Forty years ago, five women who were worried about the number of children they saw roaming the streets in their neighbourhood set up a day-care centre at the Catholic Church hall in Loerie Road, Bridgetown.
The Bridges Play Centre was born.
In the beginning, the centre, with six teachers, had about 60 children ranging in age from two to six. Those early days were fondly remembered on Saturday when the centre marked the 40th anniversary of its opening in 1976.
As part of the celebrations, pupils’ parents and grandparents were treated to a day of relaxation and pampering from some of the parents who offered hand and foot massages.
In 1978, after being told to leave the Catholic Church, the day-care centre moved to the Congregational Church in Belgravia for about two years and started fund-raising for its own own premises.
In 1989, it moved into a City-owned building in Reagan Crescent, Bridgetown, which it continues to lease from the City.
The centre now has nine staff members and about 100 pupils ranging in age from six months to six-years-old.
Veronica Marnus was the first principal. She retired in the late 1980s, and a Ms Peterson took charge, leaving in the early 1990s. In 1994, Pauline Bowers headed the centre until 2006, when Audrey Swartz, who had started at the centre in 1996 as a Grade R teacher, took over.
She still runs it today.
“When I finished matric, I wanted to either become a nurse or a teacher,” said Ms Swartz.
“Financially, it wasn’t possible to study nursing, but one day, I saw an advert in the newspaper regarding a diploma course at Protea College, which is now Northlink College. I completed the N1 to N3 diploma and graduated in 1996.”
She said people working with young children needed to have a passion for the job.
“Sometimes we do get frustrated with the children’s behavioural problems, but this is part of it. At times, you walk in feeling down, but that hug that you receive from the children makes you forget about the problems that you have.
“As a parent, you want the children to succeed. We’ve got a lot of children with problems, and we are with them for the majority of the day, so we are their mothers for those few hours.”
Ester Samuels was 19 when she joined the daycare 1986. She cooked, cleaned and was one of the aftercare teachers. Her first salary was R50.
“My sister-in-law was the principal, so she got me the job. I remember how the children would mess in the bathrooms, and I would chase them up and down. The change in the children, the amount of respect the children had for us has gone down a lot,” said Ms Samuels.
“I remember the year we got thrown out of the Catholic Church. It was Christmas time. We were getting ready to celebrate, and my sister-in-law phoned to each of our houses to tell us we have to come to work because we were put out.
“This place was still raw when we moved in here, but we had to make it work,” she said.
Ms Swartz agrees with Ms Samuels that the levels of respect their young charges show their teachers has deteriorated over the years, and getting parents to be punctual is another headache.
“The daycare closes its gates at 8am in the morning to instil time management in the pupils for when they go to primary school.
“Some children are late everyday. They run into the school before the gate closes and shout to their parents, ‘The bell is going to ring, I’m late, I’m late.’”
Over the years, the centre has seen several changes, including new fencing, partitioning of the classrooms, a vegetable garden and an enclosed stoep used for art activities.
Ms Swartz said some of the school’s former pupils were now sending their children to the centre.
“What is important is teamwork. We are a family, and we support each other,” she said.