Over the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to experience the beauty of South Africa, relish in the culture, and learn from the local people. My colleague, Twanda Wadlington and I are based in the West Rand district of the Guateng province, specifically working in the Munsieville township. We are both working with Project Hope United Kingdom’s “Thoughtful Path” program.
The Thoughtful Path program aims to engage and empower the community to create positive health and social change for the orphaned and vulnerable children in Munsieville. The community, community based organizations, and the local government are typically involved in all aspects of the various projects associated with the Thoughtful Path. That said, we have had the opportunity to meet with a variety of different community members and organizations during our time here.
On Monday, June 20th, we were included in a meeting between the Thoughtful Path and Safe and Sound Learning. Safe and Sound Learning focuses on raising the level of qualifications for early childhood development (ECD) teachers and has played an integral role in training several of the teachers in Munsieville. Locally, ECD centers are called crèches and there are several throughout the Munsieville community. Project Hope, in conjunction with Safe and Sound learning plan to train twenty crèches owners over the next few years. Training of local crèches owners will provide positive change for the development of hundreds of young children. In addition, we plan to work with Safe and Sound to establish a monitoring and evaluation program to document specific educational, health, and social indicators for the young children of Munsieville. This process will be informed by assessing current methods that are utilized and accompanying Safe and Sound Learning staff on site visits of the Munsieville crèches. Quality education and skills development in early childhood has proven to create better learners throughout the lifespan. Additionally, children who receive education and skills at a young age become healthier more productive adults, one of the overall aims of the Thoughtful Path.
Thursday, June 23rd served as the kick-off for a new youth service program on economic development. Due to our work in the community, Project Hope was invited to attend the festival as honored guests. The new program “One job per needy household for 100 days” complements the existing National Youth Service program and aims to provide skills to youth to create economic development in the West Rand region. Youth, in South Africa, defined at ages 18-35, and serves as one of the age categories with the highest levels of unemployment in South Africa. Developing the skills of the youth in Munsieville will not only aid in economic development, but it will reduce crime rates and create a healthier community. Several government officials from the West Rand district were present and provided inspirational speeches to the local youth. The head of the Department of Infrastructure from the West Rand district commended the American youth that have come to their area, recognizing Twanda and me for our dedication to working in their district and making positive health changes in the Munsieville community. Additionally, local youth dancers, performers, and scholars were highlighted during the program.
We were able to truly experience just how compassionate and empowered the Munsieville community is on Friday, June 24th during the Thoughtful Path workshop. The Thoughtful Path program consists of seven different “hubs”: early childhood development, after school care, youth support and development, community strengthening, child/youth sports program, child rights and protection unit, and community based organization capacity building. The leaders and key players of each of the hubs were invited to attend the workshop. I was truly inspired by the genuine level of concern and compassion these individuals have for their community and the health of its citizens. This group of individuals hold the key to making positive, sustainable changes in the lives of vulnerable children in the Munsieville.
The workshop held several purposes: to inform and update the community regarding specific projects, to train the leaders about the monitoring and evaluation process, and to formally introduce the key stakeholders to Twanda and me. Twanda and I were responsible for providing the monitoring and evaluation training. The community members all possessed varying levels of education, so our main goal was to make sure everyone fully understood the key components of monitoring and evaluation. Monitoring and evaluation are integral parts of the research process and can help to inform researchers if a program is successful or needs modification and where to allocate resources. Specifically, Project Hope aims be able to generalize the Munsieville model to other similar communities around the world. This goal will not be achieved if monitoring and evaluation processes are not integrated into programming.
Twenty-two community leaders attended the workshop and learned the key components of monitoring and evaluation. The training included an overview of data and data collection, monitoring, and evaluation. Local, health-related examples were utilized to provide a practical component of the training. Further, community leaders were divided into their hubs to apply their learning to programs specific to their projects. Training the community leaders serves as one of the best ways to reach the most people in the Munsieville community. As we have seen in our short time here, the community leaders play an integral role in engaging the community and providing successful programs.
This week has proved to be extremely successful, especially opening the doors of communication and collaboration with the community leaders. I look forward to continuing to serving this dynamic community and improving the overall health status of its citizens.