Many studies show that the COVID‑19 crisis has significantly impacted young people’s mental health. Symptoms of anxiety and depression have risen dramatically among young people and remain higher than pre-crisis levels even with the partial re-opening of schools and the economy. Unfortunately, many schools in the township don’t offer any mental health support services; therefore, alternatives had to be found with great urgency.
Since the pandemic, Africa Unite has hosted a weekly visual Mental Health support to 40 learners from disadvantaged backgrounds as a form of Social Emotional Learning, teaching them how to bounce back from the numerous adversities they face. However, virtual interactions are not the same as live encounters.
On the 4th of September 2021, after the ease of lockdown restrictions, the first face to face workshop on Social Emotional Learning was finally held at the Africa Unite head office with representatives from seven Africa Unite School Clubs in the Cape Town region. Africa Unite School clubs are social clubs initiated at the school level, which allow learners to become agents of change within their schools and communities. They consider the school and its surroundings as a country. Each AU School club is led by a School president and seven ministers playing different roles.
The workshop was attended by the following selected School Presidents, Ministers of Education, and Ministers of Social Development and get capacitated by becoming Social Emotional Learning pioneers by sparking conversations, sharing tips, and organizing events in their respective schools and communities.
All 21 participants received an introduction into the five core competencies of Social Emotional Learning – Self Awareness, Emotional Regulation and Growth Mindset, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making.
Despite some theoretical input from the facilitators, the workshop’s core was the practical activities that gave learners an in-depth understanding of what it really means to develop a Social Emotional Learning Skillset and how to facilitate these activities with other people.
Commenting on the workshop, one learner, Olona, said, “We learnt the significance of being aware of ourselves, knowing who we are, what we like and dislike, where are we from, understanding people around us and that we as people have similarities and differences that makes us who we are”.
“We also learnt on how to handle those differences that we might have as individuals. Then we were taught communication skills and how we can communicate properly without misunderstandings. For example, people cannot talk at the same time, we have to listen to one another, pay attention and pace ourselves accordingly when speaking, especially when doing public speaking,” Olona added.
Another participant added, “We were educated on anxiety, on what it is, how it is, and how anyone can get anxiety from uncomfortable situations that alarm us. We were not quite aware that anxiety is a small part of our brain that tells us when we’re in danger, like our intuition. The facilitator also demonstrated how we can calm ourselves when we get the anxiety attacks and that getting these anxiety attacks doesn’t mean that we’re sick and can’t manage it”. The learner added that after the training, they feel that their self-esteem is boosted and that they have a broader view of how to approach new people. As a result, we can understand ourselves and others better, and we thank Africa Unite for building us and being a community for unity and diversity.”
The workshop evaluation showed that participants found the workshop very informative and helpful and that they are committed to applying all that they learnt in the workshop in their lives and sharing the tools with their peers in school and at home. Furthermore, the exercise of sharing one’s insecurities and receiving motivational messages from the other participants was particularly impactful. It helped the learners gain confidence and realize that they are not alone with the critical voice in their head.
90% of participants mentioned that they are now more aware of themselves as well as people around them and that the whole session really brought everyone together, which is especially powerful considering the diversity of the group–age groups, cultures, nationalities, gender, and religion. This shows that teaching Social Emotional Learning is a powerful way to bring more social cohesion and help young people see their shared humanity in each other.
This month, there will be three additional Social Emotional Learning workshops in Gauteng and Durban. Thanks to the peer-to-peer approach, we are confident that this program will reach hundreds of young people and play a positive role in this generation’s mental wellbeing of this generation.
Commenting on the programme, Ms Mira Modise, the facilitator of the SEL programme at Africa Unite said that she was happy on the progress and impact made by the introduction of SEL among young learners. “More participants reported that sharing their experiences in the group made them stronger, and that they feel more comfortable with being perceived as “different”. This shows that SELF has a positive influence on identity and relationship building among participants”. Added Mira.