HER passion for early childhood development and commitment to giving the pre-schoolers of Walmer township the same quality of education that her own "privileged" children are getting, have resulted in Ellen Lovemore being named a finalist for The Herald GM Citizen of the Year award.
Lovemore started the Heatherbank Pre-School on the family's vast property in Heatherbank, grooming toddlers from the neighbouring township and gearing them up to start their primary school education on an equal footing with their former Model C peers.
She did this after realising that the Basic Education Department did not cater for pre-schoolers – a function that falls under the Social Development Department.
"This is our contribution. We want to show how serious we are about early childhood development and waiting on the department for help has got us nowhere," she said.
Having seen the kind of education her four children were getting, Lovemore wanted children from Walmer township – where, she said, about 3000 young children were not getting a solid pre-school education – to receive the same as a government former Model C school. The school has two classes – pre-grade R and Grade R – with 20 pupils in each. In its employ are three qualified teachers – one per class and another to help out – paid by the Lovemore family, which also sees to the financial day-to-day running of the school.
The pre-school will serve as a feeder to the existing Heatherbank Primary School, which had been running since 1974 and was closed down by the department due to dwindling pupil numbers recently, that her family is trying to resurrect.
They will again dig into their pockets.
"That will see the kids staying with us until they finish their foundation, which is the most critical part of their entire education. We teach them English so as to make the transition to primary school smoother. We are not here to give second-hand education, but that which is on a par with other good schools," she said.
Lovemore said the pre-school's success mostly stemmed from the goodness of humanity as many had donated some unused or second-hand learning material for use at the school.
She said Collegiate Girls' Primary School, among others, has been very generous with donations, giving the school everything from stationery to used learning material. The children are picked up from their homes at 6.30am and taken to school, where they enjoy porridge for breakfast and a cooked meal for lunch.
Lovemore prepares the meals at her home and takes them to the school.
Lovemore, who wishes she could reach more pupils, lends support to Early Inspiration – a programme that trains Walmer township women running informal creches to be formal early childhood development (ECD) practitioners – to in turn reach other children.
"There are about 43 informal creches in Walmer township – women who are doing what I'm doing with far less resources.
"I'm still blessed in that I have access to assistance and get support from my husband [Chris] and the community," she said.
"My biggest reward is seeing these children grow physically and mentally because at the end of the day kids are all the same, they just need to be given the right opportunities to excel."
Collegiate Junior School Grade 2 teacher Heather Moulton, who nominated Lovemore, described her as a passionate woman with a big heart.
"I am in awe of Ellen's commitment to making a difference to others at her expense in time, skills and finance."