United Methodist Women