A local church and CAN partnership activates and serves communities in Kenilworth and Manenberg during COVID-19 crisis
“We were shocked at how many people within the Kenilworth community were suddenly hungry – the hidden hunger and vulnerability of people living in this suburb,” says Maurietta Stewart, co-facilitator of the Kenilworth Community Action Network (CAN) that kicked into action as COVID-19 was beginning to impact South Africa in March.
In the beginning there was a slow response of needs from the direct community, and the team acknowledged that the need in lower-income communities would be greater. Maurietta tapped into existing relationships and the team of volunteers quickly started organising donations to the Manenberg Stakeholder Group via Jonathan Jansen, an activist and community developer living and working on the Cape Flats. People who wanted to ease the suffering of people in Manenberg impacted by the lock-down, donated to the Kenilworth/Manenberg partnership in support of the micro-sites model already set up in the community ensuring there were no long queues putting people at higher risk.
It was not long before the needs of people in Kenilworth emerged and the ‘hidden hunger’ of vulnerable people who live paycheck to paycheck, or working in industries that were shut down, such as UBER, became more obvious. “We were actually quite overwhelmed,’ says Maurietta, “As needs began emerging and the desperation of people became clearer.”
The Kenilworth CAN started by encouraging people to buy food vouchers for people, something that the team felt was a more dignified response as they could then purchase whatever they wanted and needed, as opposed to getting a food parcel. “But as time went on we realised we could get a lot more for our money if we purchased in bulk, and basically, many more families could get food that way, but we could only do so if we had more volunteers.” Maurietta explains.
Then the local church, Christ Church, contacted the Kenilworth CAN wanting to respond to the needs in the area. These women from the church, who have banded together to serve vulnerable people long before this crisis, teamed up with the Kenilworth CAN to explore the best ways to help in this time. Whilst this process took some time as the communal response was decided upon, it was agreed that what the CAN needed was volunteers and physical space to do food parcel packing and coordinated delivery. And the church had both. “Volunteers from the church and people in the area who found us on Facebook were raring to go,” says Maurietta, “And a few ladies formed a sub-team including drivers, volunteers from the church and community, who would deliver the food parcels to the families in need.” This could also foster growing relationship between the volunteer drivers and the families in need of support during this time. Some of the food parcel recipients offered to be part of the delivery teams, as they had cars but no income for petrol.
The local church opened one of its buildings up to be used as a drop-off site for goods and a packing centre, which meant it is easy to both deliver any time on a Wednesday and Saturday, but also there is plenty of space for the goods to be stored and packed. “The church opening up its space took a huge burden off our shoulders,” says Maurietta, “And allowed us to improve what we were doing.”
Also, the existing systems that the church had in place, and teams already committed to serving and partnering, made it a quick and relatively easy process compared to starting something from scratch in a time of crisis. The team also found consultative support that was so helpful, especially in the start-up phase, from The Warehouse which is committed to seeing churches use their space well to tackle spatial injustice and to serve vulnerable parts of our collective community.
There are 160 families living within the Kenilworth area who are currently in the process of receiving food relief. “It has been quite amazing to see how people check in and say they no longer need help, when services like UBER were back in action, whilst the need for many continues to grow with the number of families needing support,” explains Maurietta.
Another aspect of the Kenilworth CAN’s work, over and above the food relief to both residents in Manenberg and Kenilworth, involves education packs for children. They partner with OUTLIERS to print educational material for schoolchildren in Manenberg. The CAN also organised the making and donation of masks to communities.
Financial systems were required for this entire initiative. An online collaborative giving platform, Common Change, made things easier for this group, and many others across the city. The technology of Common Change created an online space for collective decision making of a team made up of CAN facilitators, volunteers and activists living in the areas being served. Teams vote online before actions are taken, meaning the money moves quickly to where it is most needed with collective wisdom and knowledge.
Common Change also facilitates weekly reporting on what money is spent on. “This has helped with collaborative decision making that is wise and just, not based on what a few people think is best for another community, and it has also helped with reporting and accountability,” Maurietta explains.
“What Manya van Ryneveld and I did not realise, when we kicked this into action, was how exhausting and draining it would be, as we also continued with our full-time work and family responsibilities,” says Maurietta, who manages the 90-member strong CAN group with Manya and the rest of the core team. But what the group has seen is an incredible groundswell of support and volunteer help in the last few weeks – ranging from a local film maker creating clips to mobilise and inform, and two university students serving with visual marketing, newsletters and other online work.
Kenilworth CAN has experienced a wonderful resurgence of fresh energy just when they needed it and there are more hands on deck now than before.
“We are also committed to mutual learning,” says Maurietta, “And Cape Town Together is hosting online learning spaces where activists and leaders from different partnerships, like Manenberg and members of the Kenilworth CAN, will explore how we can learn from each other.”
One example of this is learning from the Manenberg community who responded at lightning speed to this crisis and self organised in a way that is yet to be seen in the suburb community.
“We need to learn from that community, and how quickly they self organised so many micro-sites and what drives the energy to do so much with so little, so quickly,” says Maurietta.
If you would like to take part in a shared-learning session in which Jonathan Jansen will be one of those we learn from, sign up here.
If you would like to be involved with the Kenilworth CAN in any way, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/cankenilworth/. If you are in the Cape Metro area, you can also join a CAN in your own neighbourhood.
If you would like to be involved in Christ Church Kenilworth’s response in any way, please contact Christ Church on email@example.com.
*Common Change is an online collaborative giving platform. They desire to nurture a culture of generosity, sharing, and collaborative decision-making in South Africa. Find out more about them here. https://www.commonchange.com/ccsa/
*Outliers is committed to supporting after-school programmes. Find out more about Outliers here http://www.outliers.org.za/
*Cape Town Together Community Action Network groups sprung up throughout the city ten days before lockdown when a group of public health folks, community organisers and social activists from across the city came together to work out how to kick-start a rapid community led response to COVID-19. Find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CapeTownTogether/