Athenkosi ‘Athi’ Qwelana is a young man with a dream. He lives in Khayelitsha, one of the largest townships in the Western Cape. In 2018 Athi joined the Scouting-in-Schools (SiS) internship programme. His aim was to develop his personal skills whilst being able to give back to his community and inspire children and young people around him.
Once his internship ended he stayed on as the SiS Administrative Assistant. “When I signed up to the programme I was happy to be able to go into the schools and work with the children. As the SiS administrator – together with the project coordinator Ahmad Solomon – I am now able to train and assist our interns to inspire children too”, he says with a smile.
“Implementing the programme also requires some administration for the interns. In the beginning interns receive a spreadsheet that they need to fill in with a pen. But as they grow through the programme, I get to teach them how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point so that they are able to make spreadsheets themselves and do basic tasks on a computer. Computer literacy is a skill that is needed to succeed in our current world. I can see how being able to use a computer changes them and it feels really good to know that I am helping a person to gain self-confidence and abilities.
Another big difference between being an intern and working for the office is seeing what actually goes on behind the scenes and how hard people are working to making this programme successful. As interns you might face a certain number of challenges that you then report to the office. When those don’t get resolved immediately you get frustrated and think that nobody is listening. But I have seen and learnt that there is a team here at SSA that is doing everything they can to help the interns and try to solve certain problems. But not everything is easily solved and some things take a bit of time.”
I can see how being able to use a computer changes them
When the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns caused the schools to close and all aftercare programmes to be cancelled Ahmad Solomon, Athi and the interns had to reorganise their programme. “It was really hard in the beginning as we had to figure out ways that would work for us to meet, to conduct training sessions and to assist our communities. So we had to get creative”, continues Athi. “When we conduct our weekly catch up and training sessions face to face, we can see how people respond to the content of the training. However, over the phone we can’t really see what a person is up to whilst we talk. Are they still there, are they in bed, etc. So we decided to ask them to drop a pin at certain times during the sessions to make sure they were all listening. That way we could increase attention”, he quips.
“A number of our interns had comorbidities and so when we started running programmes in the communities and returned to school we needed to find another role for them. So we started a mentorship programme where Ahmad and I would mentor them and in turn they would each have a few interns to assist. They would report to us and we would follow up. It worked really well and gave us all a sense of ownership and increased confidence in ourselves. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses and so as a team we organised sessions where we could to combine our skills, complement each other and learn. Covid-19 is stressful and sometimes it would become too much to handle. One of the interns attended a stress management course and she then shared those skills with us. It was really good.”
“At the end of the year I got a real shock when I heard that Ahmad was in quarantine as his family had contracted Covid-19. We had the final training camp coming up and I was going to have to run it on my own. But I was fortunate to have the support of our Rovers and in the end it was easier than I thought and very successful”, he sighs with relief.
Even though 2020 was a difficult year to navigate there were still a few highlights that stood out for him. “Many people in our poorer communities didn’t have any educational resources or materials to help their children learn. As the SiS team we were able to partner with The Learning Trust, the Western Cape Government, ASSITEJ SA, and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and distribute the “Treasure Box : Florence and Watson” among local families. The kits had information and games that the families could use to cope and learn. Another highlight was the Spekboom project with the City of Cape Town. By distributing a spekboom plant to our interns and participating children we were able to give them something to take care of. Also, by caring for their spekboom, they are also personally contributing to fending off global warming. That is a nice and practical thing to use to teach children how to protect our world”, he concludes.
In addition to his SiS participation Athi decided to get himself and his family out of poverty by studying Library and Information Science at the University of the Western Cape. In April 2021 Athi will be graduating!
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