Her love of children and passion for early childhood development have made Masesi Winnie Nsimbini the pride of Pienaar, a rural area outside Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.
Nsimbini, the reigning best early childhood development practitioner in the yearly Early Childhood Development (ECD) Achiever Awards, is further inspired by the fact that she shares her knowledge by teaching others while also studying further to improve herself.
The awards, which are in their tenth year, were initiated by the South African Congress for Early Childhood Development and Absa. Sowetan became the media partner last year. The awards have also been endorsed by the national Education Department and receive support from the Office of the Rights of the Child in the Presidency.
Explaining why she is bolstering her love, caring and compassion for children with academic knowledge, Nsimbini said in an interview at the weekend: "I strive to update myself, and others, because things keep on changing and improving and we must keep pace and track to ensure that the children of South Africa can receive the best in integrated learning and holistic development."
Nsimbini, who started the Khulangelwati Pre-school and Day-Care Centre eight years ago, believes in perseverance and hard work. "I was struggling to find a suitable place for two young children, and I rallied the community to start a community-run pre-school and day-care centre. I was subsequently appointed the project leader, which led to the establishment of Khulangelwati," Nsimbini said with a mixture of pride and bittersweet nostalgia," she said.
"It was hard at the beginning. The local tribal authority gave us land. We had to build a shelter with our bare hands as women. We used a shack made of wood at first. Now we are in a better building."
Nsimbini holds certificates pertaining to four levels of early childhood development and is now studying towards a national diploma in the same pedagogy.
Nsimbini works with three caregivers, two teachers for Foundation or Grade 0 pupils, two Grade 2 teachers, two assistants, a cook, and a security guard. The centre has 165 children from infants to those six years old.
The other provincial finalists in the awards were: Kedisaletse Wesi from Northern Cape; Limpopo's Bochilo Maake, first runner-up; Elizabeth Manyane from Gauteng; second runner-up Rose Mpunzana from KwaZulu-Natal; Cathy Tlhapane from Free State and North West's Irene Pitso.