Changing and inspiring a community with Grace, by Lindokuhle Magasela

Grace Nongogo (58) runs one of the most successful SmartStart centres. She was even selected as a speaker at this year’s Inspiration Awards. This was on behalf of her franchisor, Siyokholwa Development Foundation, who was a finalist for this prestigious award.

WHY DID YOU START YOUR SMARTSTART EARLY LEARNING SITE?
“A child went missing once and never returned home from playing. To this day nobody knows where the child is. The reason I started my centre is because children are not safe. Children run around the streets and play in dirty areas, while falling behind their peers whose parents can afford the fees to send them to pre-school. I have always loved children, but I didn’t think it was possible to work with them. I had already
disqualified myself from achieving this dream.”

WHAT DOES BEING A SMARTSTARTER MEAN TO YOU?
“I’m so grateful to SmartStart because it took me from the bottom and now I run my own business. I am independent. I even fixed up my house. I see the power of education every day. I am now a ‘teacher’, a ‘principal’, giving children the power to succeed. SmartStart doesn’t just train you and forget you, my coach (Patricia Pindura) is always available when I need her.”

GROWING HER CENTRE…
“I have hired five assistants – Nomakhaya Nxadi, Boniswa Dukumbana, Nozuko Nami, Doreen Bulana and Phuma Tomose – who I can now afford to pay. All but one has been through the SmartStart training. This is to maintain the quality of early learning in my centre.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE
“The children we teach will have a better future because of the work we do. They are like a magic seed, you don’t know what they will become but you have to keep nurturing them and investing in them. I want more SmartStarters to work together and create a better environment for children to grow. Building relationships with parents also goes a long way.”

MORE ABOUT GRACE…
• Mother of seven children (6 girls and 1 boy) and five grandchildren
• Grew up in Mvusi, a small community in Mount Frere
• Is the first born and always looked after her siblings
• Hardly attended school as her parents didn’t believe in investing in a girl child’s education, so she
wants to make sure children have equal opportunities
• Married at 17 and moved to East London with her husband, who does shoe repairs in town
• Worked for 10-years as a domestic worker for a family in Beacon Bay
• Became a SmartStarter in May 2017
• She loves cooking and watching TV with her family or reading in her room