‘I came to South Africa eager to learn from the young leaders of SAAYE and what I ended up finding out had a huge impact on me.’
I have been working as a community organiser with Citizens UK for 4 years in one of the most diverse boroughs in London – Tower Hamlets, where over 55 languages are spoken.
My colleague, Emmanuel Gotora and I were the main facilitators for the recent Learning Exchange between Citizens UK and SAAYE. I came to South Africa eager to learn from the young leaders of SAAYE and what I ended up finding out had a huge impact on me. I saw politically engaged young people and individuals working together to create social change in the world. They had hope despite the huge challenge of youth unemployment and the slow progress or seeming in-action of their governments to address it. I also saw young people rooted in their history and culture, who readily shared their different identities.
Social change has been a part of their day-to-day lives. It has shaped who they are and made them proud of their country. Music and dance were a regular feature of our workshop energisers. This was a stark difference from the leaders that I work with in the UK. I attribute this difference to the heightened political awareness of the participants and a strong identity shaped by recent history, that of the liberation struggle. Social change has been a part of their day-to-day lives. It has shaped who they are and made them proud of their country.
What was even more remarkable was the speed at which SAAYE members grasped, challenged and understood the concepts, teachings and universals that we were delivering. Their ability to challenge and question what was being presented showed us that they were reflecting upon it within their own contexts. They were definitely the right people for the task. I could see light bulb moments within each one of them.
We adapted the trainings based on the needs and experiences of the participants, but the training proved to me that the universals that we teach in community organising are truly universal. SAAYE members were able to grasp the concept of understanding power and how to build relational power as if it was natural to them. I saw this from the first day, during our Athenian-Melian role play. Irene, who had assumed a lead role, refused to leave the negotiation table when Emmanuel asked her to leave. Instead, she stayed throughout the negotiations acknowledging that what mattered at this moment was the deal on the table because it concerned her future.
As a facilitator, we are trained not only to teach the content of our training but to adapt it according to the context of the room. This can be challenging at times but because SAAYE members were clear on adapting Citizens UK’s experiences to their own, it became natural and easy. One of the main case studies that we shared was Citizens UK’s Good Jobs Campaign that focuses on creating employment opportunities for young people. Based on participant’s reflections and drawing on the experience of Good Jobs Campaign, I introduced an issue based organising model – an adaptation of the broad based organsing model, which also brings together principle partners from the state, market and civil society to meet the needs of people at grassroots levels.
The Learning Exchange with SAAYE provided me with a lot of learning about Southern Africa and for myself as a community organiser. It taught me the value of understanding the context in the room and it made me realise that I need to do more at Citizens UK to celebrate people’s identities, stories and history.
 During the Athenian-Melian role play, in order to change the dynamics of the negotiations and get the actors to think on their feet, the facilitators often create an intervening scenario. In Irene’s case, she was called to an important meeting, but then refused to go.