I’m Lebo, I’m 4 and I go to Little Elephant Training Centre for Early Education (LETCEE) in Greytown, South Africa. Sometimes rubbish is the only option for us to play with. But we still get to do and make exciting things. 

The Western world has a lot to learn from countries in which resources are scarce. Recently the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Mamokgethi Phapeng was quoted saying: 

“During my time in play, we couldn’t afford toys. So, we had to find things that existed. Even in poverty, seeing the things that are around you as a resource – whether it was wire hangers, whether it was bricks – we did something with them and created something with them. And in a way it informed how I do things right now, that even in a resource-scarce environment, you find a way of making things happen.” 

Annika Savage works at Little Elephant Training Centre for Early Education (LETCEE) and kindly shared her thoughts on waste-play and how it can create a strong sense of community. She also writes about how waste provides important opportunities for learning and meeting specific developmental needs: 

Our children make do with the bare essentials when it comes to play. In all our programmes, LETCEE strives to remain culturally relevant and offers services that are sustainable and have a lasting impact.  

One of the ways in which we do this, is to incorporate free and found materials into our learning programmes. We tend not to call it ‘waste’, as this is often associated with dirty items without value. We have learnt (in our 26 years working in these areas) that children start seeing themselves as others see them. Therefore, if children play with what some refer to as ‘waste’, they might consider themselves worthless or not good enough. 

We want to see children uplifted and therefore we believe that all children should have access to toys and educational play-things. Therefore, we currently run eleven rural toy libraries in these impoverished areas, where children and parents can borrow toys to take home to continue stimulating learning. We also run training sessions where we teach parents and caregivers on the importance of play and how to stimulate learning through play. There are bought and donated toys as well as toys made from free and found materials. In order to ensure sustainability, we train all our Toy librarians and ECD practitioners in the field to make toys from waste. They then go on to train the parents and caregivers in the communities.  

We have found that making learning resources from waste is not only beneficial to the children, but it also sparks Toy Librarians’, parents’ and other ECD practitioners’ creativity and imagination. Once they are exposed to making their own toys from waste, they start finding their own solutions for problems and make toys that stimulate certain areas of development that a specific child might struggle with. We have found that the toys our fieldworkers make, are often more open-ended than mainstream, bought toys.  

Homemade toys from free and found materials also give parents and caregivers a sense of achievement – they actively contribute to their child’s learning. The making of toys also keeps our parents constructively busy in areas where work is scarce. 

At LETCEE, we have the privilege of having had our main offices in the same town for the last 26 years. This means we have built up a large support base that regularly brings their bags of recycling from home to us. Our small town also doesn’t have the facilities to recycle household items, so most residents have to choose between throwing it in the rubbish bin to go to landfill, or to recycle and donate to us. We have a specific “waste” room where we sort and store all the recycling that comes in from the town. When we do training at the office, or when our staff members go out into the communities, we then distribute these items to the toy libraries and ECD practitioners. This has been beneficial, because families that are better off (and live in town) use different items to the ones in the rural areas, therefore providing a variety of items to use for toy-making. In an effort to clean up their own communities, people are also encouraged to pick up waste around their homes, recycle their own household items and then make toys or other items from it.  


I think waste is valued for different reasons in different communities. The people that are “better off” recycle for a greener life, and to look after the environment. People in our rural communities recycle because it gives them that sense of achievement when they’re making something with their own hands, when they’re actively contributing to their children’s learning, or when they can think of a new toy/resource to make. For them, it is a way out of squalor into a world where they can provide for their children despite their limited financial resources. 

Annika Savage works in Monitoring and Evaluation at LETCEE which is a registered charity – www.letcee.org
She can be contacted for further information at annika@letcee.org

Not waste, but resources

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