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YOUTH: Young. Organised. United. Talented. Hardworking.

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By Skye Dobson [Cross posted from SDI Secretariat]

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“Poor people have me. Rich people don’t need me. If you eat me you’ll die. I am worse than a demon. Who am I?” 

This was the riddle Rogers, a youth member of the South African SDI Alliance posed to youth from across South Africa, Uganda, Kenya and India at the opening of a peer-to-peer exchange held in Cape Town, South Africa for youth activists last week. He put his phone on the table and said that whoever solved the riddle in 3 minutes would get the phone. To honor the riddle, I will tell you the answer at the end of the blog. 

Unfortunately the phone deal has expired.

“As a girl, I’m always told things happen because of fate. But it’s the things I do, not luck, that determine my fate. So we must forget about fate, and move forward.”

Shikha, India

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The exchange was inspired by the youth activism of Prayasam, an Indian organization founded in 1999 to enable children to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. When Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), an international network of slum dweller federations in 33 countries, learned of Prayasam’s work and the shared strategies used to organize communities to profile and map their settlements as a starting point for negotiations with authorities, it was agreed that the two organizations would do well to promote peer-to-peer learning between youth members and other youth groups trying to make change in their settlements. With support from Sundance Films, SDI, Prayasam, The Community Organization Resource Centre (COURC), and SDI hosted a 6-day learning exchange for youth from informal settlements in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, and India.

“I taught myself how to share and how to love. The River of Life showed me you can solve your problems as a group.”

Lucky, South Africa

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A River of Life exercise on the first day – led by the Prayasam youth – kicked off the exchange and supported reflection by the youth on the highs and lows of their lives and their goals for the next three years. The youth drew and presented their personal rivers to the group. The stories were touching, referencing hardships such as the death of family and friends, early pregnancies, gang membership, and lost opportunities owing to a lack of financial resources. On the high points of their rivers, however, they explained the pride experienced when they got into or performed well at school, found spiritual direction, became members of youth groups, and took part in exchanges with other youth both locally and abroad. While their highs and lows were described in individual terms, it was fascinating to note that their aspirations for the future were almost entirely group-centered. The youth spoke of wishing to bring their communities together, of wanting to empower their peers, about increasing the membership and impact of their youth groups, of setting a good example to children, and of advocating for the rights of the young and the disadvantaged. This exercise set the stage for the youth to engage each other more openly. Instead of the standard introductions of formally structured peer-to-peer learning, these introductions stripped the process down to authentic fundamentals: Who am I? Why am I here? How did I get here? It was clear that the process was as much about answering these questions for oneself as it was about sharing it with others.

“The film showed that you’re never too young to make change.”

Sefiso, South Africa

A key inspiration for the youth exchange was a film called The Revolutionary Optimists, which follows Amlan (founder and Director of Prayasam) and three of the children he works with, as they become agents of change in their communities. The film not only captures the incredible work of Prayasm’s children, but the realities of life in Indian slums. On the second day the youth were able to see the film at a community center in Langa as well another from Uganda, The Boda Boda Thieves, which captures some of the realities of life in Uganda’s slums. The feedback from the youth was thoughtful and insightful. They were quick with their praise for the Indian youth and concluded that one is never to young to make change in his/her community. They expressed the similarities they saw between conditions in India and their own countries – particularly related to poor sanitation, teenage pregnancy, and child labor. They joked of the celebrities in their midst! From The Boda Boda Thieves film they concluded youth must be very careful when it comes to peer pressure and a desire to get money quickly. They all had stories about youth who had succumbed to peer pressure and “gangsterism” and they made references to the contributing factors. They discussed the importance of reaching out to parents so that they can support their children to join youth groups and take part in productive afterschool activities as an alternative.

“Statistics might be different from experiences.”

Sibo, South Africa (Sizakuyenza)

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A unifying strategy across many of the groups is the collection of data by youth in order to plan for change and negotiate with other actors – often the State – to implement solutions. Both Prayasam and SDI affiliates profile slum settlements, but their approaches are slightly different and the youth were able to share and reflect on each others strategies, achievements, and challenges. In the spirit of Learning-by-Doing, the youth went to a settlement in Nginalendlovu in Khayelitsha anda settlement profiling exercise which was facilitated by community members and supporting professionals in the South African SDI Alliance. Half the group used GPS devices to map the boundary of the settlement, while the other half conducted the socio-economic profile with the local community, while trying to squeeze into all available shade under the awnings of shacks. Rogers, a youth member from Kwazulu Natal administered the questionnaire with infectious enthusiasm and finesse.

