The journey of Amava Oluntu has been so colourful and vibrant. The organisation has been developing rather organically, moving at the speed of trust with those who want to be part of it. It’s been an incredible honour to get to know the people linked to this network and learn from each person, from their dreams, wisdom, and visions.
The history of Amava Oluntu is important as it builds the culture, values, and norms of the organisational ecosystem. It also clarifies the position in the greater context and helps us make sense of the now and future. That’s why we’d like to share how and why Amava emerged.
The people and places that formed the Amava Olutntu vision.
Amava Oluntu was founded in 2017 by Theresa, Yoliswa, Mzu and Calvin; they shared the vision of resilient communities in both urban and rural spaces, through acknowledging indigenous knowledge and informal learning as well as regenerative practices. During their trip to the Eastern Cape, which seems to have formed the stepping stone of Amava Oluntu, they shared their inspirations and motivations for something new that continues to burn brightly for those who are taking the work forward now. Here are some extracts:
Theresa Wigley in the Eastern Cape where the conception of Amava Oluntu emerged.
“How do we create learning systems? We have this huge richness of knowledge and diversity within our own social network. How do we offer that to each other, in spaces where we can all come together and learn from each other’s learning? […] One of my other big concerns in South Africa is the divide between rural and urban spaces. There is this incredible wealth of wisdom and resource in rural areas. And then a lot of the youth going off into the urban areas in search of this big dream that they generally don’t find, sometimes they do, and they gain incredible knowledge and skills. But then there’s often difficulty when those two meet again… so how do you create spaces where knowledge can flow healthily between urban and rural spaces where the youth can come and share the incredible knowledge they’ve learned? And the elders can share, the incredible wisdom that they still hold.
And everyone can respect each other instead of it being like “Oh, you think you’re better because you’ve been assuming that fancy techies are whatever”. So, how to create safe spaces where those two worlds can actually share the learnings with each other… I am sitting with the awareness that we have ideas, but often our ideas are very detached from reality. So, one of the other big reasons for this trip is purely just to be and listen and hear and meet people and fill the spaces. So that whatever we create to design is actually informed by reality, rather than the dream of what we think the reality is.” – Theresa
Yoliswa Mahobe, one of Amava’s directors, in the Eastern Cape.
“When I had my son in 2012, I was suddenly faced with the reality of what am I creating, what is my purpose? How am I creating a safe life for him? Because I was saying I’m practicing permaculture, but the way I live, what I eat, and all of that, it’s not really in line with what I’m saying. When I came to stay at home [in the Eastern Cape] for maternity leave, I was like, here it is. There is land. There are people here who love what I do and appreciate what I do.
In Cape Town, we want to do more gardens, but we can’t because there’s no space. So, I was asking myself why am I in Cape Town, struggling, whereas I’ve got this wonderful knowledge that I can share, that people need to hear. It’s like, you move to Cape Town from this beautiful land and then you go to stay in the township… So here we are. We are free and open to help with whatever needs to be done and to learn from the communities and from you. So that we can share this knowledge. There’s no need for people to be in Cape Town when people have that knowledge.” – Yoli
The incredible insight of a need for skills sharing across neighbourhoods and regions gave birth to Amava Oluntu’s existence: Sharing our wisdom can lead to sustainable livelihoods.
Amava is isiXhosa for experience, as in the
life wisdom and knowledge that one accumulates from birth
through every learning encounter along the way.
From parents, from grandparents, from ancestors.
From communities, from schools, from places of worship.
Oluntu means of the people.
Amava Oluntu’s more recent work
In 2018, Amava Oluntu became a Non-Profit Company (NPC) and Public Benefit Organisation (PBO). Although there was a lot of collective energy at the start, the organisational structure was still evolving and the work in the early years was more project-based. Although different projects were happening, the work was dependent on people’s availability.
In 2020, the group came together to re-ignite the vision and create a more intentional strategic plan for the organisation. A team was formed, financial systems and bookkeeping services were developed. This was just before COVID-19 hit and although Amava had just started to refine its organisational strategy and structure, the pandemic moved the organisation into response mode. This called for a more responsive way of working. Collaborating with participants of Vukuzenzele from Vrygrond, the team established community kitchens and got involved with a range of activities. It was an intense time. At the start of 2021, the team had the chance to pause and reflect on the year that had passed and began the process of looking ahead.
Amava Oluntu’s current work
Amava Oluntu prioritises working with individuals, with the belief that the impact on these individuals will ripple out and extend into their friends, families and communities. The focus is on learning and constructive communication – asking how we go beyond education to transformation, shifting the narrative from young people being job seekers, to job makers; to working with young people who may be considered unemployable, many of whom would otherwise not believe in themselves. Our theory of change emerged: Only if youth know how to express themselves and communicate constructively (and non-violently), they will feel equipped to respond to the challenges they are facing.
Amava Oluntu uses Participatory Video (PV) as the tool through which learning happens, essentially creating space for connection, communication skills development and ultimately creating learning hubs, not only in Cape Town but across the country. There is a focus on bridging the rural-urban divide, as well as encouraging inter-generational learning. The model encourages entrepreneurship in a few ways. Firstly, to explore ways of marketing skills and services via an online platform where youth can market themselves.
Participatory Video is one of Amava’s instruments to enable agency in the youth.
After three years of collaborating with youth and requesting multiple feedbacks, the following framework was developed which builds the foundation for all the activities happening through Amava Oluntu at the moment.
Networking and community connections are important elements as many youths have not been exposed to different life and work realities.
We are currently establishing the online shop and skills sharing platforms to link youth to more opportunities and well-being.
The organisation is currently seeking ways of not being bound to donor funding, but to generate some of its own funds to allow for the work to happen responsively, led by the needs of the young people and not by the deadlines set for donors.
Amava’s first networking event of 2022. An invigorating and constructive afternoon!