Tuesday, January 22, 2019

January 2019 Update

Link for Recent Photos

Dear Friends, Family and Greater Support Community,

We've found a few minutes to send you greetings and Christmas wishes. It's been hard: the myriad activities have piled upon each other, as they do this time of year, but in life-giving and fulfilling ways, so we're grateful for all we've been able to do. Especially, we are thankful for the visitors who have come to spend time with us. In November, we were blessed to have Dan's mom Bonnie and family friend Anet here for a couple weeks. They got to attend all of our various performances, Jacob’s dance recital, Kathryn’s Baroque Christmas concert, and Dan’s musical. It was great to have their loving support. Then we had Kathryn's sister Elizabeth and her family here for their first summer Christmas! We were so happy to have family to spend the holiday time with, and had a joyous Christmas day together even providing special acapella music singing Oh, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem for the packed out Christmas morning worship service at Somerset West United Church. Yes, apparently many people still go to church on Christmas day here in South Africa!

While they were here, we also enjoyed showing them around to see some of our favorite places, and wrapped up their visit with a trip together along the famed “Garden Route”, SA’s south-eastern highway which parallels the Indian Ocean. We stayed in a beautiful house on a private game farm, and spent time in the Tsitsikamma National Park kayaking on the Storms River and zip-lining in the forest canopy. Kathryn and the Browns also did a day safari in Addo Elephant Park. It was a trip we’ll all remember for a long time.


As we were working at wrapping up the year, circumstances allowed the long-awaited Manenberg Community Leaders Conflict Training to happen. Unlike other communities where we've trained leaders, this workshop involved leaders in conflict with one another over issues stemming back many years. For them to agree to come together was just the beginning. A friend of Oscar’s from the area helped tremendously with the facilitation, and to make a long story short, a week of hard work resulted in hugs and pledges to work together differently. Youth shared their visions for peace, and mourning mothers shared their daily pain in a room now willing to listen. It was transforming for all of us involved, and a huge positive step to end the work year. We will have several follow-up events with this group in 2019, but it’s a tremendous cornerstone.

In our annual review, we summarised SADRA’s work: we’ve helped train 344 people, about half of which are youth, equally male and female, in conflict transformation – whether that be peer mediation, community leadership, or conflict within the church. We have worked in ten different geographical communities, and in six secondary schools. We’ve also intervened in local area conflicts and our election roundtables have been well attended and now picked up by a partnership with a European donor and the Electoral Commission.

Personal Activities

We also ended the year with a musical “bang” – Dan starred as Buffalo Bill in our local theatre’s production of “Annie Get Your Gun,” a rewarding and fun experience. Kathryn directed a local choir and orchestra in two sold-out performances of Baroque Christmas music featuring Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” including one as a fundraiser for SADRA. Even the boys joined in singing, and the audiences were very impressed. We continue to build these relationships, and hope to connect local folks to SADRA as part of our last year.

We now start our fourth and final year in South Africa. The boys begin Years 10 and 12, and are thinking about next steps in the US. They would love to attend the MCUSA Youth Convention this summer in Kansas City, so we’re hoping to find a way to make that work financially, especially as that could also facilitate their being able to visit some college campuses.

Kathryn finished 2018 at a conference in Stellenbosch on Reparation, Reconciliation and Historical Trauma and is wondering how to continue this work in the US when we come back. It seems the work we’ve been doing here could be helpful in many ways back home – if you have any ideas around this please be in touch.

Our life and work here continue to feel meaningful and busy. We are grateful for the holiday break and having family to share time with. It is always a joy to show off this beautiful place to loved ones! Thank you for your many prayers and generous gifts that uplift and sustain us, through the trials and the celebrations. May 2019 be a year of great happiness for you and yours.

Dan & Kathryn
A prayer to share from our friends at the Volmoed Centre, Hermanus.

October Update

Link for Recent Photos

Dear friends and family,

How October flies! Hard to keep up with the passage of time. We hope all is well with you, and that you’re moving peacefully into fall – we’ve survived winter and had some replenishing rain, so are happily looking forward to summer. The boys have started their last term of the year, and we’re excitedly awaiting my sister and her family visiting us for Christmas!