Community members were guided to discuss and generate information on their settlement, from the origin of its name, to issues of tenure security and services, to the biggest challenges facing the community. They expressed major concerns with water supply, flooding, and crime, but they were unanimous that the biggest threat to their community at present comes from rats. One gentleman explained that his cat was eaten by a rat and that children are attacked and one child’s hand was bitten off. It is important to note that a problem with rats was not amongst the check boxes on the questionnaire. This highlighted Rogers’ skill as a profiler and the need to allow sufficient time for communities to make less structured contributions throughout the profiling process. The community was eager for the compiled information to be returned to them and the discussion about their issues to continue so that they can begin to generate solutions.

“…everything in nature has its own reason.”

Rogers, South Africa

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The reflections from one of the youth on his visit to Path Out of Poverty (POP) on Goedgedacht Farm visit were so poignant. Through a long term, holistic, programme, POP builds confidence and skills in rural youth and offers opportunities for self advancement and for making a real contribution to their own communities. Rogers said he was “blown away by POP” and that he learned “everything in nature has its own reason. You can learn from nature if you’re patient. If you watch it, it will teach you.” One could argue the same is true for these youth, who clearly have so much to teach the world about their realities and how they believe change is possible. Within them, like nature, the solutions can be found for many of the world’s ills. Salim, one of the Indian youth, said the way poems and song are used to “manage the kids” at the Goedgedacht Farm will really help him to strengthen his leadership at the preschool in his community, while Kamalika from Saldanha was inspired to go back to her community and work with small children.

“They come in wrecked and leave as a piece of art”

Sibo, South Africa

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On Wednesday the youth visited Sizakuyenza to see youth projects, including a recycling project, health services, and a women’s home called House of Smiles. The local federation designed Sizakuyenza to serve as a basket of services for the federation saving groups and their wider communities. The recycling initiative (Solid Waste Network) provides employment for youth and supports the municipality to keep the area clean. Many of the youth from South Africa and the youth from India were particularly interested in the waste project, as they have plans to operate waste management businesses of their own.

At House of Smiles the youth asked many questions about the women who live in the shelter and whether they were safe from their husbands once inside. They were interested to hear about the close relationship the center maintains with the police and the confidence they place in them. Many of the youth harbor suspicions about police, but the House of Smiles team has developed a close working relationship with them, which makes their premises and inhabitants feel secure.

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In the afternoon a youth choir by Ubuhle Bendalo, a youth group of about 90 members based in Makhaza, Khayelitsha. The group meets most days after school and uses the performing arts to develop each other’s artistic skills and address challenges in their community. The song, dance, and poetry were moving and had a number in the audience trying to blink away tears. The youth in Makhaza work hand-in-hand with the local police to fight crime and youth participation in gangs. A police officer gave testimony that the settlement has been transformed by the presence of the group. For Shikha, from Prayasam, the afternoon with Ubuhle Bendalo was the highlight of the week – she was infected by the group’s vibrancy and wanted to take that energy and vibrancy back home.

“At first I was not about to swim. I don’t know how to. But when I heard those guys explaining, I decided to try.”

Allan, Uganda

Thursday was a day of physical exertion! The day began with some training at the Future Champs Boxing Gym in Philippi and ended with surfing in Muizenberg. The two events highlighted the powerful role sports can play in the process of team and community building, the humbling and unifying effects of learning something new, and the power of fun in managing some of the stresses of daily life. Manish, from Prayasam, was inspired to take some of the tools of the Future Champs (boxing) and Waves of Change (surfing) programs back to the Sports Academy he is part of in India. Many of the youth had not seen the ocean before. Many could not swim. Yet, they surfed! They laughed in the “salty water” with their faces plastered with white sunscreen and fearlessly took on the challenge.

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“And to those who sent me here: I will make you proud.”

Sifiso, South Africa

On the final day of the exchange the youth had a reflection on the week and all agreed they had become family. With sincerity they told each other how much they would miss being together and pledged to stay in touch and provide continuous support via social media as much as they can.

And the answer to the riddle? It’s “nothing”. Poor people have me. Rich people don’t need me. If you eat me you’ll die. I am worse than a demon. Nothing.

Though the riddle was a whole lot of fun, the week’s exchange made it very clear that poor people don’t have “nothing” at all. Though poor, the youth showed they have authenticity, compassion, innovation, and commitment to improving their own lives and those of their communities. Exchanges such as these will inspire changes within individuals and communities in ways we cannot possibly predict. But, this is the exact strategy (as much as it sits at odds with increasingly logframe and indicator obsessed NGOs): Bring the people together and let them create new knowledge, develop their own insights, reaffirm their own value, develop new strategies, and then figure out how to implement.

