Industrial gas company, Air Products, launched their national WitnessHappiness initiative in 2016, and this year, they have entered the third cycle with the selection of new Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres for a period of three years. The initiative is focused on youth and education and aims to improve the level of education at selected ECDs in communities in which they operate. WitnessHappiness has become the company’s flagship corporate social investment (CSI) initiative, largely due to its size and impact.
Aligned to the strategic CSI focus areas of the youth and education, this initiative enables a long-term relationship with ECD centres in communities nationally. The main focus of WitnessHappiness is to provide learners and teachers with basic educational aids, however, funds are further allocated for infrastructure improvements at selected centres, especially where the health and safety is a matter of concern.
Air Products’ CSI projects have had a significant impact on communities across South Africa and touched the lives of individuals through different initiatives and donations over the years. The beneficiaries include regional as well as national organisations.
The company believes in making a difference by building a relationship and committing to projects rather than making once-off donations. WitnessHappiness was created for two reasons; firstly to have an impact on the education and lives of children in South Africa, as well as to provide Air Products employees with an opportunity to become involved and to truly experience the impact that the company makes with CSI initiatives.
With the launch of WitnessHappiness, employees in the respective regions assisted to identify a suitable centre. Since then, the different regions visited their centres on the same day, with the main focus being placed on Mandela Day, World Maths Day and Literacy Day.
In addition to the educational aspects, year-end parties were held for the ECDs at external venues for the first few years where they were treated with entertainment, meals and gifts. Air Products employees from the respective regions were able to spend time with the learners and teachers at the parties.
Unfortunately, visits to the centres by the employees were restricted during COVID, however they still received their donations. During this time, additional funds were approved to purchase items the centres needed to prevent the spread of the virus and items such as masks, sanitisers and other necessary products were donated.
According to Arthi Govender, founder of WitnessHappiness and Chairperson of Air Products’ CSI committee, she suggested this initiative based on the lack of resources at the ECDs that a huge effect on the school readiness of learners in many areas which became a burning discussion point in the media and educational circles. There are certainly advantages of exposing pre-school children to quality learning at an early age. She realised that Air Products could play a vital role in assisting young learners with ways to prepare for Grade 1 when they enter the formal education system.
“Many of the ECDs are not in a financial position to acquire the educational material they desperately need, and we decided to embark on this journey to provide assistance to ECDs in our areas. With proper aids and tools, teachers are not only better equipped to teach the learners, but it also has a major impact on the morale of the teachers”, says Govender.
Govender explains that a further advantage of the initiative is the fact that the ‘champions’ from the different facilities often visit the centres and engage with the owners, principals and teachers to identify their individual needs. “We encourage the champions to form a good relationship with the ECDs and to inform us of the more specific needs. We realised that a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be the basis of the initiative as the centres are in different areas and communities, which often leaves them with specific requirements and challenges. We want to equip each centre with what they truly need”.
In conclusion, Govender mentions that the initiative has also won an award from the Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association (CAIA). “I remain humbled by WitnessHappiness and every time I visit a centre and interact with the teachers and learners I realise that Air Products’ assistance definitely makes a difference. What we regard as a CSI initiative, is so much more to them. For some teachers, this is the first time they have books, flash cards and other educational aids that they can use in the classrooms, and they are extremely appreciative of the tools they now have at their disposal”.
Air Products’ commitment to bring about positive change at the centres and within the community is rewarded with visible changes and positive feedback from the centres. Lastly, but most importantly, the joy and happiness on the little faces portrays the heart of Air Products’ CSI initiatives.