We’ve had several trainings and work trips since we last wrote, and rather than run through them all, I thought you might enjoy reading a more in-depth reflection from a training for church leaders we did in Durban at the end of August, the first of its kind in that province, so very new material which was received enthusiastically.

The good energy, creative questions and honest reflection by this group made our conflict analysis and mediation training an especially rewarding time. From the opening session on understanding and analysing conflict, pastors were excited to be learning such relevant skills. Unpacking concepts like  that we each need to recognize our own reaction to conflict, as well as understanding and valuing the ways others react, was just the start of their transformation. We heard comments every day like, “This is exactly what I need to know to work with a current conflict situation,” and “This training is dealing with what we all need to be talking about.”

One of those topics was racial tension, a very tangible reality for many in the room, and a growing concern in the KwaZulu Natal province. Our director, Oscar Siwali, feels racism has not been honestly talked about since the end of apartheid, and that racial tension is growing in anticipation of next year’s national election. “Part of what we need to do is educate whites on what it is to be African.” Oscar explained his personal observation, that whites don’t have a space to engage and process their own pain, of which they have plenty. Coming from a traditional Xhosa community in Eastern Cape himself, Oscar reminded these primarily Zulu pastors that most of them had grown up with more present supportive, communal structures to help process pain.

A Few Thoughts

I have been reflecting a lot on this topic recently, at these conflict trainings I do with Oscar, in racism awareness workshops, justice conferences, and even the recent Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA) conference. “Why are whites not better at loving?” was the resounding question in my head from that gathering of 40 South Africans of different colors and backgrounds. It seems we are not very good at loving ourselves, in our own communities, or loving the Other, even though the Bible we imposed around the world says we are to do just that. The whites that held power in South Africa largely came from a Dutch/Germanic background and have a legacy of trauma from immigration and isolation, coupled with cultures that don’t allow emotional processing and have high levels of damaging patriarchy. English-speaking whites have their own historic ghosts, and that stiff-upper lip culture with the need to act as if one is always right has not done any favors. I’m not saying one culture is innately better or healthier than another, but when looking at the larger picture, our dominating spirit, our wounds and the trauma we deny, and our disconnect with community and caring for Others… well, there’s a reason ubuntu sounds too good to be true – there’s a lot we can learn from it.

I agreed with Oscar’s point – the whites of South Africa have been and are now very broken, and yet can’t see it or admit it in most (any?) spaces. Oscar described being African with an isiXhosa saying “When your neighbour is hungry, you give him your cow so he can milk it, and he milks it, but while looking over his shoulder as he knows some day you will come to take it back.” Emphasizing his point, he went on. “This is what we need to teach white people – you cannot just drive your big car when your neighbour is hungry. Capitalism has failed us, and we need to find ourselves as Africans.”   He challenged these church leaders to share this strong sense of community and the strengths they have with their neighbouring whites. “The government is not going to do this, so the church must take on this role of reconciling the nation.”

Our participants accepted this call and applied themselves through the week to learn the skills of mediation and community building. We coached them through the mediation process, pointing out how important things like identity and dignity are in assisting resolution. In our model, mediation is a needs/interest-based approach to conflict, and this requires a different way of thinking than an advice-giving pastor or arbiter.


I was going to say more about the ANiSA conference – sometimes we wonder why the term Anabaptist is carried around and hung on certain things – couldn’t there be a new theological term instead of reviving this dusty old European word – we can be social-justice-pacifist-activists without needing another title, right? Well, the Anabaptist Network in South Africa has been doing a lot of intentional work figuring out who they are and what they want their power-under response to be, especially through the coordination of Mziwandile (Mzi) Nkutha. Dan and I learned a lot at their gathering last month, and I especially liked this introduction from a young attending scholar: “I’ve been trying to figure out who I am - my father is Xhosa, my mother is Zulu, our neighbors when I was growing up were Sotho, my friends were all Tswanas, and then in school I did English and Afrikaans - so what IS my identity? Mzi told me Anabaptism could help me find my identity, and invited me to this conference, and so I came.” Walter Maqoma.

Our work at peace-building puts a lot of weight on relationships. We are grateful for the connections we’ve had throughout our few years here, but have felt that gratitude anew during these recent events. Thank you for your support of the work towards a more peaceful world, and always for your words and prayers.

