The ABC...Ds of our Work

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The ABC...Ds of our Work

Like most non-profit organisations operating today, our communication strategy over the past few years (through social media and other avenues) has seen us predominantly focus on providing you (our wonderful supporters) with updates regarding our on-going efforts, projects, and successes. But in some ways, this approach has neglected to give you the full picture. Indeed, some of you may be wondering what drives Kariega Project's approach? Why do we do what we do? What is the method behind our madness? 

The ABCD of what we do: 

Our success and innovation is driven in part by building upon an effective and empowering community development methodology known as Asset Based Community Development (“ABCD”). The appeal of ABCD is that, at its core, it dictates that communities drive the development process themselves by identifying and mobilising existing, but often unrecognised assets, to create local economic opportunity. ABCD therefore mobilises individuals (community champions), Civil Society Organisations (or CSOs), and informal groups to come together to build on or exchange these assets rather than focusing solely on individual needs. Quite simply, ABCD represents a large and growing movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development. 

 

ABCD places an enormous amount of importance on local associations as drivers of the community development process. These associations are the vehicles through which all a community's assets are identified and then connected in ways that multiply their power and effectiveness. The importance of this approach is that it builds the social capital of key participants and strengthens social relationships between associations, individuals, and communities. Social Capital refers to features of social organisations such as networks, norms, and trust, which increase a society’s productive potential. It is built on a web of relationships that exist within any given community that allows people to succeed or advance through associating together. Social capital is present in the networks, norms, and social trust inherent in associations whose members work together in concerted collaborative action. In a literal sense, social capital is the store of good-will and obligations generated by social relations. 

 

So how does Kulu Coin push an ABCD agenda? 

Kulu Coin is simply a mechanism to connect community assets to one another in ways that multiply their power and effectiveness. By "valuing" community assets, we are effectively trying to create a marketplace where community assets can be exchanged and leveraged to build community cohesion and drive development. But Kulu Coin also works because it operates on the back of social relationships that are generated in bringing multiple stakeholders and beneficiaries together to exchange assets and drive a mutually beneficial development agenda. 

As subscribers of the ABCD approach, Kariega Project is quite deliberate in its intentions to lead by "stepping back". Rather than designing, implementing, and imposing community interventions in a traditional NGO/community relationship, our primary goal (through Kulu Coin) is simply to facilitate the exchange of community assets. We believe that existing associations and networks (both formal or informal) are the primary source of constructive energy in the community. Since our humble beginnings, this has been proven time and time again. 

Kariega Project and Kulu Coin has successfully been operating for three years. To date, we have opted to keep Kulu Coin local to Kenton-on-Sea to ensure a scalable local impact footprint. With just R33,572.00, in 2014, we facilitated a considerable amount of direct impact in the form of early education support, adult IT education, community greening, infrastructure support, and other forms of financial support. On top of all of that, we also facilitated 1007 hours of additional community service. In three years, we have facilitated roughly 2700 community service hours. What is critical to understand is that our success is not simply the product of our efforts, but rather, a reflection of how effective the ABCD approach can be when it finds a welcoming community with motivated community champions and informal groups. 

Like most organisations, we are constantly learning and trying to improve our approach. With the help of all our supporters as well as the participating informal groups, CSOs, and community champions, we hope to continue facilitating profound change in the Kenton area. 

Please tune in over the next few days to find out about our plans for Mandela Day and to see how you can get involved!!!

 

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South Africa’s Education System and the Siren’s Call of the Township School

Friday 13 March 2015 marked Kariega Project’s first foray into the South African education system. Our approach of not assisting schools directly might seem counter-intuitive to some, given the ample need and scope for improvement but there is logic behind it. South African schools are a hotbed of political activism (and that is just the staff room), in which many a tree-hugging do-gooder has lost their proverbial shirt. One finds that the ubiquitous township school sings an almost irresistible siren's call to any well-meaning, usually white, civil society group. Like Odysseus, Kariega Project has had to lash itself to the mast in order to avoid floundering on the rocks. So why are these waters to treacherous?

