Manenberg Peer Mediation Training Report
April’s arrival marked our exciting launch of the Peer Mediators Program for the three secondary schools of Manenberg (Phoenix, Manenberg, and Silverstream). The program got underway, after a year of preparation, with a 4-day training held at the beautiful La Bri Olive Farm and Holiday Venue in Franschhoek.
This innovative program brings students together from the three schools for the purposes of cross-community learning, relationship-building, and support as mediation begins. They have similar issues related to gang violence that spill onto the campuses. SADRA’s program gives them a foundational understanding of the nature of conflict as well as empowering them with practical skills and confidence for resolving conflicts non-violently.
Prior to coming together, some students were nervous to meet those from other schools. Overcoming this barrier and providing them with a way to build relationships in a safe space was important. By the end of the 2nd day, attitudes were changing – crossed arms gave way to hugs and laughter; school boundaries evaporated.
Our goal was to have 15 students from each school with an even mix of genders, and students young enough to help with the continuation of the program. We ended up with 37, having a harder time attracting boys to the program. In the end we had 30% boys, 70% girls, with 57% of the participants coming from Silverstream. Two-thirds of the students speak Afrikaans at home, and most are from a Muslim background.
Each day included many hours devoted to conflict understanding and the skills needed for non-violent conflict resolution, such as active listening, paraphrasing and negotiation. These skills were practised in numerous role play scenarios of situations familiar to them from school or family, and they practiced in every role. Group games were used for recreation, team-building and learning, and daily activities broke up the lesson times.
A big hit was the mosaic craft project led by employees of Douglas Jones Mosaics in Cape Town, who also donated all materials. The youth were shown how to make mosaic art on panels and pots using glass or ceramic tiles. Some of these projects were spectacular, and many presents for mothers and schools were made. Sitting with a table of young women, I discovered each one had a story of losing an immediate family member to a premature death – accidents, violence – all shared while patiently gluing tiles as we sat elbow to elbow.
While this farm was only an hour from their suburb of Cape Town, the youth had never been out this far, and were at first both squirrely and uncomfortable being outside. After getting through first day squabbles about dorm beds and hidden cigarettes, we got them moving. There were daily elective activities including a 7km hike to the reservoir, a tour of the olive farm, sports (soccer and netball) and more mosaics.
“What’s that smell?” The youth I was walking with through the wooded area asked with crumpled noses. “That is the smell of decaying leaves,” I responded, “where I used to live, in Seattle, we have this smell most of the year and I know it well.” Eyes wide, they poked under rocks, admired flowers, and jumped at imaginary snakes for the first time in their lives.
But the biggest transformations came from working with the material. Nearly half the students started our workshop saying conflict is a negative thing and trying to avoid it at all costs. Then they learned how to analyse it, how to speak to it, how to contribute positively to resolve it, and their excitement was tangible. Shy girls found their voices; bossy girls learned to give others space. In exit evaluations, a quarter of the students voluntarily mentioned having gained self-confidence; one third of the boys specifically said they learned how to communicate and listen.
On the final day it was very exciting to witness their enthusiasm and ability to implement mediation. All of them left believing they can use Peer Mediation and help others resolve conflicts.
We will continue to meet with the youth weekly until they are ready to mediate on their own, and we expect to certify them by the end of May.
These Silverstream Secondary School girls gave quote-worthy statements summing up their experience of the training.
Shenay Botman: “I will walk with the key of a problem solver.”
– written by Kathryn Smith Derksen, photos by Dan Smith Derksen