Kathryn, for the Smith Derksens

Monday, August 13, 2018

June/July Update

Dear Friends and Family,

Time to write again – how are you all?  We love to hear your news, too.

Dan and Oscar pose with the participants of the
Community Conflict Mediation training in Kwazulu Natal.
As I mentioned in April, it’s been a busy time. Dan and Oscar did a rural community mediation training in Kwazulu Natal, where election violence has been heaviest. Oscar and I had a great trip to the thirteen different Embassies to advocate for community peace-building to be included in their programming, and alert them to specific concerns in next year’s presidential elections. We’ve been trying to find funding to help in Zimbabwe with their first democratic election in decades, but nothing has materialized yet.

Next week we have another residential Peer Mediation training with high schools from the nearby Lwandle township. The word “township” means the area that Apartheid allowed black workers to
live in hostels and controlled by pass books. Families were not allowed to live here until 1994, when cheap housing and squatter camps sprang up. Mass migration from the rural areas brought a new population here and schools and infrastructure have struggled to keep up. The problems facing Lwandle are different from those challenging Manenberg, a reflection of how different “races” were used and abused under Apartheid. We’ll let you know what we learn next time!

Preparing Peer Mediators for practicing conflict role plays.
We’ve also been following up on the Peer Mediators from Manenberg – all three schools have launched their programs after a month of continuing role plays and practice. Several schools have used them for actual conflicts, and now we prepare for a celebratory certification service in July at the Alliance Fran├žaise again. We also did a presentation for the teachers and admin so that they could understand when and how to use Peer Mediation.

At one of the schools, we got feedback that we wanted to share with you; their names have been changed to protect their identity. I mentioned that several students struggled at the actual training? Here’s the longer story: Sharif almost got sent home – the friends smoking marijuana he was standing with were driven home, and in this gang-world, loyal solidarity is expected. However, we had noticed Sharif’s keen interest and natural skills in mediation and encouraged him to stay. He did and became one of our best mediators. We were hoping that this might help pull Sharif away from gangs, or at least he can be a better leader among his friends with his new skills in listening and conflict management.

Kathryn addresses the learners at Phoenix High School
as we initiate the Peer Mediation program.
Another turn-around was a young Nicola – she was strung-out the first day, crashed the second, and slept through the third – we debated sending her home, not because she was unruly, but we couldn’t see her getting anything out of the training. The fourth day Nicola was participating, and miraculously, she was leading her mediation group by the fifth day. We were very pleased and thought she must be brilliant to get so much out of a training with her head on the desk half the week.

We continued to see these two students the next month – Sharif with shy smile and warm eyes taking everything in, and tiny Nicola with her sharp tongue and wry sense of humour. The principal mentioned in passing that he had noticed a difference in these two. After sharing with the teachers what we taught at the training, we asked if they had seen a difference in any of the students – most teachers didn’t even know who had gone on the training. Right away they named Sharif and Nicola – it was such a great affirmation. Sharif came back from the week much more focused in his schoolwork, and “calm” was used to describe him several times. He is a natural leader, and he is now using his calm tall presence to settle others around him. Then we learned of Nicola’s transformation – she was suspended earlier in the year for bad behaviour, and recently disciplined for failing grades. After the week with us away from drugs, she soared to the top of her class. A girl who mumbled for days found her voice and the ability to lead her peers and gain respect. Every teacher in the room had noticed the change – we were right – Nicola is brilliant, and she finished the term with a smile. We are not kidding ourselves – our program is not about drug rehab, and the pull of drugs and
Sinoyolo, our new SADRA Intern at the far right, poses with
the Peer Mediators from Silverstream High School
gangs is strong. But hearing these testimonies, over a month after finishing the training shows that small changes that lead to big differences do happen. Those we trained last year have reported how they use these skills not just with other students, but with their younger siblings and friends. They think they aren’t doing mediation, but I quickly affirm they are doing conflict transformation, and that’s the important thing. If we can better listen to each other, be more calm and patient and problem-solve together, then we are living as peace-makers. True for all of us!

