A GROUP of American students has helped the residents of Maitland Garden Village take the first tentative steps towards fixing problems experienced in their community.
Garden Village, a historically coloured suburb wedged between Pinelands and the Black River, is plagued by unemployment, poverty, drug abuse, housing issues and teenage pregnancy.
Residents have always had the desire to solve these issues, but have lacked the organisational skills, resources and time.
Now, thanks to students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a Massachusetts university, they have mapped out their path to a solution.
According to Sheila Galant, a community worker from the area, it involves all of the community workers being divided into nine groups and being tasked with issues such as poverty alleviation, providing children with wholesome entertainment and maintaining community health.
“The goal is to prevent the children from being on the road, to keep them away from drugs and alcohol addiction, and change their lifestyles at home.
“ The village is a very poor community and sometimes people go without food and electricity. So we’re just trying to help them with the way they live.”
The partnership between the group of students and the Garden Village community came about when another community worker from the area met the students’ professor, Scott Jiusto.
The students then met with the residents and conducted a study in the area to find out what the problems and strengths of the area were.
Together, the two groups then worked out how to solve the problems by using their strengths.
The nine groups they formed based on those strengths plan were supposed start programmes for dancing, music, awareness, gym, soccer, fund raising, gardening, health and drum majorettes.
However, the fundraising group is the only one which has started operating.
“At the moment we cannot proceed with everything we want to do because we don’t have a central venue and we need donations to start the projects,” said Galant.
“For the dance group, for instance, we need microphones and a music system and for the music group we need the musical instruments.”
The Worcester Polytechnic students’ presence in South Africa forms part of project that they have to complete before graduating.
According to Jiusto, associate professor at the university, Maitland Garden Village was the perfect area for the students to fulfil the aims of the project by helping a community.
“The educational goal is to provide students with an opportunity to work on a real world challenge with people from other cultures and other social contexts,” said Jiusto.
“We work mostly in informal settlements so I thought that it would be interesting to work in a formal settlement and to see what the problems experienced there are.
“ I also thought it would be interesting to work in a historically coloured area.”
The students arrived in South Africa on Thursday October 20 and left on Saturday December 17.
Anyone interested in assisting the residents of Garden Village can contact Sheila Galant on 081 318 7836.