Changing lives through learning and action

| April 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Charlotte Hulley

Roedean School’s (SA) Social Responsibility Programme is based on putting Roedean’s core basic principles into practice.

The critical analysis and thinking this promotes is part of a holistic approach to education. We uphold the notion of responsible citizenship, in which one cannot exist in isolation from the community in which one finds oneself.

For Roedean, the notion of community is diverse and dynamic, creating unique opportunities for pupils to engage with a variety of organisations in different areas. Formal partnerships are nurtured with all the groups with which the pupils interface, ensuring that there is joint ownership of the project outcomes. We train our volunteers on the ethics of volunteering, emphasising integrity and respect, and building their existing capacity, which is paramount to successful project implementation.

Phedišang part of Roedean’s community
Phedišang is a community-based organisation located in the Sekhororo District in Limpopo. The organisation provides basic care for approximately 540 orphans and vulnerable children. For the past three years, a group of Grade 11 Roedean pupils have implemented various projects at the Phedišang Aftercare Centres. Potential volunteers must go through a selection process. They write a motivation against certain criteria and participate in an interview. Selected pupils have the opportunity to live in an unfamiliar community for five days, ‘out of their comfort zone’, and to participate in the process of reciprocal and experiential learning. This experience acts as a catalyst for exploring their own attitudes and values.

Together with the Roedean Social Responsibility Coordinator, the Phedišang staff conduct a needs analysis, identifying issues that the Roedean volunteers and the Phedišang leaders (16-year-olds who attend the centre) can address to achieve desired project outcomes. In 2010, a project was designed and developed on the theme of ‘South Africa and the world working together’, building on knowledge the children had attained during the FIFA World Cup tournament. The children were familiar with soccer stars’ names and countries, but had very limited knowledge as to where they existed in relation to the world. The theme also complemented the 1Goal Educational Campaign.

Working and living together
The project was implemented in five of the seven Phedišang Aftercare Centres; three Roedean volunteers partnered with five Phedišang leaders. This team worked together on all project tasks, with activities specific to each centre’s needs. The activities included training trainers, mural painting, developing interactive games, literacy activities and exploring the importance of ‘working together’ in the spirit of ubuntu. A deeper understanding of the complexities and challenges that exist in South Africa formed an integral part of these relationships.

The Roedean team resided at the London Mission, a Roman Catholic mission. Most of the cooking was done on a fire, and showers and pit latrines could be found outside. The volunteers slept in one large thatched-roof room on mats on the floor. At the end of each day, the group returned ‘home’, where their responsibilities continued, with each breakaway group fulfilling their assigned ‘home’ tasks: preparing supper, washing up, carrying mats and flipchart paper to the debriefing space, unpacking the bus, carrying wood, etc. After supper, the girls participated in a facilitated debriefing session, followed by a relaxing voluntary activity such as meditation or beading.

Home visits intensify understanding
Home visits build on the volunteers’ understanding of various social issues like HIV and Aids. The groups walked through the different villages, visiting the homes of the Phedišang leaders. One group witnessed sangomas in a healing trance; another visited the home of one of the leaders, where he has lived on his own for the past three years following the loss of both his parents, relying on the generosity of his neighbours. The volunteers were highly emotional when arriving back at the mission. The debriefing session served as an opportunity to process feelings of frustration, anger and loss, and to find collective ways of building support and hope. By sharing insights and more personal individual reflections, relationships were also strengthened.

Debriefing is an important element of experiential learning, as it helps pupils to learn through reflecting on what they have done. They are able to consolidate concepts and assimilate new ways of perceiving and understanding the world around them.

Social responsibility a crucial part of schooling
The Roedean residential experience demonstrates the values shared by the Roedean and Phedišang communities: working together to confront the social challenges that we are all facing. Through this learning and sharing, we are nurturing the ideals of South Africa’s young democracy and finding ways of drawing on our various cultural heritages. Independent schools need to raise the level of debate on what needs to be done to address the increasing levels of poverty and inequality in southern Africa.

Addressing poverty and inequality is the responsibility of all stakeholders. Every pupil can be inspired to make a difference in addressing the socio-economic challenges faced by our communities. Roedean is confident that social responsibility initiatives can assist in developing positive attitudes and values. These direct experiences deepen the commitment or our pupils to contribute significantly to the complex challengesof transformation in a country in transition. As one Roedean volunteer put it,
“Life after Phedišang is definitely never going to be the same….”

Charlotte Hulley is the Social Responsibility Manager at Roedean School (SA).

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Category: Autumn 2011

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