Boys excited for pizza on J-C's birthday.
Jacob and Willow and doggie obedience class.
Our family is well, the boys are OK – they have both had birthdays in the last month. It’s winter now – this means that our house is about 50 degrees inside, without central heating, and at 80% humidity, it’s hard to get out of the warm bed in the morning. Since it’s break right now, our oldest child spends as much of the day with his heating pad and sleeping bag as he can get away with. He starts a new school in July – transferring to a Waldorf School, as he is more interested in theatre and music, which is almost non-existent at their current Cambridge-curriculum school. We just joined a good choir in Stellenbosch so John-Clair can have that exposure – we perform Monteverdi’s Vespers in September. Then I start my community project of Vivaldi’s Gloria for Christmas, and Dan is going to be Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun! So we are staying busy and trying to build some relationships. Jacob continues to bond with his new dog Willow and started dog obedience lessons.

Boys showing their awards from their
school Toastmasters Club.
Our new house doesn’t do well with the rain, but of course, we are all thrilled that the dams are filling. We continue to conserve water, of course, so that we will have water half a year from now…
We hope you are well, and thanks again for your interest in us and our work. Please feel free to drop us a note, a question, or picture. Remember that we post regularly on Facebook, too.

Love and hugs,
Kathryn, for Dan, John-Clair and Jacob

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

April 2018 Update

Dear friends and family,

It’s been so long since we’ve written! We hope your new year has been good, and that you’ve seen some of our photos and work updates on Facebook, if you have that. Since we’ve last written, we’ve had to move to another rental house (again, and for the last time here, we sincerely hope), had the epic cross country road trip at the end of the year, and a blazing start to our third year of work here in South Africa.

New House and Dog

After a year in our Strand house we discovered it wouldn’t work to have a dog there after all, so we didn’t renew the lease and found a house in the neighbourhood of the boys’ school for less money (Somerset West; see our new address below). Unfortunately, the outgoing landlords, frustrated by our decision, refuse to return our deposit, so we are working at that through a housing tribunal mediation. The stress of this situation, along with the work of moving, took its toll on us, but we are very happy to be in our new home with our new dog, Willow! Technically, she is Jacob’s Christmas present – a one-year-old whippet/border collie mix. She is a good dog, if rather stressed from her shelter experience. We keep the bunny hidden away in our back yard; Willow has the front and side yards, and she has figured out how to share the house with our kitty Miems. And we have a garage for the first time since being here – table tennis tournaments encore!
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Bringing Willow home.


Now that we know our way around, we can do a lot more to help Oscar and SADRA Conflict Transformation. We’ve already done three trainings this year – teaching mediation to community leaders from Nyanga, the community with the highest crime rate in the nation, church leaders from our local township area dealing with anti-immigrant unrest, and the big Manenberg schools peer mediation training. This is the year’s highlight for me (Kathryn) especially, as this is my area where I have built relationships with the three schools and their students. We were full past capacity this year and seemed to have particularly challenged youth – one had buried his father the week before; one had just given birth; several used our five-day residential retreat to detox from drugs; many struggled to give up cigarettes and just sleep “normal” hours. As they described violence in their neighbourhoods, Oscar kindly asked how many had lost an immediate family member in the last two years – 8 of the 56 teenagers stood up. My heart breaks in those moments, and the chance to smile into these faces, hug their thin shoulders, praise them for working hard, and see the changes that happen in their lives over five days are an immense blessing to me. The fact that they feel invigorated with new skills to better understand and interact with their complicated lives means we are doing the right thing.

April will be just as busy – Dan is at a rural training with Oscar in the north this week, and then Oscar and I go on our annual pilgrimage to Joburg/Pretoria to visit embassies and explain to diplomats the importance of supporting community peacebuilding as part of their intervention strategies. We’ve been able to do so much more in the last year as an organisation, thanks to a one-year grant from the French government; we now need a follow-up partner to continue. We will host the fourth roundtable dialogue with the provincial electoral commission – current topics of water and land access and economic disparity will play heavily in the next elections and we are putting heads together as proactively as possible. By the end of April, we will need to have started relationships in local township schools to start Peer Mediation there, and we continue to do follow-up and support of community mediators we have trained.

