Many women are now the main breadwinners in their families, educators to their children
and form the support structures of their communities.
“For these and many other reasons, we believe that investing in women will have major
long term positive effects on our economy, communities, family structures and values,”
says African Bank’s Group Executive: Sales, Branch Network, Mellony Ramalho.

Ramalho herself has experienced the effects that opportunities, mentorship and hard work
can have on a person’s life. “I entered the workforce in 1990 with my Matric certificate
and some casual retail experience but with no degree, no banking experience, no
computer skills, no car and no drivers licence.

I was thrilled when I eventually succeeded in landing a filing clerk position in a new credit card division,” she says. 27 years later and Ramalho is one of 10 executives at the helm of reshaping African Bank into a retail bank. “Women, and especially young women, need to be shown that there are possibilities and taught that through hard work they too can succeed. The various initiatives assisting women, supported by African Bank, aim to do just that,” she says.

She highlights the Grade 11 mentorship programme where 12 learners were taken under
the wing of African Bank as part of a mentorship programme last year. “The mentees are
all female and were identified as the top achievers in the three schools the bank selected
as part of this programme. Schools include Umqhele Comprehensive in Ivory Park, and
Ingqayizivele Secondary and Thuko Ke Maatla Secondary in Tembisa.”

The programme is about ‘life after Grade 12’ and the aim is to equip these learners with
various skills to help them prepare for the challenges ahead. This will include assistance
with choosing a higher education institution, entrance requirements, fees, bursaries, etc.
but another component involves soft skills like managing your finances, public speaking,
etc. “Where necessary, we will offer financial assistance to enable these girls to attend
university.”

The now Grade 12 learners have already met with experts based in fields that they are
interested in, received tutorial lessons prior to exams and had career guidance
assessments. “We are currently in the process of assisting the girls with university and
bursary applications and continue to meet with them on a monthly basis,” says Ramalho.

With one in five girls in South Africa missing approximately five days of school every month
due to the lack of access to sanitary products, African Bank also supports the drive to
supply sanitary pads to young women in need. “We host and support several events
throughout the year where we visit schools and invite speakers to offer mentoring and
career guidance as well as information on personal hygiene.

We also hand out goodie bags and sanitary pads to the young women. We believe every girl in South Africa deserves access to safe and hygienic sanitary products. If we can help make a small difference and make a positive impact on these young lives, we can eliminate many of the taboos that still exist and help reduce the high number of school absenteeism and drop-outs which still exist in many schools around the country,” she says.

Sport is also a great way to reach girls and women and nurture talent. With this in mind,
the African Bank programme, Let’s Play Netball, was started four years ago with primary
and high school girls in the townships of Uitenhage where extra mural sports and activities
are almost non-existent. It is now a successful upliftment programme with the teams
dominating the scene in the Eastern Cape.

“Another initiative and perhaps the most important, is the Early Childhood Development
(ECD) programme we support through Early Inspiration. ECD is possibly the biggest
blindspot in our education crisis,” says Ramalho.

Foundational teaching in social skills, spatial and motor abilities, cognitive development
and nutrition, amongst other developmental processes, are the building blocks on which
schooling stands. ECD provides the foundation on which to educate a child. Without ECD,
basic things such as holding a pencil, peer-to-peer interaction and the ability to play can
be compromised.

“We recognise that there is no point in putting money into education when the foundation
isn’t there. We have therefore committed to invest in this area so that other interventions
don’t have to be remedial, but rather progressive,” adds Ramalho.

Early Inspiration proved to be just the investment African Bank was looking for. “Early
Inspiration is successfully training hundreds of women to be qualified ECD practitioners. As
with all our projects, we invest in people, not just projects. We have very close
relationships with all our project leaders, and in the ECD space we developed a
relationship with Dr Lauren Stretch, the Managing Director of Early Inspiration. Dr Stretch
is a young, dynamic woman passionate about ECD and her organisation,” explained
Ramalho.

African Bank has been involved with the project for five years and covers the costs for the
education of 24 women in the Eastern Cape, and 24 women in the Western Cape, who
were formerly unqualified crèche teachers. The programme takes these women from being basic child minders to be qualified ECD practitioners. “We also support the Home Visit Programme and Parent Support intervention where children in Nelson Mandela Bay are visited twice monthly for one-on-one support and guidance is provided for their parents,” she says.

The ECD practitioner training model is sustainable as these women will keep on investing
in the development of children year-on-year. It also empowers them as these crèche and
primary school child-minders are upskilled and equipped with business skills.

“One of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned is that success depends on the choices you
make and the actions you take. The key is to learn from those choices that failed and
move forward. Don’t look back or ponder on what you cannot change. Move forward and
choose to make a difference. I believe that by investing in these women through all these
initiatives we are supporting and enabling them to make choices that will make a
difference,” concludes Ramalho.