The COVID-19 pandemic had an overwhelming impact on the lives of people. Many NGO’s around the country had to re-evaluate how activities or events are planned and organized. Due to the official lockdown restrictions, Africa Unite could not host its 5th Annual Red Carpet Award Ceremony, which normally serves as a much-anticipated highlight for the school club learners, teachers, parents, staff and renowned guests alike.
Instead, each of the three School Club branches in KZN, GP and WC organised a Reflection Session to acknowledge the great work of School Club members who have been outstanding leaders and agents of change tackling social ills in their respective schools and communities even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learners had an opportunity to share what they have done throughout the year, what challenges they experienced and what recommendations they have for the new year. The following is a summary of the different sessions in each province.
School Clubs in KwaZulu Natal
The Reflection Session took place on November 27th at Sun Coast Entertainment Centre with four learners from Ikusasalentsha High School, one learner from Lamontville High School and their respective AU Peer Educations being present.
The school club learners in Lamontville High School managed to source a tailor who assisted in sewing masks to hand out to the learners at school who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend their classes. Furthermore, AUSC members requested the school governing body to revive the feeding scheme to ensure learners attend classes and can learn without hunger. The school leadership responded to the cause and the feeding scheme was opened and it is still ongoing. The school club learners in Ikusasalentsha High School wrote a list of recommendations for the principal to revamp the schoolground. Several changes took place within the school which include the renovation of the school fence, replacement of broken windows, painting of the school buildings, lockers were fixed and the nutrition scheme improved. Furthermore, the AUSC members organised a fundraising initiative to buy more plates for the Matriculates as part of the feeding scheme project as well as collaborated with ENACTUS of the Durban University of Technology in doing recycling initiatives on school grounds.
The greatest challenge was communicating with each club member during lockdown as many do not have mobile phones. Such hindered them to adequately communicate and plan activities together and many could not attend the virtual sessions organized by AU during the lockdown. Furthermore, a lack of resources like data and internet access discouraged learners from thinking they will pass their final exams. When asked whether the Department of Education did enough to resolve the challenges of the learners, the AUSC members highlighted that when school reopened there were no masks and sanitizers distributed on time from the department, thus putting the lives of learners in danger. The delay of the distribution of these essentials was also attributed to the corruption that saw many linked to politicians looting COVID-19 state funds.
The award was given to Andile Ngcongo, the President of Ikusasalentsha AUSC for her outstanding work in writing a letter to the President of the Republic of South Africa, in raising concerns about the increase of Gender-Based Violence and further organizing a GBV summit at her school. Unfortunately due to the pandemic and shift in academic year, the summit is rescheduled to take place in January 2021.
School Clubs in Gauteng
The reflection lunch took place on November 27th at the Reef Hotel in Johannesburg CBD and saw participation of 20 young leaders accompanied by their mentors/patrons. The schools represented by the learners were New Gate College, Fons Luminis and Katlehong High Schools.
At the beginning of lockdown, Fons Luminis learners organised awareness campaigns to inform others on how to take care and prevent the spread of the Corona virus. In addition, they had an interview with Umphakathi TV where they spoke about RDP houses that people were promised by the government but have not received yet since 1994. They also conducted an interview with the owner of Yummy Snacks on the impact of Covid-19 on his business. Katlehong learners participated in the ongoing fight against Gender Based Violence and bullying through awareness campaigns. Additionally, the learners from New Gate College highlighted how they partnered with their school and community in organising a Feeding schemes where they contributed and bought food parcels for the less privileged.
School Club representatives shared their experiences of the detrimental effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, firstly stating how their education was affected as some could not afford to attend online lessons because of data issue or not having smart phones, including the ones broadcasted on channels such as SABC because they faced long power outages in their locations. In addition, most of them are now facing pressure to learn a lot of content at once. Secondly, there was less social interaction between club members and peers hence all their plans were postponed, and they had set up different programs for the year. Everyone had to stay indoors; Zoom and WhatsApp interactions proved futile as some parents could not afford data for their children. Economically, most parents and guardians lost their jobs and a lot of businesses closed down, making it difficult for them to provide basic needs. This led to a lot of stress and anxiety which saw a lot of children witnessing gender based violence and being abused themselves in their homes.
Certificates of recognition were given to two learners Shantel Usayihwevhu & Princess Mkhwanazi, who have shown exceptional leadership. One of the recipients, Shantel Usayihwevhu- the President of Fons Luminus, said that being the president and having received the award has boosted her confidence and all you must do as a leader is to be strong and everything will be well.
School Clubs in the Western Cape
The Western Cape reflection lunch took place on the 28th of November at the Brass Bell Restaurant in Kalk Bay. The event saw participation of 30 learners from 6 AUSC schools and 2 AU partner schools (Hector Peterson FET School, Masibambane Secondary School, Rosendaal High, Dr. Nelson Mandela High, Portland High, Heideveld Secondary School, Gardens Commercial High and Salt River High School). Unfortunately, due to the long drive, it was not possible for our active School Club members from Ashton Secondary School to join the event.
Despite the difficult year, most School Clubs managed to continue their efforts in bringing change into their schools and communities. Primary focus areas during Covid-19 were food security, environment, GBV and Sanitation. Another strong theme was establishing good partnerships with local stakeholders. Rosendaal partnered with Usave for their feeding scheme while Portland High provided masks and food parcels to the needy. Masibambane partnered with SOS (Save our children) for a Sanitation project as well as with RNDA on a clean-up day for their polluted local river. Heideveld High successfully lobbied for the construction of LGBTQ toilets for those discriminated against. Students from Hector Peterson took the recent Brackenfell incident as a calling to stand up against racism at their school and in their communities. Gardens Commercial High, as well as Masibambane and Rosendaal High tackled the prominet lack of female hygiene products by distributing sanitary pads to different communities. Furthermore, Masibambane organised a GBV march in front of their school all dressed in black as a sign of solidarity.
The challenges experienced by learners were the same as in the other provinces, namely enforced isolation, lack of communication due to being able to meet at school and some learners not having phones or sufficient data for calls. Furthermore, there was a lack of support from their schools when it came to academics. This increased the pressure on the learners and made it hard to focus on their planned activities. Learners also witnessed increased cases of GBV and heightened anxiety.
The team identified 10 learners who showed outstanding leadership during 2020 received a certificate as well as a voucher for a Virtual Reality Session in the AU office. The Award for best Leadership went to Kauthar Jardine, President at Portland High for her commitment to the wellbeing of her school and community as well as Kanyo Lose, former President at Masibambane for his outstanding achievements as a community activist.
Recommendations for 2021:
When asked about their recommendations for the upcoming year, learners proposed:
• Work together with parents of all members of the AUSC especially when it comes to communication as some do not have mobile phones, but their parents do have them.
• Current members of the AUSC nurture other learners for the sustainability of the programme when they leave the school to proceed to tertial institutions.
• Africa Unite must run capacity building sessions for learners focusing on report writing, etc.
• Have coordinated events around GBV, bullying, crime etc. and make use of social media such as Facebook Lives when covering marches at different schools in the country.
• AU to assist in sourcing funding so that remote schools can be reached out.
• Schools to have exchange programmes where they will have an opportunity to share experiences and collaborate.
All three reflection lunches served as a successful and well-deserved celebration after a challenging and trying year. We would like to thank all AUSC Schools and stakeholders for supporting our learners and program throughout this year.