The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us, old and young alike. Suntosh Pillay, a clinical psychologist working in the public sector in KwaZulu-Natal, has described the pandemic as “an emotional tsunami. People’s feelings are exacerbated to the extremes now, especially because of the uncertainty of what’s going to happen,” he said.
The Salesian Institute Youth Projects (SIYP), an NGO working with youth from at-risk communities in Cape Town in the field of education and skills training, has witnessed this first hand. Our Learn to Live School of Skills caters for youth who can no longer cope in mainstream schooling. Our learners are aged 14 to 18, a very vulnerable period in a teenager’s development.“Since our learners come from socio-economically marginalised communities, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly evident. The ongoing and uncertain opening and closing of schools during this pandemic has brought much confusion and disruption to our learners, with emotional effects that we do not yet fully comprehend”, says Fr Patrick Naughton, CEO of SIYP.
To determine some of these effects, learners were asked to write a short essay on how the pandemic has affected them so far. The results were sobering if unsurprising.
What COVID-19 is doing to our communities on the ground: young learners speak
“As the virus started spreading, more people died, it is so sad. My mom lost her job, so there was no income and no money to buy food and make sure our family was OK. So as the firstborn, I must try and make a plan, but I don't know how?” – 14-year-old learner
"COVID-19 has become something very important in our lives. It is very dangerous, and I am depressed about this pandemic. None of my family members contracted the virus so far, and that makes me very relieved. My oldest sister lost her job and financially we are not coping so well. We have to ration our food and are struggling to make ends meet. This pandemic has changed our lives.” – 17-year-old learner
“I am worried about my future, what is going to happen with school and me finishing school, is there going to be a job for me? I had such big plans for my future and now everything feels like nothing. I do not want to sit at home doing nothing. I do not want to depend on my father who is already a sickly person. If he dies, what will become of me? There were many days we do/did not have food. We must share a plate of food amongst all or go to bed hungry. I had to do something to help, so I took all my pocket money I saved and bought sweets and chocolates to sell on the street. With the money I made, we could put some food on the table.” – 15-year-old learner.
What you can do for these young learners right now
The most pressing need throughout the country is for food. It is no different here in the Western Cape. In response to this, SIYP secured some funding which enabled us to provide food to the learners’ families on a bi-weekly basis: a small step towards assisting these families in need. SIYP further supports learners with transport fares, to enable parents to send their children to school with no further financial burden. In addition, three meals are provided to the learners whilst at school, consisting of breakfast, a sandwich at teatime and a cooked lunch.
But this is not all. “The psycho-social support we offer is of vital importance. The Learn to Live school has a full-time social worker on-site, tending to learners’ psycho-social welfare: she is definitely seeing signs of additional strain”, adds Fr Naughton. Consequently, the pandemic has revealed a need for additional support and funding to enable SIYP to provide a holistic solution to our vulnerable youth in need during these challenging times.
To this end, SIYP is seeking support in the form of donations, however big or small, that will assist a learner with food, learning materials and psycho-social support. As one of so many NGOs asking for such assistance, The Salesian Institute Youth Projects understands the overpowering need and the raft of requests currently prevalent in the media. “However, these young people were already living at the margins: the pandemic is relentlessly pushing them further to the edges of society. And so, we ask for your help. The Salesian Institute Youth Projects has been assisting youth in need since 1910 here in Cape Town. Since then we have focused 100% on providing the much-needed help our youth requires and our commitment to them will not falter as long as we have funding in place”, concludes Fr Naughton.
To assist SIYP in providing this much-needed support, please go to https://salesianyouth.org/donate-today/donate/