Public Relations

Local NGO reflects on the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of their COVID response

Amava Oluntu, the Muizenberg-based NGO that played a key role in establishing and supplying community kitchens in neighbouring Vrygrond, has put out a COVID Reflection Report. The report, titled ‘Learning to Fly’, highlights some important insights into the community COVID response.

“Our organisation, working as a conduit to assist community leaders on the ground in neighbouring Vrygrond, learnt a great deal about the intricacies of supporting a community through a crisis. A year on, we thought it was important for us and our five Vrygrond beneficiaries who’d been through so much, to reflect on what had happened,” says Amava’s Director, Theresa Wigley.

Pre-COVID

Amava’s core task is people-led development, we assist and support people to come up with their own systems and solutions to help themselves,” says Wigley. Before COVID struck, the Amava team was training five young people from Vrygrond in participatory video (PV) skills. “The aim of the PV workshops was to build storytelling and video production skills, self-confidence and create community dialogues on how they could uplift their communities,” she says. “When lockdown happened, they asked that question in relation to the crisis: What can we do to help our community now? That’s where it all started, they went ahead and we offered them our full support,” she says.

Food as a driver for change

As a first step, they joined forces with the larger Vrygrond network and mapped the community to identify needs and resources, such as where the existing community kitchens were and where more were needed. With Muizenberg CAN and Amava’s support, they set up eight new community kitchens and kept those plus the seven existing kitchens supplied with food. These community kitchens ensured that everyone in Vrygrond could get at least one hot nutritious meal a day, six days a week. Seven kitchens operated until March 2021 and four are still going.

Amava supported this movement with its networks and resources, by helping to raise funds and do all of the associated admin, while training the youths in the process to be able to do this themselves. Wigley says, “We connected them to our extensive network which we’re so privileged to have, and who could help them through challenges like accounting and writing grant proposals.”

Reflecting on the journey

Now, a year on, Amava guided these five leaders on a reflection process to unpack what they’d learnt. The reflection journey took them into nature to give them time and a safe place to consider and process how it had affected them. Experts like Nadia Sitas, from Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Complex Systems, and CareCreative, facilitated future planning and art therapy sessions.

Beneficiary, Nolubablo Bulana, says, “We painted a river of life – we took all the anger, frustrations and sadness at different incidents that happened and emptied ourselves.”

Lessons learnt

Wigley says, “It was fascinating to see how in a community with more than 70% unemployment, people made things work. Families and friends helped each other in so many ways, and often without any external support.”

We learnt that money added a lot of negativity. Our beneficiaries, who had by then arranged themselves into a separate NGO called Spaza Hub, managed to win a grant from Oxfam for their community kitchen work. This included a stipend for each of them, which caused untold jealousy in the community, she says. Another local organisation accused them of stealing money, stealing food and corruption. It made for a very negative and, in such a violent community, dangerous situation for them. It was particularly painful as they were working so hard for the benefit of the community.

Bulana says, “We came together to make sure that everyone in our community could get food through these difficult times. This did indeed create many amazing connections, across all kinds of divides, but it also created division, and brought up many community dynamics that were very painful and frustrating.”

Wigley says, “Seeing the Spaza Hub flourish was a highlight for us. They were insightful enough to realise that although community kitchens were needed in the crisis, their core work was fighting for a fair and just community where everyone has access to food and basic health supplies. They applied for and won another grant to stimulate Gender-Based Violence dialogues within their community, which they have made an incredible success out of,” she says.

Reflection research results

“We wanted the reflection research to appeal to our Spaza Hub beneficiaries, engage them rather than alienate them as academic research often can”, says Wigley.

“One of their main concerns was that the results of the research would never be shown to them or used for their, or their community’s benefit. So we left it up to them to decide how to present their reflection research, and interestingly, they chose by dancing. With Chris Unwin’s professional guidance, they put together a dance that presented their feelings about the last 12 months, the highs and lows, their vulnerabilities and successes, and they danced it. This is such a departure from usual academia we thought it was fantastic,” she says. “They loved it.”

Bulana says, “Experts who come and speak in a lot of jargon that we don’t understand, silences and alienates us. This is very triggering. Then they take what they want and leave and we don’t see them again or know what they are doing with that information.”

“When one dances there are different ways that one can express themselves. Through our research we have shared our emotions and our feelings. Through dancing we can depict our learnings effectively and successfully,” says Spaza Hub’s Asavuya Mantongomane. “Through dancing we can share our journey. We can dance with our community watching, engaging with the community.

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