Stealing from the children

HAZEL ALLIES-HUSSELMAN

Principals from 16 educare centres affiliated to the Athlone Early Childhood Development (ECD) Forum have expressed their frustration about thieves and vandals targeting their facilities.

They say it seems that thieves see educare centres as easy targets, and that it’s becoming more costly for them to secure and repair their crèches at a time when parents are struggling to pay their children’s fees.

Within the past three weeks, no fewer than six of the centres were broken into and vandalised.

Build a Better Society (Babs) centre in Kewtown lost two computers in one week.

“The thieves lifted the grill, broke the burglar bar and even tried to steal our back-up battery.

“Now we have to redo all our information. We had to fix the damaged property on the same day, and replace the computer. A few days later, the second computer was stolen in the same way,” said Estell Rustin, a Babs administrator, referring to two break-ins at the centre on Wednesday April 13 and Thursday April 21.

The thieves also deliberately damaged street lights so they were not easily spotted, Ms Rustin said.

Valerie Erasmus from the Early Learning Centre, which is based at the Foundation for Community Work (FCW) in Kewtown, said their centre had been vandalised twice in one week.

“We informed people about the incidents on a chat group, and four other centres responded to say that they were also hit,” Ms Erasmus said at the forum’s meeting last week.

Director of FCW, Riedewhaan Allie, said the vandals had left damages worth more than R17 000.

“Our telephone and electric cables were ripped out, and the floodlights were damaged. They have also ripped out one of our air conditioners and left it on the perimeter of the property.

“We installed three new air conditioners in December last year, because of the heat in our training rooms. After the break-in, we had to remove the other air conditioners, and it is now being stored.

“We also had to pay people to take it down, and we’ll have to pay people to install it. It’s an absolute nightmare. We are now spending R17 000 for rewiring and installing new flood lights,” Mr Allie said.

He added though, that he was grateful to the neighbours who always kept a watchful eye on the property.

“This is the first incident in 10 years. I was always proud of the fact that we provide employment to the community, and hence our good partnership. The people from the community know who is responsible, and we need their voice to become louder when speaking out against this.

“Young people must come to their senses and put a stop to this habit, culture and practice they’ve developed. This is part of a bigger scourge affecting the community. Our fencing and gates get vandalised, simply because they can get money for their next fix.”

Lucinda Wilschott from Little Children’s Nursery School in Gleemoor said their alarm was activated on Sunday April 3 and their armed response company went to investigate.

“They say they checked the perimeter and that all was in order. However, when we reported for duty on Monday April 4, we noticed the gate was slightly open and four chairs were stacked up outside the toilet. They left a huge, gaping hole in the wall and took a multi-plug and crayons.

“It’s really senseless to cause all that damage, and it leaves one feeling violated,” Ms Wilschott said.

Audrey Swartz said their centre, Bridges Play Centre in Bridgetown, had its gate stolen in February, and since then, they had upgraded their security measures.

Irma Lottering, from the Marion Institute in Bridgetown, said every day they had to move their learning materials away from the windows, as those close to the windows were often stolen.

Athlone ECD Forum chairwoman and principal of Silvertown Educare, Florence Reynolds, said security upgrades and repairs had become more and more expensive.

“They gain nothing from all the vandalism – it is our children that suffer, because now you have to phone the police and clean up before learning can continue,” Ms Reynolds said.

The forum has appealed to the community to help them curb the break-ins.

The police’s response time when a case is reported is another one of their frustrations.

Colonel Clive Nicholas, acting station commander of Athlone SAPS, confirmed that a few cases had been reported.

He said: “If the centres are unhappy with the response time or they experience problems, they must approach me, so that I can address the matter.

“They cannot complain to others, they must come to me directly I will not be able to help if I’m not aware of the problem. I know in the past we had a challenge with our reaction times, but we now have more staff members to deal with the matter.”

Ms Rustin added that the thieves also deliberately damage street lights so that they are not easily spotted.

Valerie Erasmus from the Early Learning Centre, which is based at the Foundation for Community Work (FCW) in Kewtown, said their centre has been vandalised twice in one week.

“We informed people about the incidents on a chat group, and four other centres responded to say that they were also hit,” Ms Erasmus said.

Director of FCW, Riedewhaan Allie, said the vandals left damages worth more than R17 000.

“Our telephone and electric cables were ripped out, and the flood lights were damaged. They have also ripped out one of our air conditioners, and left it on the perimeter of the property. We installed three new air conditioners in December last year, because of the heat in our training rooms. After the break-in, we had to remove the other air conditioners and it is now being stored. We also had to pay people to take it down, and we’ll have to pay people when it will be installed again. It’s an absolute nightmare. We are now spending R17 000 for rewiring and installing new flood lights,” Mr Allie said.

He added though, that he is grateful to the neighbours who always keep a watchful eye on the property.

“This is the first incident in 10 years. I was always proud of the fact that we provide employment to the community, and hence our good partnership. The people from the community know who is responsible, and we need their voice to become louder when speaking out against this. Young people must come to their senses, and put a stop to this habit, culture and practice they’ve developed. This is part of a bigger scourge affecting the community. Our fencing and gates get vandalised, simply because they can get money for their next fix.”

Lucinda Wilschott from Little Children’s Nursery School in Gleemoor said their alarm was activated on Sunday April 3, and the armed response company they use, went to check.

“They say they checked the perimeter and that all was in order. However, when we reported for duty on Monday April 4, we noticed the gate was slightly open, and four chairs were stacked up outside the toilet. They left a huge gaping hole in the wall, and took a multi plug and crayons. It’s really senseless to cause all that damage, and it leaves one feeling violated,” Ms Wilschott said.

Audrey Swartz said their centre, Bridges Play Centre in Bridgetown, had its gate stolen in February, and since then, they have upgraded their security measures.

Irma Lottering from the Marion Institute in Bridgetown, said every day they have to move their learning materials away from the windows, as those close to the windows are often stolen.

Athlone ECD Forum chairperson and principal of Silvertown Educare, Florence Reynolds, said having to upgrade security measures and fixing their properties become more and more expensive.

“They gain nothing from all the vandalism – it is our children that suffer, because now you have to phone the police and clean up before learning can continue,” Ms Reynolds said.

The forum has appealed to the community to help them curb the break-ins.

The police’s response time when a case is reported, is another of their frustrations.

Colonel Clive Nicholas, acting station commander of Athlone SAPS, confirmed that a few cases had been reported.

He added: “If the centres are unhappy with the response time or they experience problems, they must approach me so that I can address the matter. They cannot complain to others, they must come to me directly, a I will not be able to help if I’m not aware of the problem. I know in the past we had a challenge with our reaction times, but we now have more staff members to deal with the matter.”

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Caption: Representatives from the Athlone Early Childhood Development (ECD) Forum, shared their frustration about regular break-ins at their facilities at their latest forum meeting. The Athlone ECD Forum has 16 affiliated educare centres.