It is an intoxicating mix of heartbreaking stories of tragic failures and underdog successes that feeds the addiction. Stories of lost generations of students peppered with isolated achievers, apathetic staff rooms with lone crusading teachers giving their all to make a difference, absent principals and those who valiantly ‘MacGyver’ their schools each day in the face of chronic resource shortages, underperforming education department, mutinous staff, disruptive students and disengaged parents. Enter stage right: the good-intentioned, western interventionist.

Ernesto Sirolli describes this type of person as the imperialist, colonist, and missionary whose interventions are generally either paternalistic or patronising. The former treats those from other cultures as though they were their children. The latter treats those from other cultures as though they were their staff; bwana, boss, baas. They arrive to see the sorry state of affairs and instead of taking the time to understand why this is so, they simply say ‘thank god we’re here to save the staff from incompetence and the pupils from a life of ignorance’. They swoop into action in a swirl of efficiency gains and key performance indicators. Sadly, they disregard the politics. Politics: the steely-eyed guy, silently watching you front up to his trouble-making friend at the bar. Invariably, these good Samaritans are evicted, often without warning or explanation, with a sense of resentment and betrayal on both sides.

The reality is that the average township school is a complex political environment that runs less on binary performance indicators and more on a continuum of ambiguity. There are delinquents and geniuses, teaching horrors and inspirations, and reasons why the grass is uncut or why there are man-sized holes in the ceiling. Reasons that one would most probably also acquiesce to if faced without escape from that reality. Eviction notices can also be petty and self-defeating: Samaritans can be the perfect guests, making a tangible difference in the lives of students but fall foul of an upstaged teacher, unpredictable teachers' union or for simply have the wrong coloured faced. Sadly, the problems of township schools are systemic and cannot be solved (and can even be made worse) by the well-meaning interventionista. Sometimes, what is needed is a good old fashioned South African toi-toi (protest) to raise a little ire and grab the attention of the Education Department.

So why in the world would Kariega Project even contemplate heeding the siren’s call?  Two weeks ago, students from the local high school took the radical decision to toi-toi (protest) against not having a qualified science teacher for three years. It just so happens that a visiting volunteer in our Kenton Cares programme had the skills to give targeted grade 12 biology revision ahead of this week’s national exams. The intervention had a clear mandate, realistic outputs and outcomes, and an enforced exit strategy that militated against dependency or contempt. It is also part of a strategic play to set the conditions for a potential future ‘disrupter’ intervention. Who knows, we may still flounder on the rocks, but for now it’s worth the intoxicating risk.

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Reflections of a Volunteer

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The Kenton Cares Volunteer Programme prides itself on facilitating volunteer services in the poorer communities around Kenton-on-Sea. But that represents only part of what is great about the programme. Significantly, the volunteers themselves learn a tremendous amount during their volunteer time and get an opportunity to immerse themselves in an experience unlike anything they experience back home. 

The exert below is Paige Orness’ reflections on assisting a social worker from Child Welfare during her ‘home visit’ schedule on Wednesday. 

 
Sad, interesting and eye-opening are the words that first pop up in my mind when I think of yesterday morning. Together with a social worker I went to a primary school in the township Marselle to meet three siblings. Those three siblings moved to Marselle from Port Elizabeth to live with their dad. When we arrived at the school we could only find the older brother. He told us his two younger sisters do go to the school in Marselle but that they aren’t in the school system yet. This was the interesting part because in the U.S.A. this could never happen. You just can’t show up at a school one day and go there without any transfer record or anything like that.

Anyway, the fifteen year-old boy told us his story about his mom and dad and about that they haven’t been together for 5 years but that they aren’t divorced. The sad part is that his parents really are not getting along and that he wanted to live with his father in Marselle. So he took a cab together with his sisters and they went by themselves.

