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Barnard College

Publication Date

Fall 2014

Program Name

South Africa: Social and Political Transformation


This project seeks to identify, examine, and analyze how the life experiences of African migrant women manifest in the aspirations, visions, and goals for their school children’s education and integration in society. The study focuses on the teachers and young children at the Union of Refugee Women’s Children Care Centre, an organization that provides early childhood education to children in refugee and economically disadvantaged communities. In this paper I explore how life experiences influence the curriculum and daily activities at the crèche as well as which skills the teachers find essential to pass on to the refugee and economically disadvantaged children. The teachers’ life histories give insight into the unheard stories of refugee women and their experiences adapting to South African life through skills and lessons they have learned. Through participant-observation and interviews with six women who work at the crèche, this study identifies themes that translate from past experiences into daily life in the classroom. These themes show the intergenerational aspirations and goals instilled in the children by the teachers. Lessons in the classroom increase school readiness while also preparing the children for life hindrances often presented to people in refugee and economically disadvantaged communities. The teachers’ life stories, along with understanding daily life at the crèche, show how these women use life experiences and education to best prepare the children to tackle the difficulties that face vulnerable communities in South Africa.


Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Education | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change | Social and Cultural Anthropology