06/21/2013 02:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mamma Zoliswa's Story

Zoliswa Siko, or Mamma Zoliswa as she is affectionately called, began the Isiseko Educare Center in her home, a room approximately 8 x 10 meters. She explains that Isiseko means foundation in the Xhosa language, which is what she strives to give each of the 60 children who frequent her school.






She realizes that a strong pre-school experience is fundamental to the way a child learns throughout their school years and that education is essential for these children to create a life for themselves outside of the townships.

The parents are asked to pay 150 Rand a month, the equivalent of 17 USD, which they are not always able to do. With this money, Zoliswa and her three teachers provide a safe, albeit cramped, space for these children to learn and grow. They receive the hot meals that they may not always receive at home.



Mamma Zoliswa is a force of nature. From the moment she rises around 5 a.m., she hardly sits down until her children are asleep in the evening. Her day begins by cleaning her house, a shack attached to the school room where she moved her family to provide more space for the students. Her six children share the bedroom with her, the youngest three in her bed and the oldest on mats at the foot of the bed. Her husband, Eric, a gentle man with a friendly smile, works several hours from Capetown, and therefore rents an apartment near his job where he stays Monday-Friday.




Eric and Zoliswa were blessed with one biological son, Lia, who is 9 years old. Over the years they have adopted five others from the community who were in need. Two of the youngest girls are HIV positive. It seems like an incredible gesture to take in five children when you hardly have room for one, but for Zoliswa, it was a simple decision. For her, she explains, the absolute worst thing is to see a child suffering, and if you can do something about it, then you must help them. This same generosity is extended to her whole community. It doesn't matter how much or little you have, if someone is in need, then you must help them with whatever you can.


Zoliswa joined the Uthando Organization run by James Fernie earlier this year. Uthando helps find funding to sustain small community run projects like Isiseko in the townships around Capetown. With the help of Uthando, Zoliswa hopes to be able to build a suitable structure on her current property for her school. A decent structure would allow her to be recognized by the city of Capetown as a school and she would be allotted a stipend per child by the city. It would be an incredible improvement in the lives of everyone.

Zoliswa's story is inspiring and luckily it is not unique. There are hundreds of community based non-profits in the Capetown townships. People who strive to create change and improve the lives of those around them. I was fortunate enough to photograph several of them. More of those stories can be seen here:


All images © Jessica Pepper-Peterson