How the Valued Citizens Initiative and The Love Trust are shaping the youth to be active citizens!
At a recent event Mabel Sikhakhane, Head of Department of Pre-primary and Chairperson of the School-Based Support Team (SBST) at Nokuphila Primary School, described the interaction between teaching and social work. “As teachers,” Sikhakhane said, “we use the phrase ‘holistic development of a child’ when we work with learners. This simply means that a learner is taught, viewed, and developed in totality. Our duty, besides actual teaching or imparting knowledge, is to help our learners’ personal, social, and emotional development. Meaning that a teacher is not only a teacher, but a mother, a nurse, and a friend”.
Sikhakhane, along with five other staff members from The Love Trust, was privileged to participate in the iSiqalo training programme led by the Valued Citizens Initiative (VCI). This training is normally reserved for social workers and auxiliary social workers, but due to the drive and dedication towards true change The Love Trust displays VCI permitted a Social Worker with four teachers from Nokuphila to take part.
At first, Sikhakhane believed there was little left to learn as she’s a qualified teacher with an honour’s degree in education management and has been Head of Department for the past four years. A point of view she quickly changed and described as bringing new life to her career. She goes on to say that hers and the other staff members’ skills were “revived, stimulated, and awoken”. She believes that thanks to the professional development training programme “parents and learners at Nokuphila need not worry because we will be there for their empowerment and to add value to their lives through the skills and knowledge we learned in iSiqalo. They will be valued citizens”.
To learn more about VCI we spoke to the Founder, Carole Podetti Ngono, about what the iSiqalo and their parent training programmes mean for Nokuphila, its learners, parents, and community at large.
According to the Valued Citizens Initiative was created in 2001, at the request of the Gauteng Department of Education, to develop citizenship education, starting within the schools as the ecosystem to develop valued citizens. Through the years, their life skills programmes have evolved. “Today, we take care of the whole ecosystem of a child through the professional development of educators, programme accredited by the South African Council of Educators (SACE), and we take care of the professional development of social work professionals accredited by the South African Council for Social Services Professions (SACSSP)”, says Podetti Ngono.
“Many of our children are extremely vulnerable,” says Podetti Ngono, “especially girls as South Africa is the number one country in the world in terms of the amount of reported rape cases. The iSiqalo II programme takes further the development of social work professionals and focuses on how we can prevent violence against the girl child and against women – as social workers and auxiliary social workers”. This covers a wide range of issues which may touch on personal trauma as well. For instance, 22% of the social work professionals that VCI has trained were sexually abused many, when they were children. The training therefore tackles sensitive issues and questions, enabling healing and the prevention of victimisation.
The VCI also facilitated parent and family workshops at Nokuphila providing psycho-social support following the hard lockdowns of 2020, and is scheduled to facilitate further workshops with parents in the next few weeks. These parent workshops are extremely important as Podetti Ngono believes “that family is the first ecosystem for children”. The parenting workshops that VCI will provide to 400 parents at Nokuphila, along with certificates upon completion, are going to focus on how to raise children to be happy and confident and will also look at gender matters. This will tackle everything from: how to speak about emotions at home, handling conflict, what are your family values, to how to identify a child that has been abused.
According to Podetti Ngono, parents are key for the development of the child and are therefore the first pillar of their initiative in developing valued citizenship among our children. The second pillar is to make sure that they develop youth employability around the children: that our youth complete matric with 70% reaching tertiary education. The third pillar is citizenship education. They start with this from grade four and continue to grade 12, because active citizenry is key. “When you find your voice,” states Ngono, “you suddenly acknowledge that you can influence different environments, and by getting your voice, you gain confidence as you change the world around you. Gaining confidence leads to a new world where you develop self-awareness, self-leadership and self-management and that’s what we do in our work with children, youth and adults”.
But what do these workshops entail? Podetti Ngono explains that all their programmes follow a holistic process focused on behaviour change. They start with self-awareness focused on values as these play a role in the lives and decisions, we make as individuals. Then, they go on to the values of our Constitution as it is essential that everybody understands what the Constitution is meant for and that everybody abides by it.
According to Podetti Ngono, “it’s about standing for what is meaningful for oneself and your country as a collective, and standing against everything that is sabotaging yourself and sabotaging what the country stands for through its constitution”. They then move on to visual arts as a healing tool as it allows participants to express things that they might not even have been aware of. It’s only by going through this healing process and gaining emotional intelligence, that one can build skills. Podetti Ngono believes, “Because if you don’t heal, you reproduce patterns. We plug in skills of self-management, self-leadership, communication skills and emotional intelligence into that process”.
When asked what a valued citizen meant for her, Podetti Ngono described it as someone who lives by their personal values and respect constitutional values. That’s why it is so important to identify what their core values are. Even though they may change throughout their lives, a person’s core values act as a compass for their decisions through life. They also help you live your life with purpose and work towards goals. Podetti Ngono believes that “by sharing healthy values with each other we become active citizens together; we have the power of empathy and a sense of belonging. And the more you belong, the more you are connected. And that’s how we develop pride and hope in and for South Africa”.
The VCI’s practical approach is hugely effective based on the feedback and evaluation reports they receive. For example, teachers have reported that learners who struggle started showing dramatic changes in their behaviour for the better because they have new support systems at home that reflect the school values.
In closing Podetti Ngono expressed her passion, love, and hope for the future of South Africa and the VCI: “I feel I’m a South African because I love South Africans. I love what I do and my whole team is dedicated, as 65% of my staff were first beneficiaries of our programme. I know why I do what I do because it’s worth it. Because every child deserves it. Every social worker, every teacher deserves it”.