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RCL Leadership and Ownership Programme
UWC students help Manenberg RCL members be all they can be through Learner representatives from three Manenberg high schools – Phoenix High School, Manenberg High School and Silverstream High School – visited the University of the Western Cape's (UWC) Social Work Department for the closing ceremony of the Representative Council of Learners (RCL) Leadership and Ownership programme on Wednesday 15 May 2013. The event was also attended by members of sponsoring organisations Manenberg People's Centre and Self-Help Manenberg.

The programme was designed to build and strengthen the Representative Council of Learners (RCL) structure at the schools by initiating an idea of sustainable development and creating networks of opportunity, and was run by two second year Social Work students: Ashraf Arendse, who grew up in Manenberg and attended Silverstream High School, and Jade Petersen, who was raised in Retreat for her formative years but spent the rest of her childhood in Muizenberg, and graduated from Norman Henshilwood High School.

The project ran for 8 weeks at the Manenberg People’s Centre – for two hours every Wednesday, learners would receive instruction designed to help them become vision-oriented and socially aware, attended workshops and held discussions to motivate and inspire them and help them learn life skills and self-empowerment.

Mr R. Safodien, supervisor of the second year social work programme, coordinates community aspects related to the course – and is the one marking Ashraf and Jade's work. He offered a warm welcome to the learners, sponsors and supporters present. expressed his pride in the work of the two students running the programme, and explained how important RCL membership can be. “As young people, you can make a difference in your communities. The mere fact that you are members of the RCL tells us that other people already have confidence in you – and now it's about sharing that confidence and knowledge you gained from this course with other young people, in your schools and community and beyond.”

Ashraf and Jade provided a brief overview of the programme, outlined its successes, and discussed some of the challenges faced by students and learners alike.

“What made the programme work,” said Ashraf, “was that we dealt with topics that were very engaging, that were relevant to the needs and interests of the RCL members and their communities, the difference between gender and sex, what it means for a course to be accredited, what the world would be like if all the women disappeared – and the responses that we got were very interesting.”

Still, there were snags along the way. Jade explained: “With any programme, there are challenges – and ours was no exception. For one thing, there was the difficulty of communicating with the schools, and within the schools. Another challenge was the workload – as social work students, this wasn't our only assignment, and we had to divide our attention sometimes. But all in all, I would say that all these challenges contributed to a great success.”

Learners were presented with certificates for their participation in the programme, and a discussion was held on how to deal with some of the challenges faced and increase school participation if the programme is continued – but before that, there was one more exercise for the RCL representatives to complete. Two learners from each school delivered a short presentation as the final part of the public speaking part of the programme, and then received a thorough critique and some friendly advice afterwards from supporters and sponsors.

Grade 11 learner Warda Benjamin, 18, and Grade 10 learner Zea Jameson, 16, spoke on behalf of Manenberg High School, explaining how the project had changed them.

For Silverstream High School, Grade 11 learner Astrid Isaacs, 16, and Grade 12 learner Skhumbuzo Solani, 18, spoke about what made the programme a success, and what effect the programme had had on them as learners.

“One positive benefit is that we got to connect with organisations in our community that we never knew were there,” said Astrid, “and we also got to learn about things like gender awareness.”

“We got to learn how to become better leaders in our school and our communities,” added Skhumbuzo. “And we were encouraged to be independent and take responsibility for our own education.”

Phoenix High School's presenters were up last, with Grade 12 learner Fazlin Abrahams, 16, and fellow Grade 12 learner Laura-Lee Louw, 16, discussing how the programme had an impact on them as learners.

“If we weren't exposed to this programme, we would have missed out on a good learning experience,” said Fazlin. “I'm glad our school allowed us to skip a few classes to attend.”

Laura-Lee also mentioned that the programme made her more aware of the responsibilities of being an RCL member. “Being on RCL means more than just looking pretty – we're actually there to function and make an improvement for our fellow learners.”

Ashraf ended off with a few inspiring words. “As a country we have some of the world's best legislations and policies when it comes to social rights, but we have some serious social challenges to deal with – and it's up to us to plough back into our communities and never forget our roots.”