From childhood to change-agent: nurturing future leaders

| 16 September 2016


With an estimated 3.7m orphans in South Africa, non-government children’s organisations are vital to support and nurture the next generation of South Africans. But beyond the provision of basic needs, how can NGOs help mould the development of children in their foundational years to ensure they’re well-adjusted and confident later in life? Experts say it’s through enriching experiences and practical application of skills.

The Nashua Children’s Charity Foundation (NCCF) is unique in their approach to giving underprivileged children more of a head start in life. In addition to providing food, toiletries and school uniforms to a network of 74 children’s charities, they’re determined to ensure orphaned and underprivileged children have access to experiences that stimulate their emotional development and social skills, to better equip them for later life.

The critical years
The NCCF’s approach is founded in the belief that the more diverse and exciting experiences children are exposed to in their formative years, the better chance they have of forming a strong sense of self – and the experts agree. Teacher and child psychologist, Jess Schultz, says strong self-awareness and confidence are the basis for leadership qualities later in life.

“The first seven years of a child’s life are the most important in establishing life skills and are critical for developing character,” says Schultz. “These foundational years can shape the child’s future and ability for growth – not just in terms of intelligence, but also emotional capability.”

According to Schultz, establishing a strong sense of self and propensity for assertion is dependent on various factors that go beyond basic needs and extend to emotional support and development.

“Empathy and effective communication skills are borne out of affection, attention, positive reinforcement and mental stimulation during the first seven years of a child’s life,” explains Schultz. “Exposing children to new and exciting experiences like those provided by the NCCF, and encouraging them to question and take an interest in the world around them is what instils valuable character traits.”

Schultz goes on to say these individuals, who’ve had the benefit of foundational character development, are more likely to achieve success in pursuing higher-level leadership positions – whether in business, or any other area of life.

“Developing the mind and character of a child goes beyond the spoken word – it’s through real-life, practical experiences that children can apply the skills they’ve learnt and become socially aware,” comments Schultz.

Upliftment through experience
Helen Fraser, founder and director of the NCCF, is the driving force behind the foundation’s unique approach, believing real-world experiences do the most for childhood development.

She has over ten years’ experience working with underprivileged children from charities across SA, having grown the NCCF from supporting just two charities, to a network of 74 across Gauteng and the rest of the country. All organisations supported by the NCCF are given access to enriching experiences that broaden horizons and encourage learning.

“Whether it’s a trip to a nature reserve, a sports day or visits to museums, science centres and historical monuments, we specifically choose activities that instil important life lessons, like teamwork, responsibility and awareness of the environment,” says Fraser.

Fraser emphasises the importance and benefits of new and exciting extra-curricular activities in growing a child’s character. She maintains that without this essential growth, children don’t develop the confidence and self-belief necessary to become agents of their own future – and that’s why they ultimately get left behind.

“These children could go on to change the world around them, and we have the ability to equip them with the skills to do that,” concludes Fraser.

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