Childcare in South AfricaPoor urban merchants set up open-air stalls on sidewalks and unused motorways in the lively urban center of Durban, South Africa. Their offerings range from cooked bovine heads to traditional indigenous medicines. Over half of these nearly 25,000 merchants are women; many have children or infants who spend their days alongside their working mothers. A simple convertible wooden box is easing the strains of childcare in South Africa for these street-vending mothers. They are balancing myriad responsibilities in an often chaotic environment.

Working Mothers

Mothers with newborn babies are among the most vulnerable of these working women. Street vendors are informally self-employed, so they do not receive paid maternity leave. They must bring their children to work with them if they want to subsist financially. However, this working environment includes hot stoves and endless flows of passing city-goers, among other safety hazards. The noise and pollution of the bustling urban street market disrupt activities like breastfeeding and putting children down for naps. Few spaces are safe for these children to spend time as their parent works.

Some mothers began to use their storage crates, customarily filled with their vending supplies during the night but empty during the day, as a place to rest their babies. This sparked an ingenious idea of alleviating the difficulties that mothers working on the street face. 

The Umzanyana

The organization Asiye eTafuleni, a South African non-profit that focuses on inclusive planning and design, took this use of the storage box one step further. The organization partnered with these women to design a convertible wooden box that met many of their needs as vendors and as mothers throughout the day. The storage box can transform to serve as a tabletop, a playpen, a changing station, or a crib. It includes padding, sheets, and even a mobile for the baby to engage with. It can provide privacy, shade, and noise reduction for the baby while maintaining its operationality as a tool for selling goods. 

The box was dubbed an “Umzanyana,” which translates from isiZulu to “umbilical cord.” This is quite fitting, as an umbilical cord and the box both serve as something that connects mother and baby, allowing the mother to provide for the child’s needs.

Technology and Poverty

Seemingly small innovations like this can make a massive difference in the daily lived experiences of impoverished communities. A few tweaks to a wooden box improved childcare in South Africa for both parent and child.

The Umzanyana solves convenience problems, making it easier for mothers to maintain their income while keeping their babies safely near them. Research shows that when mothers and babies can be together all day long, it leads to better sleep and breastfeeding for the baby and increased confidence for new mothers. The Umzanyana improves the lives of not only the mother but the child as well.

Organizations like Asiye eTafuleni continue to work alongside these communities, utilizing their unique insights to improve the lives of the most vulnerable through technology and urban design.

– Grace Ramsey
Photo: Flickr

5 NGOs Supporting Informal Workers in Developing NationsApproximately 61% of the world’s employed, or 2 billion people, earn their livelihoods in the informal sector. While the informal sector brings its own set of limitations such as a lack of health care benefits, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the issues that daily wage workers face. Within the percentage of total global employment, there is a staggering distribution of informal employment.

Informal Workers in Developing Nations

The informal sector varies by country but is more common in developing nations. In Africa, 85.8% of employment is informal, 68.2% in Asia and the Pacific, 68.6% in the Arab States, 40% in the Americas and more than 25% in Europe and Central Asia. Altogether, 93% of informal employment falls in low-and-middle-income countries.

According to WIEGO, informal work means a diversified set of economic activities or jobs that are not related or protected by the state. It is most commonly associated with self-employment and small unregistered businesses but also includes daily wage workers. Informal workers face increased poverty and occupational risks that, combined with lack of access to any sort of welfare, push many into income inequality and greater poverty.

5 NGOs Working to Support Informal Workers

  1. WIEGO: Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) is an NGO founded in 1997 with a mission to increase the voice, visibility and validity of impoverished communities, especially women. Building and strengthening informal worker organizations, such as internal sector networks, remains a central objective of the program for years. WIEGO has also implemented a five-year plan that spans from April 2018 to March 2023 to improve informal workers’ visibility, global influence, national statistics and knowledge base.
  2. Asiye eTafuleni (South Africa): This NGO is focused on promoting and developing good practices around inclusive urban planning and design. AeT works alongside informal workers to learn more about their situation. The organization has four ambitions: Inclusive Design, Urban Advocacy, Urban Education and Urban Intelligence. Inclusive Design focuses on reconsidering and reshaping urban spatial planning and zoning, urban regulations, laws and policies and urban aesthetics to incorporate traditionally excluded voices, such as that of the working poor. AeT believes the working poor and informal workers should have a voice in these actions. Urban Advocacy works to influence political and social agendas to s crucial to impact change for informal workers and their organizations. AeT encourages and teaches informal workers to become advocates for themselves. Through Urban Education, AeT provides opportunities for students, the general public, tourists and environment professionals to learn about urban environments inclusive of informal workers. Lastly, Urban Intelligence allows AeT to widen and deepen urban intelligence so that local, national and international stakeholders can engage in more informed urban dialogue, planning and design processes.
  3. Avina Foundation: At the start, Avina focused on identifying, supporting, developing leadership and building relationships with social activists and entrepreneurs to strengthen their initiatives in favor of sustainable development. Following this, Avina began to bring together a critical mass of partners, over time helping them grow connections. Today, the program fulfills its mission by building and strengthening collaboration among different sectors to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
  4. StreetNet, International Alliance of Street Vendors: Located in Durban, South Africa, the organization’s primary goal is to promote the exchange of information and ideas on critical issues that street vendors, market vendors and hawkers face. Just like the programs abroad, StreetNet also works on practical organizing and advocacy strategies. StreetNet focuses on advocating for street vendors. Around the world, millions of people earn their livelihoods on the streets and in the vast markets. Street vendors sell a variety of products, from food to technology. However, while the street markets are convenient and affordable for consumers, street vendors are often at risk of poverty as their survival depends on the day’s wage. The program aims to improve the lives of street vendors and informal traders.
  5. Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat: This organization was established due to the immoral, cruel and unjust manner in which waste pickers are treated in India. The organization advocates for the fair treatment of waste pickers, itinerant waste buyers, waste collectors and other informal recyclers.

Looking Ahead

Informal workers are the silent majority and are the exhausted backbone of their respective countries. Since 61% of the world’s employed population falls into the informal sector, reducing the informal sector’s number of workers means alleviating global poverty. These five organizations are fighting for the fair treatment of informal workers and are providing vital resources for their survival. These organizations are also supporting workers’ transition from informal work to jobs protected by the state so workers will not fear transitioning their livelihoods. By improving the conditions of informal workers, the world, as a global community, can move one step closer to equality and global health care.

– Aaron Samperio
Photo: Flickr