Names: Siphesanda Nyanga, Saniselisiwe Dick, Samkelo Koli, Banathi Adams
Project: Walmer High School Student Representative Council
Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape
Community Action Project
A group of grade eleven students wanted to give their peers at Walmer High a way to channel their voices. They decided to create a Student Representative Council (SRC) to improve communication between teachers and students, and promote ownership of the school by the pupils. The matric pass rate at Walmer High has been declining over the past three years and there is some research to suggest that schools with SRCs have higher pass rates so it was also a way to address that. Additionally, there used to be an SRC five years and both teachers and students have shown an interest in starting another one.
Building a culture
Improving communication at their school is part of a broader desire to build a culture of people who are brave enough to speak up for what they want, and not afraid to talk about issues. They want to demonstrate that this can be a constructive and positive process (instead of protesting or subversive tactics and violence which so often plague their community). They want to see learners supported in their endeavours and with positive role models. Some of the activities they hope will show them as role models are around helping with the feeding scheme at the school, and other whole-school activities that unite the learners into a stronger community.
The elections were held in February 2015 and were hyped up by teachers and other students. Since the election it been hard to see any big impact as there are too many representatives on the council as a result of the changed rules. However, some learners are already coming to them with concerns and ideas for their school and they are currently conducting interviews to reduce the number of representatives so they can be a more agile body.
When asked about the biggest change that has occurred as a result of being a Trailblazer Banathi says she’s become more mature, more able to make decisions on her own and see different perspectives. She says she’s using this in all areas of her life. For Siwe, he’s learning that life does not come in black and white; that we “must bounce back after pot holes”.
Both Sam and Siphe are becoming more active around the school and in the community, and say this brings them confidence.
This Trailblazer team has been involved with other youth organisations before but say enke is different because it teaches you to “take responsibility for your actions” and to take calculated risks. This was such a big learning for them as it’s given them confidence and courage to step out and try. Meeting like-minded people from across South Africa and learning from them at Forum was also a big step forward in building their confidence in themselves as a powerful generation of young people. From now on, these young people are not waiting for ‘adults’ to tell them to act, they’re doing things for themselves.
Advice to other Trailblazers
The big lessons they want to pass on to other Trailblazers is to be patient and have perseverance, “don’t give up” and wait for your chance. For them, wanting to start the SRC in 2014 but needing to wait for teacher buy-in meant they had to be patient and only “jump when the opportunity was ripe”. Banathi is very adamant that you must plan, plan, plan and “start before time” so that when the moment presents itself you’ll be ready.