April 2017 marked the opening of our Peer Mediators Program for the three secondary schools of Manenberg (Phoenix, Manenberg, and Silverstream). After a year of consulting, meeting learners and other preparation, the program got underway with a 4-day training held at the beautiful La Bri Olive Farm and Holiday Venue in Franschhoek.
This innovative program brings learners together from the three schools for the purposes of cross-community learning, relationship-building, and support as mediation begins. They have similar issues related to gang violence that spill onto the campuses. SADRA’s program gives them a foundational understanding of the nature of conflict as well as empowering them with practical skills and confidence for resolving conflicts at school non-violently.
Prior to coming together, some learners were nervous to meet those from other schools. Overcoming this barrier and providing them with a way to build relationships in a safe space was important. By the end of the second day, attitudes were changing – crossed arms gave way to hugs and laughter; school boundaries evaporated.
Our goal was to have 15 from each school, even in gender, and learners young enough to help with the continuation of the program. We ended up with 37: 30% boys, 70% girls, with 57% of the participants coming from Silverstream. Two-thirds of the learners speak Afrikaans at home, and most are from a Muslim background. Parents were thrilled we were taking their youth out of Manenberg, or in the words of a single mother, “I am so grateful you are taking my only son to safety for at least four days. I was distraught I have to work shifts this weekend, but now I’m so thankful for you.”
Each day included many hours devoted to understanding conflict and the skills needed for non-violent conflict resolution, such as active listening, paraphrasing and mediation. These skills were practised in numerous role play scenarios of situations familiar to them from school or family, and they practiced in every role. Group games were used for recreation, team-building and learning, and daily activities broke up the lessons.
A big hit was the mosaic craft project by volunteers from Douglas Jones Mosaics in Cape Town, who also donated all materials. The youth were shown how to make mosaic art on panels and pots using glass or ceramic tiles. Some of these projects were spectacular, and many presents for mothers and schools were made. The calming effect of the project allowed for deep conversations – sitting with a table of young women, I heard each one tell a story of losing an immediate family member to a painful, premature death – all shared while patiently gluing tiles as we sat elbow to elbow.
While this farm was only an hour from their suburb of Cape Town, these youth had never been out this far, or in such open space, and were at first both fidgety and uncomfortable. After getting through first day squabbles about dorm beds and hidden cigarettes, we got them moving. There were daily elective activities including a 7km hike to the reservoir, a tour of the olive farm, sports (soccer and netball) and more mosaics. We watched them breathe deeper, and stand tall, literally.
“What’s that smell?” The youth I was walking with through a wooded area asked with crumpled noses. “The smell of decaying leaves – where I used to live we have this smell most of the year.” Eyes wide, they poked at rocks, admired flowers and colours, and jumped at imaginary snakes for the first time.
But the biggest transformations came from working with the material. Nearly half the learners started our workshop saying conflict is a negative thing and trying to avoid it at all costs. Then they learned how to analyse it, how to speak to it, how to contribute positively to resolve it, and their excitement was tangible. Shy girls found their voices; bossy girls learned to give others space. In exit evaluations, a quarter of the learners voluntarily mentioned having gained selfconfidence; one third of the boys specifically said they learned how to communicate and listen.
On the final day it was very exciting to witness their enthusiasm and ability to implement mediation. All of them left believing they can use Peer Mediation and help others resolve conflicts.
These Silverstream Secondary School girls gave quote-worthy statements summing up their experience of the training.
Zanele Kolo: “It [this workshop] has put so much change in my life now I am able to solve conflicts that are happening and I’m now starting to believe in myself.”
Shenay Botman: “I will walk with the key of a problem solver.”
We continue to meet with the youth weekly until they are ready to mediate on their own, and expect to certify them by the end of May.