Coping with Covid: A view from Johannesburg



As the global pandemic continues to affect children worldwide, our teams have been finding new ways to connect with our students. In this post, we catch up with Enos, an Educator in Skateistan South Africa. Enos reflects on how the pandemic is affecting both students and staff, where the challenges remain and what the team has been able to overcome.


We went into lockdown in mid-March. It’s hard to remember exactly because it feels so long ago. Everyone has been affected. Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s especially bad for people who are daily wage earners - they need to make money today to feed their families tomorrow and they can’t just wait and ride out a lockdown like some people can. When people get laid off, they often relocate and that’s hard for the children who won’t be able to come to Skateistan anymore. 


I usually work in our Dropping In center, where students can come and get help with homework, use computers, take part in various activities like games. I try to make sure that every kid can be catered for as well as making sure that they can enjoy the space - at the end of the day they are kids and they need to play games, have fun. We dash and sprinkle a little bit of fun now and then.


Before the lockdown: Enos in the Dropping In center at the Skate School

Since the lockdown started, our programs have been suspended at the Skate School but we’ve been doing everything we can to reach our students. Mostly that means connecting to their parents via whatsapp, sending activities for students to do. Parents then send us pictures of what the kids have done. They’ve done a lot of craft activities at home - using old stuff to make piggy banks, pencil jars, that sort of thing. They’ve also done a lot of imaginative work - thinking about the future Johannesburg and what that should look like. Our students are so creative so we’ve been trying to set activities that will stretch their minds and imaginations. One challenge is that it’s almost always through their parents and most people have to still work. So kids don’t get their activities until the evening when their parents get home from work. But we are used to the rhythm now and we’re making it work.

Activities from home: Piggy bank made by a student in South Africa

For some kids, they don’t have access to a smartphone so we always have to think about the more disadvantaged ones too. For many of those families, affording food is a big issue so we have organized distribution of fresh produce, nutritional porridge and also sanitary items for the girls. 


I live in a flat in a building where lots of our students live. Some of them do come up to me and ask questions - I always encourage them to keep the safe distance. They want to talk! They want to share their concerns and they want to be a part of the future. You can tell that they are really missing that personal interaction. Nothing can replace that, especially for kids. 


Community response: Food distribution at the Skate School

For me it’s been stressful at times. No-one knows what the future holds and whilever the Skate School is closed to students, staff will worry about their own future too. It’s good that we have had assurances about our jobs from Skateistan. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy - connecting with friends, skating when we’re allowed to. Otherwise stress and depression can creep in for anyone. I’m studying theology, working, hanging out with my roommate. I get through, day to day! 


When the skate school reopens, the most important thing will be to listen to the kids’ concerns. They haven’t seen their friends for months, they haven’t had a safe space where they can interact, express themselves and so on and we will need to check in with their mental health. And we also need to do this for educators and other staff - everyone will need time and support to adjust and to process what has happened. Some of our programs are designed to help children cope with stress - things like relaxation techniques, conflict management and so on - we will need to prioritize these lessons at first. 


As to the future - it will be very important that staff from all locations are consulted in terms of the solutions for coming out of this - we have to give everyone the space to be creative, to innovate and to come up with solutions for managing this time. Everyone has been quick to adapt and to try new things and we should hold on to that. Our students should also be part of how we run Skateistan in the future. We have always tried to keep them at the center of our programing - they have so many ideas on how we can improve things and I hope their voices can be even more central as we move on after this.


The pandemic has raised significant challenges for all our locations, but we have continued to run programs, contact students and families and provide support within our communities. If you are financially able to do so, please consider making a donation today to ensure we can keep supporting our 2,500 students worldwide. 


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