In Cape Town, South Africa, NewDay United has stepped up during the pandemic to make sure everyone has access to a bright future. As an after-school program, NewDay United is addressing some of the inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19 and helping children and young adults build a better future. They’re providing both hands-on learning and training, and tackling food security with homegrown solutions.
Here’s a look at how.
Giving students a second chance to learn
Abongile Bono, a 21-year-old from the township of Manenberg, was one of the many young people affected by South Africa’s stay-at-home orders in 2020. Lack of computer and internet access in his home meant he was unable to learn coding during his software development course with the University of the Western Cape. While Abongile still graduated in June 2020, he wasn’t able to learn the vital skills that would set him apart in the competitive software development industry. “I was behind. I had to contribute to code, and I couldn’t contribute to code,” Abongile added.
The switch to blended and remote e-learning globally was quick, and it left out many of South Africa’s most marginalized learners. Students in South Africa could now be up to an entire school year behind, and 750,000 school children in the country are out of school due to the pandemic. One in 3 students globally missed out on remote learning when COVID-19 shut down schools, according to the UN. In South Africa, 13 million students were left without adequate schooling during the school lockdowns.
“This pandemic has been a brick wall,” Abongile said. “When it came to the academics [during lockdown], I felt left out, and my job-seeking wasn’t successful. I couldn’t show my full potential.” Although Abongile received his degree in 2020, he felt he was unable to reach his full potential or to learn what he would need to compete in the industry. This impacted his search for employment after graduation.
But thanks to NewDay United’s new Systems Development [Coding] course, Abongile is getting a second chance. NewDay United is an after-school program, and job and career skills development center for children and young adults in Manenberg. Abongile is one of NewDay’s over 100 students and participates in one of the 10 courses offered, which include sewing, career, readiness, business development, coding, IT, robotics, and more. Abongile is one of the organization’s first System Development students.
“Now I’m doing the coding course, which is what I always wanted to do,” he shared. With dreams of starting his own business, Abongile’s future is going to be bright. When asked what impact NewDay United has had on him, Abongile said, “It’s been great. I learned a lot, not just about school, but spiritually, emotionally, and business-wise.” Now after being a part of NewDay United’s course, Abongile says, “I’m ready.”
Creating access to career opportunities
With only 22.2% of Manenberg’s population completing high school and 3.9% pursuing higher education, part of the aim of NewDay United is to provide access to career opportunities for children after school, and for graduated, unemployed youth, like Abongile.
“Systems development and IT are two of [the courses] we teach at the Computer Learning Centre [at NewDay]. It’s one of very few [disciplines] where you don’t [always] need a degree or a diploma,” said Annemarie Barnard, operations director at NewDay United. “Our people are deprived of that. What we’re doing here is to give them access.”
NewDay’s work is two-pronged: the organization works with school-aged children after school and with unemployed youth through their job and career skills courses. The goal is to address gaps in education and provide unemployed youth with access to jobs and the opportunity to pursue a better future.
Unemployment has long been a challenge in communities like Manenberg. Way before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate was 36.2% in 2011, the last census year. NewDay United is working to change that.
Annemarie said the job success after completing the jobs programs at NewDay United is close to 80%, with many launching their own businesses.
Getting a head start in careers in STEM
Children in NewDay United’s Coders Dojo, one of NewDay’s after-school programs, are already getting a head start at launching a successful career in STEM. Before the age of 17, students are learning to write code, build websites, create apps, and design games. And this year, they’re also learning how their code can be utilized in space.
As part of Mission Zero by ESA Education, they’re collaborating with children globally to write code that an astronaut will use. Children at NewDay United, however, aren’t strangers to this kind of success. In 2019, their children’s robotics team won a bronze medal in the World Robotics Olympiad.
“In robotics and coding, they’re learning maths in a fun way,” Annemarie said. “These are kids who really struggled [long before the pandemic]. To see the jump in their grades in maths after just one year, it’s amazing.” For children who need extra help with maths, reading, comprehension, and homework, NewDay United has e-learning and in-person tutoring for them at their Hluma, which means “prosper,” after school program. NewDay also coordinates with their school teachers so no kid falls behind.
“We become very proud of them,” Lucy Joseph, the “Mama” of Hluma, said. “Growing up in a community like this, it’s very rare that we see someone who’s successful in education. We don’t see role models. We’re trying to teach them even though you’re coming from a background that’s not so good, you can still be the best. You can still have a matric [high school diploma] in your family, even if there’s none [already]. Whatever circumstances you come from don’t determine who you are.”
Stepping up to take care of the community
When the COVID-19 pandemic began and stay-at-home orders took place, NewDay United had to pivot. They printed manuals their students could use to stay ahead at home until they could return in September 2020.
“We committed to contacting our students regularly via WhatsApp to encourage and inspire [them],” Lynn Swart, executive director of NewDay United, said. “This was a road we never anticipated or navigated before. We as a team were constantly looking for ways to keep all our champions [students] motivated!”
NewDay United took their work a step further, too. They provided food for students’ families for five and a half months during the pandemic. And they provided learning activities for kids and seed packets so they could learn how to start their own sustainable gardens at home. They also provided “veg boxes” for 26 families to help teach the community to grow food during the pandemic. With help from the government’s Community Working Partnership, NewDay United has been able to create a joint community garden, the Phoenix Garden Project.
“People couldn’t afford to feed their families [during the pandemic],” George Lamont, one of the supervisors of the Phoenix Garden Project, said. “We’re trying to help people to start their own gardens, so they can [grow their own food], start their own source of income, and own business to generate income for their household.”
NewDay United imagines uniting other gardens in the community with a market. They want to provide fresh vegetables for soup kitchens, and subsidize food for the community while they look for work or need assistance with extra income, especially during COVID-19, to feed students and their families.
With their jobs programs and home and community projects, NewDay United offers a people-first approach. During the difficult years of the pandemic, they’ve proved that when we work together, real change can happen.