Durban is all it’s cracked up to be. I spent the nights of my first African summer months doing my best to feign sleep before I borrowed a roommate’s fan. I buy fresh produce from the friendliest farmer’s market-esque street vendors and shop owners, the beach front is beautiful, the highways are lined by leafy canopies and I can get a smile out of most everyone I see. It’s a far cry from Canada in the winter time!
My work at Imagine Durban is moving along well as I approach the halfway point of the internship. I feel like I have been able to form solid working relationships with my colleagues (who crack me up on the daily) and am enjoying steering a couple of great demonstration projects in the townships and within the city centre. A large focus of these projects is working with youth in a park revitalization program and with marginalized communities in a social housing intervention project. Both of these projects utilize multi-stakeholder engagement processes in township communities with a strong focus on community engagement as a key component of the project process.
On a recent weekend I spent a Saturday in a workshop organized for 25 beneficiaries of the social housing project mentioned above. The workshop was with residents of the first wave of low-cost housing that was rolled out in South Africa’s eThekwini Municipality in the mid-nineties. These 25 residents, from toddlers to Gogos (Grandmothers), engaged with facilitators throughout the morning and afternoon to talk about their houses and the practical housing interventions that could be performed on their homes to improve their quality of life. I feel the process demonstrated well to all involved how much value and depth multi-stakeholder community engagement can give a project. This kind of participatory engagement goes a long way towards increasing community ownership of a project/idea/legislation, etc. and helps to create long-term project sustainability through a better rounded and informed approach to various well intended projects and initiatives led by official organizing bodies.
Many projects are conceptualized and implemented by (but not limited to) non-profit organizations, social enterprises and government bodies from around the world with the aim of improving the lives of individuals and communities. From what I have read, seen and experienced here in Durban and at home in Canada, improving the level and quality of community consultation and participatory processes used in these projects will go a long way towards better, more informed projects and intended outcomes.