“I am not the same person I was before I came here.”

Patrick, Kenya

Putting K2 and Green Park on the Map – Mapping Exchange in Cape Town

By FEDUP, ISN, SDI No Comments

By Julia Stricker (on behalf of SDI Secretariat)

***Cross-posted from SDI Blog***

During a very successful learning exchange focused around settlement level data visualisation and mapping, community members from K2 and Green Park, two informal settlements in Cape Town, created digital maps of their neighbourhoods. 

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Siyaunya puts his head over the GPS device and enters the code for water tap, WT 001. Next he records the geographic coordinates of the location: -34.0289, 18.6731. He and his team repeat this process for every water tap and toilet in K2, the informal settlement in Khayelitsha that Siyaunya calls home. Different codes are used for each type of facility and with regards to their functional status. A broken toilet, for example, gets an N added to its code. These codes together with the coordinates form the raw data for the maps. Apart from the team mapping the basic services there are two other teams on the go to map the settlement boundaries and other interesting features like shops, taverns, and restaurants. Each of the three teams consists of community members, Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) members from across South Africa, and SDI federation members from India, Uganda and Ghana. The latter travelled to Cape Town to support the South African SDI Alliance in refining their digital mapping skills – skills that will help take SDI’s community mapping process to another level, making it easier and quicker, and increasing impact.

Through a hands-on, learning-by-doing approach Siyaunya and his fellow community members, most holding a GPS device for the first time that day, used these devices with confidence by the end of the day. They also understand that the need to stand next to the service or feature you are mapping is about more than getting an accurate reading on the GPS device. It is about the process of gaining intimate knowledge and understanding of one’s settlement and being able to share this knowledge with authority.

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A geographic profile of the settlement consisting of the boundaries and the basic services, at a minimum, is a crucial part of the standardised profile. It is not enough to know the number of toilets – one also has to know their spatial distribution. If all the toilets of a settlement are located on one corner, the numbers alone are a bad indicator for the reality a woman from the other end of the settlement experiences when going to the toilet at night. The spatial dimension adds value to the data and is highly relevant for planning upgrading projects. To put it in a nutshell: Numbers are good – but maps make the numbers come alive. In addition to that John Samuel, from NSDF/SPARC India and part of the data team at SDI, points out that maps are more intuitive to understand than plain numbers and respond better to the variable literacy level of slum dwellers.

There is no perfect map and there never will be one. Maps are by nature abstractions and only a limited inventory of the reality on the ground, a complement of both objectively observable phenomena, as well as the subjective relationships to these. Bearing this in mind they remain highly important as a means to communicate our location in the world and our view on the world. The data used to generate maps of informal settlements must therefore be gathered by the slum dwellers themselves. Maps generated from community-collected data naturally put the emphasis on issues that matter to the community. This in turn is critical for the successful planning and implementation of slum upgrading projects

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When speaking about Know Your City, Sumaya, a young delegate from the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) puts it like this:

“First you have to know what you have, then you can decide what you need, and only then you can tell somebody what you want. This is what Know(ing) Your City is all about.”

She was part of the team that profiled and mapped 62 settlements in the city of Kampala. The comprehensive report with the maps generated was handed over to the Kampala City Authority in September this year and is a good example how the data can be used to drive communities’ dialogues with government for slum upgrading and development at the city-wide scale. The profiling and mapping of settlements is a powerful tool for promoting active citizenship in communities of the urban poor.

SDI’s focus for the coming years will be to routinize and consolidate the learning around city-wide profiling and mapping for the cities it works with. Concretely, the idea of going city-wide is to push the federations to think beyond their existing network so as to include the voices of other settlements in the city, meet new leaders and together create concrete alternative plans with which they can begin to talk to their cities. Community mobilisation and mobilising city-wide federations are then also among the first goals Celine D’Cruz, SDI co-ordinator anchoring and supporting the data collection process for the SDI network, mentions when she talks about the Know Your City process. It is about the creation of a momentum of inclusion and of identity making for the community of the urban poor. Furthermore, the data collected supports the development of alternative participatory plans for slum upgrading strategies based on prioritised needs; it offers federations and communities at large the ability to monitor their own settlements and, last but not least, grounded and consolidated data at the local level, once aggregated, opens up the space for advocacy at the national and global level.

The maps of K2 and Green Park were visualised the same weekend and brought back to the respective settlements. They are as different as the settlements themselves are. Spread out Green Park contrasts with dense K2. In the latter, all the toilets are located on one site, leading to a situation mentioned above, where a map paints a clearer picture of reality then just numbers.

