A conversation with... Ester UYS, CEO of The Cape Flats Youth Development Programme

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30 September 2019
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Ester and the children reading together

Ester Uys has spent many years as a social worker, working with some of the most at-risk children in Cape Town Flats in South Africa. In January 2017, she established the Cape Flats Youth Development Programme (CFYDP) which, so far, has helped over 400 disadvantaged children.

After hearing about their amazing work, the Speak First Foundation (dedicated to getting children all around the world into education) has been helping to support the programme.

We spoke with Ester, the CEO and Founder of the CFYDP, about why their work is so important, how they’re helping the children in Cape Flats and how the Speak First Foundation has helped.


You created the CFYDP, so can you tell us what it is and why it’s needed?

I’ve been a social worker in marginalised communities for about 13 years and have experienced first-hand the challenges they face. Poverty is rife and many children fall through the cracks of our poor education system in South Africa. 79% of teachers have insufficient content knowledge, 10% of the country’s teachers are absent from school each day and half of all South African pupils who have attended school for five years can’t do basic calculations. Due to the large classrooms, teachers aren’t able to focus on children that need the most support.1

I passionately believe that children should receive a good education to enhance their personal development and transform them into good citizens. There’s a huge shortage of resources and social workers to guide families with education and skills development. So, we target children who have learning barriers and limited concentration spans, providing them with guidance and coping skills.

Most of the children in our programme have severe learning disabilities and have never been through the formal Foundation Phase of learning at school or have dropped out. They’re more likely to develop mental health problems and struggle to find meaningful employment, and many turn to crime. We also provide psycho-social support for children who have experienced a traumatic event in their lives, who also often face challenges in school. Without guidance and support from our mentors, they feel isolated from society.


What are some of the ways you help children in these situations?

Ester and some of the team with a class of childrenWe provide a therapeutic climate where children feel safe to learn and are accepted unconditionally, believing in an holistic approach. This means we address the whole person, including their physical, mental and emotional health.

There are classes to teach the children reading, writing, maths and basic computer training. We also have sessions for parents, home-visits and, on Saturdays, we take up to 20 children for an hour long hike.

Each week we also have several sessions where the children can learn to play netball and football with a coach and referee. Children learn social skills and hand and foot coordination by playing football. Many of the youth we work with have endured deeply traumatic experiences which they don’t want to talk about or don’t know how to, but when you put a ball in their hands, suddenly they light up. Sport has the power to change the world, change lives and create hope.


How much of a difference has Speak First’s support made?

Posing excitedly with their new minibusWe are extremely grateful to the Speak First Foundation for their continued support. Through their generosity, we’ll be able to give even more children opportunities for a better future.

With Speak First’s support, we’ve brought in new mentors to the project and improved their skills, which has reduced the number of children who feel isolated.

We recently bought a new minibus which helps transport the children to sessions and on trips, decreasing the number of children who don’t attend school. We’ve also increased the participation of the parents in shared reading and writing sessions, so they can help their children learn. We have even assisted families with re-unification of children who had been abandoned.


Finally, what are your long-term goals for the future of the CFYDP?

Our goal is to have our own Early Child Development Centre. We would be able to invest in the toddlers’ growth, so they’re able to benefit from enthusiasm for education, communication skills and the ability to interact with others.

The importance of early childhood development is the emotional, social and physical development of young children which has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they’ll become.


Speak First donates 2.5% of its net profits to support children in need of education around the world. Find out more about the causes we help.


1 News24 (2019) Poor-quality teachers are holding back South Africa's education system