Altogether this really was an eye-opener for me and I’ve learned so much about the crazy differences between South-Africa and the U.S.A. through the story of this little boy. I mean, you always hear the stories but you never realize how bad it actually is. I’m very glad I can be a part by helping these children.
 

Kariega Project is so proud to host people like Paige! 

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Trees, Adaptive Development and all that jazz

BY SEAN KELLY

Kariega Project's inaugural Mandela Day 10k Tree Challenge has come and gone. How did it go? What did we learn? Well...a lot. Despite our ambitious goal of 10 000 trees by 2020, we decided to start our first year with a modest 50 trees and 5 partners, spread across 3 disadvantaged communities in the greater Kenton area. That turned out to be a smart choice, even though the day unfolded with controlled chaos. 

The paradigm of “adaptive development” advanced by Kariega Project rests upon the principle that beneficiaries and communities need to be self-organised. This approach is, in part, based upon the premise that when the 'donor' or NGO relinquishes control over an initiative or project to the beneficiaries, it is far more likely to be sustainable, with the beneficiary taking ownership of the project or initiative. With this principle in mind, during the Mandela Day 10k Tree Challenge, we placed the ball in our partners' courts. We allotted 10 trees to each partner organisation; it was then up to them to decide and facilitate the where, the what, and the who. We knew that for best effect, the trees should be planted along streets in the poorest parts of the communities. It was quite interesting to see that most of the groups decided to allot a portion of their trees to their respective community churches. In communities largely devoid of trees, the churches stand out as oasis of green. Our partners also opted to plant trees near libraries, clinics, a foster home, and (much to our relief) a small street segment. 

The success of Mandela Day 10k Tree Challenge was also illustrated by two inconspicuous events. First, on Mandela Day, when residents saw their participating neighbours planting a tree in front of their house, they immediately asked if they too could join in the efforts, causing a rapid reshuffle of planting locations. Second, a couple of weeks later, two random pedestrians were seen fixing a tree support structure that been blown askew. These two events, although unassuming in and of themselves, shows that people (yes, even disadvantaged ones) spontaneously, and perhaps inherently, see the value in greening their community. It also gave them something to be a part of, even for a few hours. Importantly for Kariega Project, it proved that by selectively applying stressors or triggers, one can precipitate a development outcome that cannot be bought or taught. It also means that we have achieved our primary goal for Mandela Day 2014: building a solid foundation for Mandela Day 2015... and beyond. 

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The Importance of Early Literacy

BY FUNDISWA FIHLANI

I grew up in a black community and the only “books” I was exposed to were magazines. My mother couldn’t help me much with my homework because she never got the chance to study herself. This is the case for most families in low income communities in South Africa. We live in a society where technology is taking over and people no longer feel the need to talk to one another face to face. Children are struggling to learn their mother tongue because no one has time for normal conversations. Learning a second language becomes even harder because we can hardly speak our own home language properly. The most important reason for enabling children to learn English is so that they can effectively communicate with one another in our diverse communities. English has become a universal language in our society such that if one wants to advocate for oneself, it is critically important to be fluent in this language. 

In 2010, we started attracting other nations into our country with the Soccer World Cup, and with a growing number of tourists coming in and out of our previously disadvantaged communities; wouldn’t it be a great thing for the people living in those communities to be able to tell their own stories? After all, an outsider wouldn’t have the same pride and effect as a resident. The people in our communities lack the confidence to interact with foreign visitors because they have poor English skills. The preschools and schools try their best to provide an adequate education for the children within their overcrowded classrooms but this is not enough.  My point is that we have a problem that needs immediate attention. Some of us are dedicating our time to come up with solutions. We are not sure if our methods would work because we don’t have all the answers, but we are willing to try and not just sit still and do nothing.

What we need, and what South Africa needs, are more dedicated people who are willing to suggest, refine, and implement solutions to the education problem in this country. This problem starts with literacy and communication skills! Kariega Project is amongst the select few who are taking an initiative to remedy the literacy problem in our community.

