Preventing deafness: Hearing tests by Amandla in Philippi identified potential deafness in six children recently. The NGO offers other healthcare services to the community. Picture: JUSTINE SWART
Preventing deafness: Hearing tests by Amandla in Philippi identified potential deafness in six children recently. The NGO offers other healthcare services to the community. Picture: JUSTINE SWART

The Amandla Development programme in Philippi, Cape Town, was founded by Scott Clarke, an American born of immigrant parents. Clarke graduated from Yale University and attributes his success to the support he received from his community and church.

After graduation he began to pay his success forward into the lives of children in poor communities. "The inequities in the system make it extremely likely that a child born in a poor area, going to a poor school and not having access to a breadth of services, probably ends up staying in that area, not going to university and never making it beyond a certain income bracket," Clarke says.

His ancestors were South African and in 2008 he moved to Cape Town to start Amandla Development, an NGO registered in SA and the US. He works in Philippi, a community that earlier in 2018 was a flashpoint for service delivery protests. He wants to help residents help themselves, instead of waiting for the government to provide.

"I wish poverty did not have a colour, as it distinctly does in SA. The fact that we are willing to talk about it and deal with it explicitly sets SA apart from many countries that pretend that it is not there," says Clarke.

"There are opportunities here to develop a sustainable and scalable means of mitigating poverty’s impact on a child’s ability to learn."

Amandla’s focus is on ensuring that every child is fully supported from cradle to career, so they can complete their schooling and become employable and active citizens.

The NGO’s reach has grown exponentially to about 20% of the 25,000 schoolchildren in Philippi.

"Philippi resembles a lot of communities. It has the final remaining horticultural land in the metro. It is very transient with many Xhosa-speaking people coming in and out from Eastern Cape," Clarke explains.

"The obstacles of poverty — such as health, hunger and safety — get in the way of learning. One of the clearest ways we see all of these issues manifesting is in a high drop-out rate, with only two out of every 10 Philippi children making it to tertiary education level. Only a fraction of youth from this community is able to become economically active and earn a living wage."

Amandla’s holistic development strategy is based on a "shared measures" system which collects and disseminates information on multiple levels, efficiently linking supply with demand. Surveys, report cards and other data expose learners’ needs.

An organisational framework, the Philippi Collective Network comprising 150 diverse stakeholders, shares the assets and services available to the community.

An online platform is being developed to assist with communication between the government, the community and service providers. "It is a dashboard offering a glance of the community from many important indices such as literacy levels, demographics and education. The data provides an evidence base for projects and collaborations."

In 2018 Amandla and the Yale Alumni Service Corps, a volunteer organisation promoting sustainable development, held a week-long event providing health, business, innovation and arts activities. Residents were taught coding and journalism clubs were established. During the week 20 bookshelves were constructed and crammed with donated books.

The week-long programme’s pioneering effect was in the schools health project. With the support of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the University of Cape Town, 1,500 children were screened for hearing. This was 10 times more than Amandla achieved in 2017 with the Western Cape education department. The potential for deafness was diagnosed in six children and they were assisted.

The screenings were conducted by Dr Zach Porterfield, a clinical fellow in infectious diseases at Yale. He has been travelling to SA for 17 years to research and treat chronic ear infections in rural areas, and to support training for women in medicine.

The data was collected and collated on 12 laptops donated by a US volunteer. They have been handed to other projects in the community.

Amandla illustrates how NGOs are at the forefront of bottom-up development and are best positioned to catalyse improvements in education quality and equity.

"These initiatives are only sustainable if they reach policy level and government clinics carry them forward," says Clarke. "There is a school health policy that mandates that all of these children are screened for hearing, vision and deworming at each phase of their schooling. But there are so few physicians allocated to do that, so it does not get done.

"We regard ourselves as a laboratory where we can demonstrate, with the help of NGOs and community, how more can be done. The burden does not have to be only on the government. Partnerships with NGOs in communities can help reach way more children."

Philippi has growing resources. The Solution Space was the first community campus established by the University of Cape Town in 2014. It has extended into the Philippi Village Campus, a new mixed-use entrepreneurial development zone. Amandla’s events and activities take place in the youth-friendly space, a custom-built site active throughout the year with afterschool activities such as dance classes, karate, arts and women’s health projects.

The Inyanda Youth Network has built a sound-recording studio on site, teaching young people sound engineering and recording original music with a long-term view to help them start a business.

Amandla board member Tamburai Chirume mentors women in her programme, The Business of Creative Entrepreneurship.

Amandla Development is bringing together the resources needed to support "cradle to career" development.

Philippi’s youth are being supported to complete their schooling and become employable and active citizens.