Here’s a story from one young trained pastor – there had been several break-ins in his neighbourhood, and one youth was found entering a home that wasn’t his and people had come out and were accusing him of the crimes and the conflict had become violent enough that his life was in danger. Our young pastor stepped in and was able to diffuse the crowd, explaining that he knew the youth as a younger brother from out of town, visiting his brother’s home. He literally saved the man’s life, and he thanks us for giving him the skills to handle that situation. 
Youth from Manenberg practicing Peer Mediation skills at the training in Franschhoek.

Drought and Day Zero

Many of you have asked how Day Zero might unfold as Cape Town dams reached critical levels. As we cautiously enter the rainy season, day zero has been put off till next year, but it’s imminence has changed our lives. We use, re-use and sometimes re-reuse every drop of water with new life-style habits. Rinse water is used for washing, then for toilet flushing or watering plants. Handwashing water is used for household washing, then flushing. Our clothes washer empties into our tub (no more baths; wet-wipes and quick showers only) to be re-used. I’ve even come up with “cluster cooking:” we were already re-using our pasta water to cook oatmeal, but with a block of time I can cook several things at once with just a couple liters. For example, blanch vegetables for dinner’s pasta salad first. Use water to cook pumpkin for pumpkin breakfast bars. Then boil some butternut for tomorrow’s bisque, then cook macaroni in this water for the pasta salad. Now half this nutrient-rich, already-thickened water is broth for the butternut bisque, the other half makes yummy oatmeal. No waste! Four dishes on about three litres of water, and no pots had to be cleaned in between. You get the picture – this is how Capetonians exist these days – we are not the only ones to have switched from filter coffee to espresso and we share tips like this with each other constantly.  We have a new version of “let it mellow” – just ask me if you want to know what it is . . .

I hope the rest of the world is paying attention and considering how they use this most precious of resources. Day Zero would have meant a turning off of most taps, and we would have queued daily at a water distribution point for our daily ration of 25 litres each. This would have been chaotic, but it was a good exercise for us all to practise getting down to 25 litres a day.

Thanks for reading through our eclectic update – we always love hearing from you and are ever so appreciative of your ongoing support. It’s been a difficult couple of months, but I’m happy to say things are stabilizing out better and we’ve had some breathing space and positive energy again.

Much love and hugs to you all,
Kathryn, Dan, John-Clair and Jacob

Dan and Kathryn Smith Derksen
4 Sir Lowry St.
Somerset West 7130
South Africa
Bird's nest hang out at Babylonstoren Farm on Easter Monday.
Copyright © 2018 Smith Derksen MST, All rights reserved.
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Our mailing address is:
4 Sir Lowry St.
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South Africa

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(D) +27 79 153 2095
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Monday, December 4, 2017

Hear Dan's sermon at West Union Mennonite Church from February 2017

Hi Friends,
We're re-posting this link to Dan's sermon to let people know it's there, in case you missed it earlier and would find it interesting.  It shares some stories and details about our peace-building work in South Africa. This sermon was given at West Union Mennonite Church in Iowa, where Dan attended in high school and where his mom Bonnie Smith is still an active member.

 Dan's sermon
Click on the image to go to the sermon link.

Friday, November 17, 2017

November Update

Dear friends and family,     
Photo taken at Lookout Hill 
viewing deck in Khayelitsha

September was a very busy month for us, and we were stretched out of our comfort zones by trying new things. We’ve just finished the boys’ spring break and are settling in for the last term of the year.

First, I joined my MMN colleague, Miriam, for a women’s retreat in Northern Cape. Grace Community Churches are five churches associated with the Mennonite Church, and twenty-four women, all members and leaders in their churches, came together as “just women” for the first time. I thought this was a unique opportunity to talk about our bodies, health and well-being – women rarely get to focus on themselves. I’m not medically trained, but I have decades of experience with different chiropractors, physical therapists, yoga, Tai Chi, Feldenkrais, Alexander technique and now osteopaths. And everywhere I go, I end up sharing information with friends who have similar ailments, but no access to therapy. This seemed like peace-work of another level, and Miriam agreed to let me try it. 

