In Vrygrond, where unemployment, destruction and violence are rife, the Communiversity initiative is working towards giving young adults a chance at a better future. Bianca Hartel finds out more
Just beyond the sandy shoreline of Muizenberg Beach, where Cape Town’s surfers take to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, lies one of the Western Cape’s oldest infor-mal settlements. Vrygrond, riddled with injustices of days gone by, is home to addicts, gang violence and taxi wars. Now, just steps away from the taxi rank, is a place set on making a difference.
A bright idea
Melanie Brown had been working in education in South Africa for 21 years, raising money to provide educational facilities such as CIDA City Campus (an accredited low-cost black empower-ment university) when it dawned on her that organisations aimed at improving education and employment were going about it all wrong.
‘The model wasn’t great. We took students from all over the country and we had to provide housing and transport for them and they would have to leave their families.’ Given that so many young people are the sole financial support of their families, dropouts were imminent. For Melanie, the solution was simple: bring the university to the community.
A shot at success
Identifying the Vrygrond community as one where the youth were in dire need of an avenue to better their chances at successful employment, Melanie started The Communiversity of South Africa in the local community centre. ‘We take students from the community, whether they have matriculated or not, and we aim to have them off the streets within five months.’
What sounds like an ambitious goal is achieved though Communiversity’s very intensive programme structure. Students are expected to complete 12 modules, of which two are accredited mathematical literacy and English courses, and they form part of FLC (Foundational Learning Competence) assessments. For those who were not able to matriculate, this specialised assessment programme equips them with a qualification that will support
them upon entering the job market or
a tertiary institution.
‘We offer students a chance to get the kind of education that can put them on a steadfast career path very quickly,’ says Melanie, explaining that, for many of Vrygrond’s youth, a life selling drugs or driving taxis is the only financially viable future they see for themselves.
It’s all about perception
Communiversity provides students with the opportunity to engage in a wide range of career options, and its practical modules include everything from welding and plumbing to chef skills and business management as part of the institution’s experiential learning approach.
But these options mean nothing if students don’t believe in themselves and their potential. When Jodine Swart joined Communiversity, she felt she had hardly any hope of one day having a rewarding career. After failing physical sciences and maths in matric, and also having suffered a great deal of personal loss, Jodine was caught in a spiral of negativity. ‘Failing left me depressed, because I believed that without my matric, I had nowhere to go,’ she recalls.
This is a common occurrence for Communiversity’s young adults, many of whom have not yet completed their schooling. ‘Our students find that their sense of themselves is nothing more than that of being a failure. We spend a lot of time helping them understand that who they are is actually great and that they should accept themselves for their positive qualities,’ says Melanie.
Every day, students start off with 15 minutes of transcendental meditation, or quiet time, which is important as it teaches anger-management skills and helps the students deal with issues they may currently be experiencing in their personal lives.
A new beginning
Jodine believes that she’s proof of the positive effect Communiversity has had on Vrygrond’s youth. ‘Life wasn’t easy for me, but I no longer allow my past to define who I am. The greatest lesson I have learnt at Communiversity is that the good qualities I see in other people are the same good qualities I posses as an individual.’
Jodine’s new-found determination and self-assurance has enabled her to achieve way more than she had ever thought was possible. After graduating
from Communiversity, Jodine found the courage to apply for a bursary at GetSmarter, a university-accredited, respected online course programme, which she subsequently received, and chose to do a course in the basics of financial management. She now uses her skills at the very establishment that gave her the courage to pursue them, and she is now a Senior Administrator at Communiversity, where she hopes to inspire other youth from Vrygrond and the surrounds.
The future is bright
And Communiversity? With graduates going on to pursue careers at major companies in South Africa, Melanie has experienced first-hand what the Communiversity initiative can achieve. While not without its own set of trials, Communiversity consistently produces graduates who endeavour to make a life for themselves far away from all the crime and violence they could so easily have fallen into. Melanie and the Communiversity team hope to one day take the concept nationwide.