Kariega Project has partnered up with two organisations, Zelda Jacob’s Education Support Group as well as Eunice Adams’ Masibulele Preschool with the aim of offering both early literacy services as well as English Enrichment. In order to generating ideas of how to best tackle the problem at hand, over the past few weeks, we have held countless meetings and brainstorming sessions with people who have experience in teaching primary school English We are making progresss, but more needs to be done. The people that volunteer at the Kariega Project have no teaching experience but they are willing to give their time in developing our community. And that’s a good start. 

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Plant a tree. How tough could it be?

BY SEAN KELLY

So why should we care about trees in poor neighbourhoods? Simple: trees change the feel of the community and the behaviour of its residents. Trees and green spaces add to a feeling of prosperity, safety and well-being. They imbibe a sense of community pride and, without doubt, improve social stability. Why 10 000 trees? Well, there are a lot of streets and precious few trees in the neighbourhoods we are targeting. So when the Kariega Project first touted the idea of a tree planting programme about a year ago, I honestly asked myself, 'How difficult could it be? Right?'. Well, we've learnt a lot in a year and it's been both easy and frustratingly difficult at the same time.

This is why we need more trees! 

This is why we need more trees! 

First things first, we had to decide on the type of tree. Not only did it have to be indigenous, but it had to be rather hardy. Our little corner of paradise experiences high winds from two of the four cardinal points for most of the year. It's the type of thing that only a true-born local would miss when they are away. We are also quite prone to extended droughts. Added to this is the clay soil of the target neighbourhoods. Little wonder that 90% of the trees planted by previous programmes have died. I've precious little horticultural knowledge, so I took a walk around the community to see what had actually survived. This helped me settle on two species: Cape Ash and Wild Plum.

We knew that money would always be a problem and so decided to start planting our own trees. Google told us that both species could easily be grown from cuttings. Google might be lying... I'm not sure. From 70 cuttings, none survived. Next, we tried germinating seeds. Dutifully, I walked the avenues collecting seeds; no doubt with many a resident shaking their head at this display of eccentricity. Alas, less than 20% germinated. We then turned to nature and discovered that the best way to go was to scour the underbrush for young seedlings and saplings to transplant. The survival rate is at about 90% and we now have over 150 healthy saplings. On this success, we have come to an agreement with a local retirement village (with sizable grounds) whose residents were removing hundreds of seedlings each year. Now, those seedlings come to us! 

A sapling

A sapling

Next was the question of the planting location, which came with a few unexpected factors. Having addressed the environmental factors, we now had to contend with goats, cattle, politicians, vandals and the apathy of many. I was told by some people that the 10k tree challenge was a fool's errand. Some from the affluent suburbs told me that 'they' (those living in the poor neighborhoods) didn't appreciate trees and wouldn't look after them. The politicians expressed a desire to direct the planting. Many community residents told me that it was pointless as the goats and cattle would make short work of them. Luckily, I had the support of the motivated few. I thanked all and sundry for their advice and set about minimising the risk.

We began by limiting our first planting to 50 trees: 10 for each of our partner organisations. With the ball now in their court, each partner had to decide where to plant their trees and how they would be maintained throughout the year. We thanked the politicians for their 'guidance' but pointed out that the Kariega Project had no control over where the tree were to be planted. That was up to our community partners. Next we turned our attention to the two-legged vandals and the four-legged raiders. We took the decision to purchase saplings that were over 180cm and, around the stem, to fit 110mm pvc pipping to a height of 1.5m. Each sapling and piping will be secured by three bamboo stakes harvested from a roadside thicket.

So that's our plan for the inaugeral planting of the 10k Tree Challlenge. Talk is cheap though. The real test will be how many of the 50 sapling are alive a year from now. My landscaping friends tell me to expect 50%; the optimist in me says 80%. Regardless, I'm looking forward to the lessons learnt from next Friday and the year ahead. The importance of the challenge demands it.

 

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