The Codebridge Youth Project (CBY) was started in 2018, and since its inception, Openup has been able to, with the partnership of Municipalities, implement seven of them in seven different locations.
CBY was started to mobilise youth and develop their data and digital literacy, as well as provide them with insight into participation in local government processes, such as the IDP, Budget, and other existing platforms for citizens. The latter hasn’t been easy, I think, while the former, easier.
We started in the Western Cape, this just made sense from a location point of view, “closer to home.” In 2020, we decided to expand beyond our provincial boundaries. The idea definitely had no forecast of the Coronavirus pandemic or a 6-month lockdown, with heavy travel restrictions. We stalled and remained optimistic that the restrictions would be eased and we would then be able to implement Codebridge Youth in another province. I forgot to mention, the province identified was KwaZulu Natal.
Though we have strong relationships with the Open Cities Lab (previously known as Open Data Durban) we decided to engage with other partners in the data literacy and advocacy space.
Through this discussion, we identified uMngeni Local Municipality as a potential place to rollout CBY KZN. Tiyani Nghonyama of Geekulcha provided the team with a great degree of insight into this small municipality and suggested Howick. He made it clear that even though Geekulcha had done digital literacy training previously, the youth still needed a lot more help. With the addition of data literacy, coupled with information around how the youth can participate in Local Government, the team felt this project would be valuable...and viable.
Initially, I was sceptical about the training needing two days, of which we then agreed that 1½ days seemed reasonable. As we did the preparatory work for the training on 14 September, Kingsley "Skinny” Kgwedi, Gabriel Cassim and I were having to go and buy various things. This was mainly because of Covid-19 and ensuring we had all the safety measures in place. With our shopping list, we headed out to a supermarket to get sanitizer, hand wash, toilet paper, stationery, and more sanitizer (we never felt as though we had enough, but we did). With a safety plan in place, we scanned the venue, making sure there was enough space between the tables, adequate ablution facilities, and also, making sure the venue itself was clean.
As I introduced myself and where I am from, what Codebridge is about, there was silence, making me constantly wonder “Do they understand me?” As the day unfolded, Gabriel, Skinny and I were able to see better engagement from the youth. I also needed to understand that Zulu is the first language of many in KwaZulu Natal, and it was interesting to see that one participant actually wrote her issue being that “ we spoke too fast and that some of the English he/she (feedback data was made anonymous) could not understand.” We experienced many challenges over the course of two days. A frightening one was that only twelve participants attended day one, which had me worried about what day two attendance would be like.
There were no disappointments as the turnout for day two was much better. A total of 34 participants - and this excluded us the facilitators - as well as a guest appearance by the Municipality Council Speaker, made it to the Howick West Community Hall. We facilitated two activities; a wine gums workshop and an Easter egg hunt. Sounds fun right? Well, it was and always should be when engaging with youth.
In terms of planning, as much as we unpacked every aspect of implementing the training in Howick, Umngeni, there were some learnings I need to mention. Skinny, Gabriel, and I seemed like an adequate number of onsite facilitators for just under 40 youth, but in reality, this proved not to be so. This was for two main reasons: First, that the participant’s literacy levels varied and this meant often one of us needed to provide one-on-one assistance. Having said that, we wanted to help participants, so in some instances, other participants who had basic computer skills had to wait on us, to continue the programme. The second reason was that I felt the ratio of facilitators to participants was not adequate is that, though we had three onsite, we also had to do on-site project coordination between ourselves which included setting up the venue, ensuring wifi connectivity, catering, sanitizer and other things for COVID safety. I would strongly have wished to have someone dedicated to this, but alas, we managed to get through it!
Another big learning for me was the rental and usage of laptops by the participants. A total of 40 laptops were acquired and even though it's always good to empower the youth with computer skills, the reality is that 60% of youth in uMngeni use their cellphones to access the internet. Within the community of Howick, there aren’t many public facilities with access to computers or uncapped/free wifi. We should either structure our training in a way that it can be done using a smartphone or alternatively, rent tablets which have similar functionality to a smartphone.
With a sample of nearly 40 youth, we were able to gather some information about the challenges youth face in uMngeni. With an estimated 21 000 youth between the ages of 15-24 in the Municipality, many feel disconnected from the Municipality. Coupled with this is the frustration of very few employment opportunities for young people.
As a way forward the CBY in uMngeni will require localised NPOs and the Municipality partnering with Openup, Geekulcha, HSRC and other like-minded organisations. We are excited to be starting this journey in uMngeni!