April 27, 2020 – In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government of South Africa put into place nation-wide lockdown on March 23 for at least until the end of April. Taking stock of the new situation created by the virus, our staff and youths have quickly adapted to maintain our ability to achieve our goals in Cape Flats. At the onset of the crisis, we were able to initiate the digitization of our curricula and thereby preserve the learning dynamic of our trainees in the context of COVID-19. Additionally, our 35 aspiring youth leaders – who were a little more than halfway through their training before the lockdown went into effect – have reached out to local communities to disseminate key messages about preventive measures against the pandemic, thereby demonstrating their commitment to the welfare of the community.
In the weeks since the lockdown order went into effect, WPDI has worked closely with our partners on the ground and national authorities to adjust training plans and scheduled events. Although our Community Learning Center in Athlone has temporarily closed, the entire cohort of aspiring youth peacemakers as well as people enrolled in standalone courses have continued to engage in distance learning activities – covering the same topics as they did before the crisis – with our trainers. Tools like Google Classrooms, Zoom, and WhatsApp have helped make communications easy and have even enhanced some learning outcomes; our trainers have even been able to offer one-on-one refresher sessions with certain trainees to help them gain a better understanding of certain topics. Both trainers and trainees have found this novel approach to be helpful: Laverne, a future youth peacemaker, told us that “I have enjoyed learning online. The material is easy to follow and informative. Being able to have one-on-one revision sessions with the trainers has been especially helpful.” Our Information & Communications Technology trainer, Steffne, echoed a similar sentiment, saying that “I am proud of our shift online. Google Classroom has proven to be a great resource and all of us trainers have been working closely with the youths and other trainees.”
Apart from continuing to train our cohort of aspiring youth peacemakers, WPDI youths, and beneficiaries have also taken steps to support their local communities. Kayla, a Business & Entrepreneurship course trainee, adapted her clothing business so that it is now solely focusing on creating masks for the local population. She has even hired out-of-work women from her neighborhood to help sew masks. In her words, “I want to give back to the community by making masks for those who could not afford them and for those in need of them. One of the things I learned from WPDI is to give back to my community, and I am blessed to be able do that.”
Meanwhile, Gcobani, one of our youth peacemakers in training, recently mediated a conflict within a neighboring family; the lockdown had apparently heightened dormant tensions. Because it was public knowledge in the community that Gcobani was enrolled in a conflict resolution program, the family asked him to mediate their conflict. He successfully applied the methods he had learned with us to do so and is currently following up on the outcome of the process – in line with what he learned with us. Gcobani’s story is rich with lessons showing that it matters to be trusted by the community, that peace starts with everyday decisions to do good, and that even in the midst of a crisis, we must never cease to work towards peace.
The COVID-19 crisis is forcing many organizations – WPDI included – to adapt and reinvent themselves, as we are currently doing by implementing online trainings for our new cohort of aspiring youth peacemakers in Cape Town’s Cape Flats as well as for all community members who registered for our trainings at the Community Learning Center. We are relieved that our staff, youths, and beneficiaries could demonstrate resolve in overcoming them and we are even more proud that, in these difficult times, they mobilized for the benefit of their communities. Such determination focused on the common good is the very spirit of the Youth Peacemaker Network.