January and February have been extremely busy and exhausting months, but these have been filled with excitement for FunDza staff who’ve been facilitating the Writing a Good Essay workshop in schools, colleges, NGOs and libraries all around Cape Town. We’ve travelled to Mitchells Plain, Langa, Ottery, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Masiphumelele, Imizamo Yethu and Salt River, running the workshops with a broad range of participants. We’ve hosted fifteen workshops since the beginning of the year, reaching more than 300 learners from grade 7 to 12. We’re proud of this achievement and of the FunDza facilitators who made it happen.

The Writing a Good Essay workshop is carefully planned, with relevant content, a practical resource booklet, and a concise programme of activities. But no workshop is ever the same as the different sets of learners breathe new life into the one hour thirty minute session with their creativity, excitement and fun. The major exercise/outcome of the workshop is the writing of a group essay entitled “Travelling by Taxi”. This topic never grows dull as the learners have so many anecdotes, opinions and ideas. Most frequently, riding by taxi is their daily lived experience.

While it has been so exciting running all these workshops with the different sets of learners, there have been some challenges.

The main one that we’ve noted this year has been the timing of the workshops. A number of the workshops have been run with afterschool programmes. These generally take place in the afternoon, when learners are tired. Thus, it is much harder to get the natural enthusiasm with these learners. So, we’re planning to include more energisers and word games for these afternoon sessions.

Another idea from a FunDza facilitator was to run a shorter version of the workshop in the afternoon. So, we’re also looking at what could be cut without losing important elements and the full benefit of the workshop.

We also discovered how important having the ‘right’ space for a workshop is too. Making use of school halls or other big rooms with no desks and only chairs is extremely challenging. In this big spaces, the facilitator has to speak so loudly, and can’t connect as easily with the learners. Spaces that don’t have desks make it hard and uncomfortable for learners to write.

But, despite these challenges, we can see that the workshops offer a great experience for the learners and for the facilitators, many of whom have been newly trained as co-facilitators.

Ndibulele, who has been facilitating this workshop since 2016, said that the workshop remains exciting for him. “It’s always a unique experience as each group is different.”

While Alonzo, one of the newly-trained facilitators, said that he appreciates the fact that he was paired with an experienced facilitator but was given the opportunity to facilitate instead of just observing. He’s grown a lot from the experience. Connor, our newest intern, who has been trained to co-facilitate the workshop, was excited to have the opportunity to do this at his former high school.

And, Lukhanyo, said that he was enjoying the workshops to the fullest. “I have experience in tutoring but not in facilitating a workshop. Most groups are passive at the beginning of the workshop but towards the end they become active. I’ve noticed out of all the exercises we do with them they enjoy the last one the most (the group essay about travelling by taxi). This is a topic that they all can relate to!”

Judging from the feedback from all of FunDza’s facilitators, they have taken the workshop full on, they’ve embraced it and made it their own. Ndibulele Sotondoshe, in closing, had the following to say, “We continue to learn more from these group of amazing pupils more than we’re teaching them – and here’s to many more sessions!”

In that spirit, we’re hoping to bring this ‘Writing a Good Essay’ workshop to many more schools, organisations and young people in the future. Please do get in touch with Nandi Tshabane if you would like one for your school, organisation, community or to find out more about the programme: nandi@fundza.co.za.