When Julie Hay started her volunteer work at the 1000 Hills Community Helpers centre almost six months ago, all two-year-old Sifiso* did was suck his thumb and refuse to play with the other children.
Now he is not only able to finger-paint, he is also sociable.
Hay, a 43-year-old Pietermaritzburg mother of two, said this was one of the many highlights she had experienced since she started volunteering at the centre in Inchanga, KwaZulu-Natal, in April.
She is one of 10 volunteers chosen to serve charities under the Vodacom Change the World programme.
The centre runs a school for 110 children aged between two and six.
The children come from poor families in an area with a very high HIV-infection rate, and where many children are raised by their grandparents or other family members, according to Hay.
Women from the community volunteer to teach the children.
"It's a very challenging area but the children are lively and enthusiastic. It's been absolutely amazing," Hay said.
Hay, who has 22 years' teaching experience, spent the past six months training the teachers.
"When I got here, they were trying their best but they didn't know what to do."
Children now performactivities such as jumping, skipping and finger-painting.
"My main goal was to get them into a routine so that educational activities take place. They have responded very well."
Working at the centre has been a blessing for Hay, who is passionate about early childhood development.
"You build your foundation for school before you are five," she said.
*Not his real name