Those who attended the women's retreat doing neck stretches
I thought the women might laugh at me as I planned a simple head-to-toe stretching routine one can do in one’s living room in a long skirt. The scourge of lower-middle income living can be a career of back-breaking labour followed by bad couches and too much TV – a brutal combination. I learned that many women take strong pain-killers daily to treat their symptoms. We talked about awareness in the body, thinking about symptoms and causes of pain, simple changes that can make a difference, such as lightening one’s shoulder bag and shifting it between shoulders. I shared about the importance of nutrition, as well as ergonomics in the workplace, and we did trigger point therapy on each other and exercises from my osteopath for the sciatica and lower back health. OK, they did laugh as I demonstrated “pigeon pose,” but otherwise I was pleased with the seriousness they showed and impressed with the feedback I got. One woman about my age is a housekeeper, and she has had shoulder pain for years – her employer has just told her to take more pills. The morning after our simple Feldenkrais shoulder work she came to me, excited that her shoulder felt better than it had in a long time. This was a great affirmation for me that this kind of work is valued and needed, and since then my yoga teacher and osteopath here are interested in helping should there be other opportunities. Great connections!

With Pastor Lawrence Coetzee and his wife
Juanita from Cradock Grace Community Church
Then Dan and I visited the Grace Community Church in Cradock, Eastern Cape. Outside Cape Town, we can really only do work together during our boys’ school breaks, so we plan carefully for those. Brother Lawrence Coetzee, pastor of this congregation, has been a friend and partner to MMN for a long time, and he was happy to have us do trainings. In addition to his church leadership, Lawrence also works at the local juvenile prison and is responsible for the spiritual and moral programming for the boys there. He invited us to plan and present a workshop there. There were 60 youth in attendance and we chose to focus on healthy understanding of masculinity and fatherhood. It was too short to get to know them, but we were impressed with their respectful attention and eager engagement with the
material. Considering two-thirds of these young men grew up without a father living at home, the topic was very relevant.
Kathryn facilitating the workshop for church leaders

Later Lawrence had us lead a training with leadership from his church. There we concentrated on elements of understanding conflict and responses to conflict. The conversations got into roles and responsibilities in their community and how they as church leaders affect positive change. It was a valuable discussion, as many processed their personal stories of trauma, and we hope that our contribution has encouraged them in a way forward.

Kathryn monitoring an election station in Nyanga
This month we did some election monitoring in the community of Nyanga, one of the older, black townships in Cape Town. It was a by-election, meaning a seat had vacated for some reason or other and they needed to fill it with a newly elected person. Many people fear going into Nyanga, as it’s been a leading murder zone within South Africa for years. 

Pastor B with his wife and
SADRA Administrator, Noncedo
We traveled around with our friend, Nkosinathi Ngo'bo, aka Pastor B, who knows the area well. We’re happy to say that the day was very positive. There will be another by-election in November which is even more politically contentious, which we’ll again take part in monitoring. Providing neutral support to the democratic election process here helps legitimate results and avoid potentially violent outcomes.

October was also busy preparing for a very full November. We have a mediation training with a pastors group next week, and another one with community leaders near the end of the month. In the middle is the by-election, a second political roundtable hosted by SADRA, and continued connecting with schools, other organizations, supporters, etc. Meanwhile, the university protesting has ramped up again now that exams are in session, and we’re being called upon to help with the Peace Justice Witness work like last year, monitoring the protests to help deter and diffuse violence. As you can see, this all keeps us quite busy.

Jacob and John-Clair with Pastor
Lawrence's daughter Emilysia
The boys are about to enter the big exam period – 75% of their grades in all subjects will be determined by how well they do this next month, as according to Cambridge Curriculum. They have done well enough this last term, but these big exams were a surprise to them last year, so we’re hoping they are better prepared this year. In their free time, they enjoy fun things, such as John-Clair in drama and Jacob in tennis, which we hope will continue or even expand.

Blessings to each of you. Thank you for your continued interest, prayers and support. As always, we love hearing from you, and are happy to answer any questions you may have. Until next time… 

Kathryn and Dan

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Making a Difference Through Peer Mediation

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.

Zanele Kolo: “It [this workshop] has put so much change in my life now I am able to solve conflicts that are happening and I’m now starting to believe in myself.”

Shenay Botman: “I will walk with the key of a problem  solver.”   

– written by Kathryn Smith Derksen, photos by Dan Smith Derksen