“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”
My small dream led me down an interesting path scattered with amazing accomplishments. I never really gave much thought to William Arthur Ward when he said, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” But my journey proved him right. Having taught in private schools both in South Africa and abroad, and having studied the Montessori approach to education, I became passionate about making this pedagogy accessible to the more disadvantaged communities of South Africa. In 1989, on my return from the USA, I was the only black qualified Montessori preschool teacher. Although Montessori schools had existed in South Africa since 1976, I discovered that they were only located in affluent white neighbourhoods. This was despite the fact that most research documented on the Montessori preschool shows the benefits for low-income communities.
In 1995, I was invited to introduce Montessori methods to a preschool serving the children of factory workers in Cape Town’s Salt River community. This opportunity allowed me to realise my passion to bring quality preschool education to children from impoverished areas, and to empower women in the process. This project gave birth to the Montessori Early Learning Foundation (MELF). The vision of MELF was quite simple. Our commitment is to the young child. To put the young child first, we needed to increase the capacity of individuals, communities and organisations to provide quality ECD services. As the organization grew, a management board composed entirely of women was formed and MELF was registered as a Non Profit organisation (048-964-NPO). In order to facilitate donations, MELF applied for and obtained an 18A Tax-Exempt Status. With the emergence of the South African Qualifications Authority, the MELF team worked hard to register its courses with the relevant sector. In 2004, the ETDP SETA granted MELF full accreditation to train students on the SAQA NQF Levels 4 & 5 (ETDP-9994).
MELF has continued to grow from strength to strength. In 2008 MELF won the ABSA/Unicef Award for Best Resource & Training Organisation of the year (provincially). In 2012, MELF Montessori lecturer, Shamiemah Jassiem, won the ABSA/Unicef Award for Best Early Childhood Development Trainer of the year, a national accolade.
Today MELF is a fully fledged tertiary institution providing quality training to aspiring Montessori teachers from all walks of life. Over 300 women have graduated from the programme. A programme that started with a small dream…