For the last seven years Bergzicht Training and Development Child Care Programme graduate, Erna Smith from Cloetesville, has played an instrumental role in helping the Serdyn family in Unie Park, Stellenbosch raise their three children – Pierre (7), Petrus (5) and little Rose (3). When mom, Rochelle, and Dad, PW, are at work, Erna fulfills the role of primary caregiver in the household.

Every morning Erna arrives at the Serdyn home just before 08:00, ready to tidy up the house, make up beds, do the washing and some ironing too. By 13:00, she is heading out the door to pick up Pierre and Petrus at Stellenbosch Primary School.

“When we get home, they usually have some lunch and then we sit down to go through their homework. My only focus in the afternoon is looking after the children and helping them with their homework,” explains Erna.

Once the boys have completed their homework and have had time to rest, Erna, Pierre and Petrus head to the local preschool to pick up Rose at 16:00.

“After we’ve picked up Rose, we spend a lot of time playing outside and doing creative activities.”

As a mom to two daughters, Natasha-Lee (26) and Shakira (16), Erna says she did not have any experience in raising boys when she started working for the family.

“You have to be ready to jump in and be as wild as the boys can be. They are all over the place and you have to be able to keep up. It’s a very different experience to raising girls,” she says and laughs.

Her favourite part of the job, she says, is “sitting next to the sports field and watching” the boys play sport.

“I often watch Pierre play rugby and it’s a lot of fun to see just how active they are. He makes sure that I also tell his dad about all the things he did on the field that day.”

Retrenched and without an income

Erna registered at Bergzicht Training and Development in 2011 after being retrenched from her job at the time. For a year she lived on her unemployed insurance fund while looking for a job, but when she could not find employment she registered for the iPOWER (Self-Empowering) Foundation Programme at Bergzicht Training and Development. In 2011, she completed the Child Care Programme (previously Edu Care).

Shortly after, she found a job with the Serdyn family.

“It’s a lot of fun to work with children, because you learn something new from them every day. It’s just not possible to work with children and not learn something from them,” says Erna as she keeps a close eye on Pierre to ensure that he is writing down the correct answers in his homework book.

Erna and the Serdyn family work closely with each other to ensure that there is an open line of communication between them when it comes to raising the children. This means keeping each other informed of things the children are struggling with, problems they are having at school, or just informing each other that the kids had a long, tough day.

“It’s important to have patience with children, while also maintaining discipline. You also need to understand that each child is different. When I help Pierre with homework, I do it in a different way to how I would help Petrus with his homework. All children need different support.”

Watching Erna interact with the children, it’s clear that they know that she is charge when their parents are out of the home. She is firm and quick to remind the boys to say “please” and “thank you” when they forget. However, there is no denying her love for them. This is apparent when she relays the story of how she once spoke to one of Pierre’s teachers and insisted that a boy who had been bothering him was moved to a different desk away from Pierre immediately.

“I had to make sure he was okay, because they are like my children after all.”