In 2019, OpenUp partnered with Cederberg Municipality and ICA (Initiative for Community Advancement) to host the first Youth Summit at Cederberg Akademie. We all hoped to see a Youth Forum selected for the Cederberg district that would be able to take an active part in ward committee meetings and play a greater role in the shaping of their community. Experience has shown us that creating this platform for the communication of needs, frustrations, and ideas can go a long way in helping to bridge the gap between the municipality and its youth. Ultimately, the sense of representation gained by feeling like you have a seat at the table (both literally and figuratively) leads to greater public participation.
Codebridge Youth (CBY) Cederberg is targeted at youth between the ages of 18 and 34, who are interested in becoming Youth Forum members. A Youth Forum member is someone who is elected by peers in their community to serve a predetermined term on the forum in their specific municipality. They take part in the municipality’s public participation processes as well as engage in matters that impact young people. The Cederberg Youth Forum would consist of members from surrounding towns such as Citrusdal, Clanwilliam, Lamberts Bay, Elands Bay, Wupperthal, Graafwater and Leopoldville, allowing for a wide variety of youth members from different socio-economic environments, to come together and voice their concerns.
However, Covid-19 happened. This resulted in the cancellation of all in-person events and meant that we needed to come up with new ways of ensuring that open communication between Codebridge Youth, the Youth Forums and the municipalities could be maintained.
COVID-19 had forced the world online, and leveraging digital communication tools suddenly became the only way to communicate with one another. This made communication and coordination with the youth exceptionally challenging due to dismal connectivity in the smaller towns we were engaging in. Not only did OpenUp and CBY need to account for the pandemic disrupting our initial in-person engagement schedule, but now a lack of reliable internet in the areas we were working was threatening the reach and impact of our online engagements.. Despite these challenges, we knew a Youth Summit remained an important goal, and we pushed ahead with the planning of ours in the Citrusdal Community Hall meeting, which we planned to live-stream to CBY members in the surrounding towns.
On arrival at the Citrusdal Community Hall, and after a month of planning, it was clear that on top of issues with accessing the venue, we had nowhere near the in-person turnout we were expecting.. Panic kicked in when the start time for the Summit had passed and we still had no attendees. Despite this, we decided to continue our live streamed presentation, giving an introduction to Codebridge Youth and outlining the importance of youth participation in local government, with the knowledge that we would be able to share this content at a later stage with members who were not able to attend the event or the livestream.
Even though we encountered some major challenges with the planning and follow-through of the event, we were still able to navigate past them by distributing and sharing the outcomes of the summit online and across our network. We were able to put out a call for nominations of youth council members (this entailed one member being selected per town and then being notified by us of their nomination, which could then be accepted or rejected). This involved one member being selected per town and them being notified by us of their nomination, which required an acceptance from the nominee. We then created an online voting platform with the above nominees per town, and the youth needed to vote for their members.
Through all the challenges that the OpenUp and CBY Cederberg teams faced, we had a clear goal in our heads of establishing a Youth Forum for the Cederberg Municipality. After the Youth Forum was elected, we immediately started the planning process in order to equip the forum members to take on any tasks related to the youth in their community and to ensure that they know what to do when a particular situation arises. We then had a workshop where we worked through the Cederberg Youth Policy and made sure that they understood the policy and their rights in relation to their municipality. As a unit, we will continue to move forward and try to build the capacity of youth in South Africa, municipality by municipality.
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