Leeanne MacGregor is wrapping up a 6-month internship in Durban, South Africa in outreach and communications. She writes about a great project that Imagine Durban helped to kick-start. You can also read more about it here.
Tuesday afternoon, a group of representatives from Imagine Durban, local NPO, Indlela, and Canada-based Sustainable Cities International arrive at Amaoti 3 School in KwaMashu, eThekwini Municipality, South Africa. The purpose of the visit is to check in on teacher and learner participants in the school’s girls’ after-school recreation club. The program was given some start-up funding through a partnership between the three organizations in June, 2011, and has since been operating with only minimal mentorship from Indlela staff.
As we pull in, class is dismissed and learners pour out of a series of free-standing classrooms into the small parking lot, jammed with cars. They cluster in groups along the steep stairs leading to the main building of the school and on the five meter-wide cement space along the top of the hill in front of the head office. Space is definitely limited at this school, which is partly what impeded the start-up of a club in the past.
Identified as a need by staff and students, the after-school recreation club began as a co-ed program but since split into separate girls and boys clubs. The Girls’ Recreation Club in particular has been making an impact in the lives of its young participants. The 50-plus female club members have described a feeling of camaraderie within the group similar to that of a sisterhood. Girls have reported feeling healthier physically and more connected to their peers emotionally. Teachers have noticed that since the club, participants are more likely to speak up in their regular classes, have better public speaking skills, and are able to communicate their thoughts with clarity and eloquence. One girl described feeling self-acceptance and pride as a result of being part of the after-school club. Amaoti 3 principal, Mrs. Maphunulo, says that the club “has an impact even on [the girls’] society”.
What actually goes on in the one-hour weekly sessions to yield the gleaming reviews and how the school manages the club despite its limited resources were things that we intended to puzzle out during our time at the school.
From the outset, one of the challenges with running the after-school program was that the volume of students was too much to include everyone in the same activity at the same time. As a solution, the body of interested students was divided into three groups which alternate activities on a weekly basis. Programs are led three different days a week and feature a different activity each day. Girls know that they must show up according to the planned schedule so that everyone can have a turn at participating. Mrs. Maphunulo reflects that punctuality and attendance in regular classes has improved as a result of the club; by requiring students to show up at activities at their scheduled time and place, the club helps to foster a sense of responsibility in its participants.
A cherished activity at Amaoti 3 School is the dance-fusion aerobics program. The hip, music-heavy aerobics sessions have been very popular with the girls who enjoy the exercise and the synchronized complicated routines. As we head to one of the classrooms for a briefing session with teachers and learners, the step-aerobics class is getting started. Steps are lined up in the narrow space; one teacher goes around collecting the learners’ uniform neckties. As the group assigned to aerobics for this week gets amped, a different group of club members gathers to spectate. Based on the palpable excitement, this could quite possibly be the highlight of their week. Later, club member Mbali relates how she tells people in her neighbourhood that she’s an “aerobics player”. She doesn’t mind being hassled to share her aerobics skills with friends in her community.
Another activity that the school runs is appreciated more subtly. The round-circle group talks on selected topics aim to be informative and enlightening, and often get personal, even therapeutic. Girls are mentored through discussions on modern and traditional roles of women and girls in the household/school/ workplace, female health, (physical, spiritual, emotional), safety issues, and career selection.
One of the reasons for the success of the program is the committed teacher staff. Seven teachers currently volunteer their time to organise and monitor the sessions and prepare programming content in some cases. For the staff participants, ideas take precedence over feasibility. Educators have resolved the issue of space limitation through choreographed planning; netball, for example, is organized in the parking lot once the cars have left.
In talking with the principal, educators, and learners at Amaoti 3, it is clear that the momentum to maintain the club is established. The improvements to participants’ feelings of responsibility and self-confidence are making them better citizens and role models in their community. By providing female-specific programming, Indlela, Imagine Durban, and Sustainable Cities International are demonstrating the importance of providing positive after-school alternatives for powerful young women in rural eThekwini communities.