The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of feelings and thoughts with it. Two weeks ago, I am most certain that everyone especially in the communities I serve were only worried about ‘earning a living’, however, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a new psychological shift to ‘staying alive’. When everyone is worried about the safety of their families, their loved ones and themselves; how do our community based organisations continue to provide services to the communities they serve?
As board members at Phakamani Young Minds Academy (PYMA) such questions and thoughts have been discussed and dissected. PYMA, an organisation that offers the much-needed academic support and empowerment to learners from Grade 1 to 12, has been thriving and boasts 260 learners of all grades. These learners benefit from PYMA’s free programmes to supplement their education through contact learning. As the pandemic slowly crept in, PYMA have had to quickly think on its feet by setting e-learning programmes overnight when throughout its existence this has never been an option given to the learners in the township they are situated in. Learners and tutors (who are on a voluntary basis) do not have access to data and learning has become a challenge and severely disrupted.
Moreover, in a very short period of time, PYMA had to review its work from home policies for their tutors and support staff and come up with programmes and initiatives during the nationwide lockdown to educate learners and parents on Covid-19. These initiatives range from online WhatsApp and Bulk messaging. PYMA has also become a health adviser as learners and their parents are seeking health advice from us about genuine and paranoiac symptoms of Covid-19. Some have asked for protective gear such as masks and sanitisers which the organisation (and perhaps most of the nation) sadly does not have.
Although, some of the initiatives implemented may be positive for a CBO such as PYMA, there are also cons associated to it. The worry of where the learners will be academically when the pandemic is under control is huge for PYMA. The anticipation of the high demand when parents start sending their learners to ‘catch up’ is a worry again as PYMA which may not have the capacity and resources to manage this when the pandemic is under control.
Having said all this, will PYMA make it when the pandemic is under control? Based on the speed of reaction in being able to convert programmes to e-learning, the strength and care of the community that this organisation has shown I would answer that this question with a positive yes. Community based organisations that are agile enough to adapt to a community’s needs while continuing with the essence of their existence are indeed going to ‘come through’ this war, bruised but not deceased. Yes, our teachers have become nurses and are expected to assist the community in making major life decisions on whether they should call 0800 029 999. They have also become highly instrumental in ensuring that the spread of the disease is curbed through their advice and education on self-isolation as well as hygiene practices.
Bertha Phohlela, PYMA Board Member and Admin Manager at Tshikululu Social Investments