ICON Director Leads Environmental Course

32 young environmentalists took part in a three day course held by the Durban Branch of WESSA, from 29 April to 1 May, 2012. The course aimed to develop a network of young leaders who are both well informed and committed a healthy environment. Crispin Hemson, ICON Director, also chairs the branch and led the course.The course focused on three areas in particular: Pigeon Valley Nature Reserve, the built environment, including Durban’s Priority Zone, and the Beachwood Mangroves and Lower Umngeni River. The response to the course was overwhelming, and applicants had to be turned away. There was a very diverse group of young people from ages 15 to 25, from both urban and rural backgrounds. Attendance was consistent and each session elicited keen interest.

At the end of the course, a thorough evaluation, led by the participants, indicated that they had learnt a great deal, but wanted more time at each venue and a stronger emphasis on teamwork. It became clear that simply learning to use the diversity of the whole group is an important challenge for environmental groups. The sessions that had focused on communication across the group, and building a sense of connection with the natural environment, were particularly appreciated.

From here on, the intention is to run a similar course for those who were not able to enter the course, and then to hold a follow-up course for both groups together.

Other members of the WESSA team were Sbo Mkhize, Jenny Duvenage, Margaret Burger, Chen Read, Wendy Groom, Heidi Cox and Stella Martin.

Crispin Hemson said, ‘We have been highly impressed by the resourcefulness and commitment of the participants. Our task is to build a new generation of environmental leadership, who have an ethic of care and an understanding of how nonviolence amongst people relates to the care of the environment.

Peace-building with Student Leaders

An innovative course for student leadership at Durban University of Technology was held jointly by ICON, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Conflicts (ACCORD), DUT and the DUT SRC. From the outset, the emphasis was on how leadership can be used for constructive purposes.

32 student leaders, including the whole DUT SRC, leaders in clubs and societies and international students attended the course at Koinonia, Botha’s Hill, for three days in March 2012. The course worked with the students’ own experience of leadership, but also presented a panel with the experience of more established leaders, including Professor Bawa, Vice-Chancellor of DUT, Sandile Zungu, Secretary of the Black Business Council, Dr Pholoho Morojele and Fisani Shabalala, educationists with a history of involvement in SRC politics.

Enthusiastic participants.

From comments made in the course and on evaluation forms, it became clear how few resources have been put into the development of student leaders. One simple issue was the need to keep good records of decisions. At a deeper level, there was a strong emphasis on the ethical issues around leadership, with frustration over the dominance of sectional interests.The session on peace-building included role plays in which students at times struggled to overcome the tendency to foster unhelpful conflict. To some extent, we have a style of conflict for the sake of conflict, which limits the flexibility of leadership on SRCs. Despite this, there was a strong sense of creativity and enthusiasm in the group.

This course is the first in a planned ongoing series for student leadership. Professor Jairam Reddy, chairperson of the DUT Council, has driven the initiative and was a presenter at the course. The intention is to develop a broader Leadership Initiative for different sectors, but also to continue with the specific focus on student leadership for DUT and other universities in the region. It is planned to link up with student leaders in such areas as North Africa where revitalised democracies are throwing up new challenges for students.

Sandile Zungu, Ahmed Bawa, Crispin Hemson and Andile Dayi (SRC Deputy Secretary, DUT).

Nonviolence in the DUT Curricula

The Memorandum of Agreement between DUT and ICON envisages the ‘mainstreaming of nonviolence into curricula’. What this might mean is being addressed through ICON’s involvement in the general education work at DUT. General education is to form 30% of all curricula at DUT. Some of this work will take place within existing courses, while there will also be new modules that will open technically-oriented students to broader questions of society and learning. ICON is leading the development of two such modules, Marginality and difference, and Conflict, violence and nonviolence.

The approach taken by ICON will be student-centred. ‘There is a richness of experience in the lives of DUT students that often contrasts with the difficulties of their educational experiences,’ said Crispin Hemson, ICON Director. ‘We want to help students make connections between their own experience and theory that will offer them a way of using that experience in new and positive ways.’

Part of the purpose of these modules will be to develop skills in interaction that will bridge difference and enable the resolution of conflict in ways that strengthen democracy.

More information on the General Education programme at DUT can be found at http://geneddut.wordpress.com/

Collaboration with the Community Development Association Resumes

ICON will again be working on two projects with the CDA on the Edgewood campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. This arises from a long collaboration with Thabo Msibi, founder of CDA. The work will take the form of two projects:1) The Peer Support Structure Programme. ICON and student teachers at Edgewood who will take on the role of facilitators,, will work with young people from five disadvantaged schools in the Pinetown area, as well as with a teacher from each school, on developing them as peer counsellors. The focus will be in part on HIV/AIDS, though the skills taught will be more general. Often the issues related to HIV are not directly to do with the disease, and more to do with poverty, stigma, and gender inequality. The project will start in May 2012.

2) The Safe Schools Project. Members of the CDA at Edgewood are student teachers who go into schools at present for teaching practice, and who will teach in schools, some of which have very challenging levels of violence. The project aims to equip them as leaders in tackling conflict and violence within schools. It also aims to use this project to develop a course on combatting school violence for teacher education programmes at universities in South Africa. The project will start in August 2012.