Six hundred applicants from across Africa and the world, only 25 spots. These applicants were hoping to be selected for the first MenEngage Africa Training Initiative (MATI) course, held in Cape Town. Each MATI application outlined a ‘Project for Change’ that engages men or boys for change, complete with activities and a timeline.
Candidates selected displayed a combination of an excellent project and outstanding leadership qualities. The projects were as varied as the candidates. I sat down with a few of them to get a little more insight into their projects and how the course affected both the projects and the participants. They were so interesting and each participant’s story so rich that only one could be included here.
By Londi Gamedze, Sonke Gender Justice Network, South Africa
(For further details on the MATI course, please see the article ‘First MenEngage Africa Training Initiative Course a Success!’)
Ons Plek, Ons Stem: Digital Stories for Creative expression
Angelo Fortuin works at the Gender Equity Unit (GEU), based at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in Cape Town, South Africa, with a specific focus on its student programmes. One of the student programmes is the GEU’s Mentoring Programme which implements a range of projects and activities that link primary and secondary school learners (mentees) to UWC students (mentors).
The project, Ons Plek, Ons Stem, meaning “Our place, our voice” will give primary and secondary school boys a platform for new and alternative ways of expressing themselves in a non-competitive way. Mentors will work with the learners to create digital stories – personal narratives in video form. The stories use a combination of narrative, crafted and spoken by the story’s creator, still images, video footage, and music. For many of these boys it will be their first time using video editing software and making their very own film.
Both boys and girls are included in the greater GEU mentoring programme, which is somewhat rare in gender transformation work. In fact, while the MATI course stressed the high potential for gender transformation by synchronising work that has traditionally been done with men and women separately, the GEU’s work has long been gender synchronized. I asked Angelo why he decided to do this particular project, and why this one would be implemented just with boys.
Boys have a lot to express
“Well, we feel that expression is one of most important things in the mentoring programme. For some, these sessions are the only times when mentees have substantial communication happening, when their voices are heard. So we are always encouraging expression. In the group of mentees it’s usually the boys who are less likely to communicate openly, and there are numerous factors for this. But, we do know that they have a lot to express and we are always looking for the key. We feel this project would allow for that access and for them to express themselves creatively, also, to reinforce that expression is important,” said Angelo.
The project will take place in Springbok Place, Cape Town. It will give the boys an opportunity to document their lived experiences, which is affirmation that their experiences are important. It also provides an opportunity for them to see how they view their own community and for them to reflect on their environment.
Angelo felt that it was time for the GEU to increase its work focusing on boys.
“I applied for the MATI course because of my interest in engaging men and boys, and I started feeling at the GEU that we needed a bit more information and knowhow in terms of what other organisations are doing to engage men and boys. I wanted to learn more about engaging with men and boys in a gender equitable way. The knowledge I have gained on this course can be used not just for this project but the other projects we have within the mentoring programme – this would be a pilot.”
“At GEU, you often hear women’s perspectives, and you don’t hear a lot about the male voices. It’s understandable, but it’s interesting to hear this perspective, and I learned a lot. One quote I particularly liked was this: ‘Some men are part of the problem – all men are part of the solution.’”
The GEU tries to be inclusive of everyone, and one of the biennial activities is a camp at the Hottentots’ Holland Nature Reserve in South Africa’s beautiful Western Cape Province. At this camp there is the Palmiet trail – one of the only nature trails in the province that is accessible for people with disabilities. The school learners and mentors, in partnership with Cape Nature, maintain the trail on their annual excursions. The partnership began in 2008 when GEU went to the trail with some blind students who assessed the state of the Braille on the trail signs. The signs were in poor condition and only partially legible. The students also assessed the trail’s accessibility railings, which were damaged. Since that year they have returned to the trail with a mixed group of school learners to have fun, learn about various disabilities and get some exercise outdoors.
Angelo thanked his colleagues at GEU for the support they gave him during the MATI course and for their commitment to his project for change.