The learning exchange made clear that settlement profiling and mapping is an essential tool to leverage upgrading, monitor settlements and for regional and global advocacy. The young leaders from K2 and Green Park definitely seemed eager to continue the work and make the realities and needs of the city’s urban poor majority visible through maps.

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Reflections on the Southern African HUB Meeting: Lusaka, Zambia

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, SDI No Comments

**Cross-posted from the SDI blog**

By Noah Schermbrucker (on behalf of SDI Secretariat)

SDI Southern African Hub Countries

SDI Southern African Hub Countries

HUB meetings are gatherings that bring affiliates together to collectively set the agenda for the region. They are used as a mechanism to share collective learning, devise targeted support strategies (e.g. exchanges) for individual countries and concretize planning, on a regional scale, for the next period. The Southern African HUB recently took place in Lusaka, Zambia from 12-14 September 2014. Delegations from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and Malawi attended the 3-day meeting. A team from Uganda, who had recently hosted the East African HUB, participated in order to promote continuity. Ghana was also invited as the West African HUB has been indefinitely postponed due to the Ebola outbreak.

Below find my reflections on the meeting. I hope that they provide some insights not only into SDI processes at a regional level but also the “nuts and bolts” of which this process is comprised. This is hence not an exhaustive description of the meeting but aims to give the reader a “practical flavor” of SDI’s work as it plays out in the interactions between slum dwellers, support professionals and government.

Day 1: Engagement with Ministry of Local Government, field visit to Garden Park community under threat of eviction (only some delegates) and meeting at Lusaka City Council (LCC).

The Zambians were clear that the first day’s agenda was about taking their process forward, especially in terms of achieving tangible outputs from government. South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi and Ghana all stressed the actual outputs of their relationship with government to both the Ministry of Local Government and LCC. As was noted, “ An M.o.U with government is just a piece of paper unless it has actual tangible outputs attached”.

Making the first day about taking the Zambian process really orientated us within local challenges and used the HUB as an instrument to open space with government for the Zambians (which they are now following up on). The Southern African HUB has previously been very “talk” orientated and not substantively relevant to the local process so this shift was refreshing to see. A trick that we missed out on was not inviting government officials from the countries attending as the Zambians felt that this would have deepened the impact in these engagements with government. As a federation member noted “governments like to talk to other governments”.

Through the site visit to Garden Park, evictions were placed on the table as a key issue with the HUB committing (on the final day) that each federation will draft guidelines on evictions sharing their experiences and strategies used (this emerged out of a separate federation only session)

Women from Garden Park meet to discuss eviction threat

Women from Garden Park meet to discuss eviction threat

Day 2: New Secretariat systems (L,M&E, New Secretariat structures)

Day 2 was spent at the Zambian federation’s resource center in George compound with significant participation from the Zambian federation. Mara (from the SDI Secretariat) and Muturi (from the Core Team) did a fantastic job in taking everyone through some of the new systems developed by The Secretariat including the L, M &E worksheet and call for support. There was a vibrant discussion about these new systems and some very important suggestions made as to how they could be refined (e.g. definitions of certain terms such as “secure tenure” need to be clarified). These issues were noted and will be shared with the secretariat team.

A very critical issue was raised around the learning center and its role within the HUB, a number of people felt that the HUB itself was serving as the learning center. We need to think carefully about how the learning center fits into the HUB-especially in the case of Southern Africa were conditions and experiences in Cape Town are quite different to the rest of the countries. People felt strongly that different countries had different strengths (e.g. Namibia and Zimbabwe around collection of their savings number & indicators).

"Carrying" water home in Chazanga, Lusaka

“Carrying” water home in Chazanga, Lusaka

Day 3: HUB Business

The day was focused on collecting country reports that were compiled previously by each country. These will be used to aggregate a set of Southern African HUB figures that can be taken to the Board & Council (B&C) meeting. Each country handed in their reports but then spoke about the “burning issues” and what support was needed. This led to suggestions for further exchanges that have been noted. The HUB also discussed progress made on exchanges decided at the B&C. In general this approach was well received as countries did not use up time providing long lists of figures but rather focused on the key issues that they wished to raise. The exact role and nature of the CORE team was also explained at length.

Throughout the meeting the participation of members from Kenya, Uganda and Ghana was extremely helpful. Their insights were valuable and contributed to the discussions with government. The continuity between the East African HUB and this HUB was definitely beneficial and something that we could take forward.

An issue that emerged from some was how we can include more “voices” in the HUB and encourage everyone to participate and speak more fully. It seemed that when we broke into country teams it allowed for more even discussion and participation as opposed to just a few people speaking in the bigger forum.

A HUB report is currently being drafted by Zambia and will be shared shortly.