Times of adversity often starkly highlight shortcomings and suffering in our societies, but they also bring into sharp focus their strengths. When COVID-19 reached South Africa and lockdown was announced, the reality hit home that millions of South Africans would be without work and income for an indefinite period. This in turn escalated the need for food relief and for communities to rally together to protect and assist their most vulnerable citizens.

In Prince Albert in the Karoo, the Prince Albert Community Trust (PACT) – like so many communities around the country – launched a feeding scheme, which is now in its 15th week. But where Prince Albert stands out is how the town’s youth have taken ownership of the endeavour.

Primarily a cultural and youth empowerment organization, PACT embarked on the scheme to meet the immediate need of the community. ‘We’ve never been a feeding programme but lockdown was coming, with no closing date, and all feeding programs had been stopped in the town. It’s always those who are helpless and without a voice that take the biggest knock, and they needed someone to stand up and be counted for them, to stand in the gap,’ says executive trustee Ingrid Wolfaardt.

So the organization kicked into gear, supported by the local community and businesses by way of supplies and financial aid. But on a human level, it’s been the town’s youth who have emerged as the real heroes of this period. Around 40 volunteers, some at-risk and vulnerable themselves, stepped forward to volunteer at the POP Centre – the base of operations for the COVID-19 feeding scheme. For PACT’s office manager and the man on the ground at the POP Centre, Naaim Briesies, the willingness of the young members of the community was a pleasant surprise. ‘A lot of responsibility comes with working here. I first thought that most of them might be coming out of boredom at home, but I soon realised that they were series about it. They have been punctual, committed and have shown servant leadership in this time,’ he comments.

The Hope Warriors, as they’ve been dubbed, are made up of local young ranging in age from 15 to 31, whose initiative and desire to give back have been integral in making the scheme the success that it’s been. ‘Adversity is the place where opportunity arises,’ says Ingrid. Nowhere is this clearer than in in Prince Albert where the youth have appointed themselves stocktakers, project managers and carers. From getting to know each young child coming for their daily meal, to running the system efficiently and with great pride, the Hope Warriors have risen to what has been a considerable challenge. They’ve set themselves apart by putting service to the community at the forefront. ‘I think what makes them unusual is the fact that they want to be givers and not receivers in this time,’ says Briesies.

This has led to PACT looking at ways in which to further foster the initiative and proactive spirit they’ve seen in the volunteers. Staying true to the spirit of the organization – which is all about improvising and staying agile, responding to needs as they arise with innovation and a collaborative spirit – the members realized the opportunity to cultivate and nurture the potential they saw. ‘We keep creative ideas bubbling all the time, a sharing back and forth on our platforms. Also watching best practices across the globe and asking ourselves how can this translate in Prince Albert? When someone wants to try something, we say do it before thinking. We allow all our creatives to contribute and feed into the system and we endorse each other and encourage,’ says Wolfaardt.

This sharing of ideas culminated in an internship programme, the first of which starts this month and runs until December. Six candidates were selected – all of whom were volunteers in the feeding scheme – and as part of the process, each individual’s aptitudes and interests were mapped out, so as to identify areas where PACT could support and guide them in this journey. ‘For each intern, we’ve mapped out a developmental path, and then looked at how PACT can come alongside them in terms of networking, skills development and training, so that we can foster these passions and put them onto a clear path forward, equipped and empowered after the internship,’ explains Wolfaardt.

PACT’s dedication to the youth of Prince Albert is about long-term sustainable growth – not quick fixes. The organization wants to develop young people’s potential in order to allow them to forge ahead with confidence, and in turn give back to their communities. Briesies believes great things will come of this programme. ‘I hope that that the interns will discover their true selves. We very much want them to rise and to be ambassadors of the values that we want to see within our community. Moreover, I hope that they will have the courage to chase their dreams and become what they aspire to become and put the skills gained throughout this internship to practice,’ he says.

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