Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Despite the celebrated decrease in poverty levels in South Africa, statistics indicate that more than 50% of the nation’s population is still poor and living below $1.25 dollars per day, with 56% of black people classified as poor as compared to 7% of the white population and over 52 % poor people living in urban townships (World Bank Chart 2013). Young people living in these disadvantaged areas, especially urban townships, are exposed to harsh living conditions with regular exposure to social ills that include high rates of HIV/AIDS, community violence, unemployment, gender based violence, child abuse, sexual and emotional abuse and these have profound negative effects on their emotional well-being. This negatively affects their capacity to emotionally cope as individuals and they become at risk of becoming societal drop-outs sparking a vicious cycle of youth unemployment, gangsterism, teenage pregnancies, alcohol and substance abuse and suicide attempts which altogether feeds back to accelerate the social challenges in the society. Research results by the South African government department of social development indicate that 43% of young adults in the townships of Cape Town will not complete their education facing a high risk of dropping out of society and perpetuating poverty levels in their communities (Department of Social Development, 2013).
Studies indicate that on average, a young adult growing up in impoverished urban townships of Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa is exposed to between 14-23 traumatic experiences each year that may affect his social and emotional well-being, while in the USA, an individual will experience on average 4.3 traumatic experiences in his/her lifetime (University of the Western Cape). Despite this alarming statistical evidence, basic psychosocial and emotional support remains beyond reach for most people in these areas for various reasons. Firstly, most young people in the townships are raised in broken up families with no stable structures to offer or even recognize the importance of emotional support during traumatic experiences. Statistics indicate that only 33% of children in South Africa live with both parents (South Africa Institute of Race Relations, 2013) Secondly, there are no proper social structures among the youth themselves to provide emotional support and guidance through traumatic experiences (or after). There are over 150,000 active gang members in Cape Town. Many young people who form a crop of friends and/or peers are already involved in crime, substance abuse and are not in a position to become pillars of positive support for their fellows. Thirdly, the rising rate of child-headed households places a high burden of responsibility on young people as they concentrate on fending for themselves and their siblings, ignoring their own emotional health needs and the importance of developing emotional support structures to help them cope.
Although the South African government has tried to put structures in place to provide basic psychosocial and emotional support to young people, it lacks capacity to adequately and efficiently reach out to everyone in need. The Department of Health allocates an average of 4% of its budget to mental health (which is still inadequate), however most of it is spent on training counsellors and social workers, 85% of whom normally enter the private sector making their expertise and services far beyond reach of local township residents (Cape Times 2014).
On the other hand, the Department of Basic Education recruits trained social workers to provide psychosocial and emotional support to school going children who may be exposed to traumatic experiences. Each school is encouraged to have access to a qualified social worker and a trained in-house counsellor for this purpose. However, because of low salary structures in the government only 1% of trained social workers enter the education sector for this purpose and each of them is allocated an average of 30 schools. This leaves average social worker: youth ratios of 1:35,000 (Department of Social Development, Western Cape). This strains the capacity of available resources to an impossible level defeating the whole purpose of in school intervention with emotional health. Further, teachers are not well trained and empowered to deal with children showing signs of emotional trauma. As a result, learners presenting behavioral and learning difficulties (that may result from trauma) are either suspended or expelled from school which perpetuates the vicious cycle of societal drop-outs in township communities.
This means that for the majority of children and young adults in the townships of Western Cape and other provinces of South Africa access to reliable, consistent and good quality psychosocial and emotional support is beyond their reach, leaving the wider effects of emotional trauma in the communities unresolved.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Tim created a non-profit organization called Isiqalo, a local language name meaning ‘the beginning’, with Waves for Change (W4C) as its flagship program. The core of Tim’s innovation revolves around a comprehensive curriculum-based methodology within Waves for Change (W4C) with three distinct levels that together create an integrated network of youth and peers empowered to provide emotional support to each other through traumatic experiences and offer mentorship and guidance for positive life choices. The modules are drawn from the principles of cognitive behaviour and humanistic approaches to therapy, and are fused with surfing: a sport considered foreign in most coastal townships and whose natural aesthetic recruits the most vulnerable young adults to W4C programming. The W4C programme helps individuals open up, understand their present situation and develop competencies to cope with emotional trauma and forge forward positively under the guidance of a new, supportive peer group.
Tim engages a network of schools, community leaders and other community based organizations working with the youth as referral points for young people exhibiting symptoms of being at risk (like emotional symptoms, difficulty regulating behaviour, problems with concentration and learning and involvement in anti-social peer groups) or who are known to have gone through traumatic experiences (death in the family, divorce, violence, abuse). Key contacts like teachers, principals and community volunteers are identified and trained on how to recognize symptoms of emotional trauma in young people and refer them to the program.
These are then introduced to the entry level of the W4C curriculum as Participants and exposed to structured modules that help stabilize the individual, re-attach their emotions and enhance their coping skills so they can ‘find themselves’ once again using the challenging sport of surfing, within an integrated network of peers from similar backgrounds. This follows an evidence based 1.5 years curriculum which helps each individual to explore his/her emotions, recognize behavioral triggers and develop alternative coping strategies. Young people who successfully complete this phase graduate into weekend surf clubs, offering prolonged involvement in W4C and an opportunity to enter the next level of training: Elders. This phase is embedded in the principles of African value leadership to create empathy and mentorship skills in young adults who will then be able to assume the role of societal ‘elders’ (senior members of the society) and be able to reach out and provide emotional support and guidance to younger members in the community. This is also a 1.5 years program which boosts the understanding of basic emotional, physical, spiritual and cognitive needs of a child and explores the role that a senior mentor can play in supporting an individual to make positive life choices. Elders then graduate into another phase where they are trained to become Coaches. This is now a 2 year accredited training course that empowers individuals to understand what emotional wellbeing of a child is in their local context, the underlying problems exposing young people to traumatic experiences in the communities, local emotional health resources existing and available to the communities and interventions that can be locally created or mobilized within the communities. Coaches are trained to form referral networks and liaise with key contact points in the community who then refer young people into the program.
The course enables coaches to gain a Grade 12 (Matric) qualification in Child and Youth Care work, allowing coaches to reinforce the child protection services available to youth in their community.
It also allows coaches to run the whole W4C program independently and manage the whole methodology and this is part of W4C’s scale out strategy. Further, the coaches phase opens various career opportunities for the young adults as they come out with additional skills in child care and support, counselling, surf-coaching, leadership, program management and delivery, first-aid and life-saving.
The W4C program started in 2012 and is currently engaging 16 coaches, 25 elders and 250 participants in the entry level course. Isiqalo is running the program in 3 coastal townships of Cape Town working with 6 schools and 3 community based organizations. Through its network of coaches, elders and community key contacts, W4C reaches out to almost 300 young people experiencing emotional trauma per week both within and outside the program contexts.