Background Research and Preparation

(Baker, et. al., 2011)

Prior to arriving on site in Maitland Garden Village, our team spent seven weeks working together to research and better understand the necessary topics and concepts that we felt would be necessary for the progression of our project. Looking at such concepts as asset-based community development, working with other cultures, management, funding, and successful examples, our team put together the necessary background research for the project as it was at the time. While attempting to better understand the project at hand, the team was also able to make connections with our sponsors and the previous year’s team that established the first connections within MGV. After obtaining background research and creating a base of knowledge for the project, the team ended the preparation term with the following information.



The goal of this project is to create a vision and develop a plan for a community Help Centre in Maitland Garden Village, South Africa, that would provide community members with a variety of resources pertaining to areas such as health education, community engagement, and risk management. Ideally, the community centre would also serve as a venue for Green Light Project programmes that promote self-expression and skills development. By adopting the approaches of asset-based community development and shared action learning, we strive to work together with the community while harnessing their unique local knowledge, diverse talents, and current resources to strengthen MGV from the “bottom-up” to ultimately foster self-reliance and prevent dependency on outside organisations.



Once in MGV, we will partner with our sponsor, the Maitland Garden Village Green Light Project. Founded in 2011 with the help of last year’s WPI team, the Green Light Project and its nine respective committees are supported by several community leaders. Among these community leaders are our two co-researchers, Ronell Trout and Sheila Galant. Strong, committed pioneers and excellent networkers in their local context, these two women will be key social actors in our project work, serving as liaisons between our group and the community while encouraging stronger relationships among community members themselves as well as with other potential stakeholders. As current key supervisors of the Green Light Project, Ronell and Sheila could also be future major organisers and overseers of the MGV Help Centre. For more on our sponsor click here.


Current Project Status:

As of October 11th, 2012, our team has completed the seven-week preparatory phase of the project. During this phase, we have completed and compiled extensive background research relating to themes necessary in implementing and running a community centre and community based organization. Upon arrival on site in MGV on October 22nd, we will partner with the Maitland Garden Village Green Light Project to continue and develop our project together. For more detailed information on our background research click here.

Global Context:

In disadvantaged communities around the world, there exist a variety of economic and social challenges that hinder community cohesion and advancement. Particularly for South Africa, the basis for current community development limitations are embedded in the unique history of the nation. During the era of racial discrimination known as Apartheid from 1948-1994, the oppressive government stripped non-whites of their political, economic, and legal rights and forced many out of their homes. With the fall of Apartheid, millions of job-seeking South Africans began to migrate to the city. Unsuccessful in finding work and unable to afford formal housing, they have squatted on government land or built shacks in the backyards of those living in formal townships. Because of the overwhelming number of people living in insecure accommodations throughout the country, the South African government is currently unable to provide basic resources to all communities. Such communities struggle to manage local assets to provide for themselves and therefore live in sub-standard conditions and face challenges related to personal and community growth.


Local Context:

Although poor living conditions and lack of skill development are especially prevalent in South African informal settlements, these challenges are met by formal settlements as well. One such formal settlement is Maitland Garden Village, a small urban coloured community located in the Pinelands region on the outskirts of Cape Town. Founded in 1922, Maitland Garden Village (MGV) is home to about 1,600 people, including backyard tenants, those who reside in shacks in the backyards of residents. MGV currently experiences problems common to South Africa’s historically disadvantaged communities, including high unemployment, geographic and social isolation, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, and idle youth (Baker et al., 2011). Despite these challenges, MGV is a lively community with vibrant community members who possess a variety of talents. Moreover, unlike other communities in similar situations who commonly fall victim to selfish, unfaithful practices to get ahead of fellow community members, MGV is a unique community in that it is very united and supportive, thus having a very low crime rate. This rare close-knit nature of MGV dates back to 1964, when the government attempted to relocate the villagers under the Group Areas Act. In response, the community banded together and, unlike the majority of oppressed communities, persuaded the government to allow them to stay (Baker et. al., 2011). According to the WPI team who worked in MGV last year in 2011, the lack of skill development in MGV is due to the unavailability of resources including funding, equipment, and facilities. Since the majority of MGV residents are either unemployed and/or living in poverty, the community is not financially able to create after-school extracurricular programmes for youth, so the children are more likely to submit to destructive behavior.


Past Initiatives:

In the past, there have been successful community development projects in MGV and other regions of South Africa. Last year in 2011, a WPI project team worked in MGV for the first time in Cape Town Project Centre history to strengthen the community by using the approach of asset-based community development. By utilizing the strengths of the MGV community, the group teamed up with community members and created the Green Light Project, a community-based programme consisting of nine committees, including music, dance, gardening, and fundraising. Because of essential community and co-researcher involvement and interest, local leaders of the Green Light Project have sustained the effort after the departure of the WPI team. Elsewhere in South Africa, small-scale non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have used similar asset-based strategies while working with grassroots community-based organisations (CBOs) that lack proper resources to effectively fund and manage a sustainable programme. In addition to providing small grants, these NGOs offer guidance in local fundraising and organising, resulting in stronger, more self-sufficient communities. On a continental scale, both Uganda and Kenya have established successful community resource centres based on local support and donations while involving minimal outside help. For more on past initiatives click here.


What’s Missing?

The establishment of the Green Light Project proved to be a great successful starting point in strengthening the MGV community. However, there are opportunities to build off of this foundation and take the next step in developing a more involved, skilled, and self-reliant community. Currently without a venue, community members, especially children, don’t have a tangible outlet for exploring and developing their talents. Therefore, it is necessary once on site to explore building options for the centre. Several challenges come with initially finding as well as sustaining this potential centre, including those regarding funding and management. At the heart of these obstacles lies the lack of communication and support among the community and municipality of MGV (Galant). In order to establish a community centre, finding a middle ground between the two parties is needed. Alternatively, there could be successful approaches involving minimal government intervention by exploring the possibility of alternative funding and networking methods that could potentially work in such a small, unified community, such as a local community exchange system (LETS).


Moving Forward:

The purpose of this project is to work with the MGV Green Light Project to create a plan for establishing a community self-help centre in MGV that would serve as a safe haven for community members, where people can go to get information and support for dealing with personal problems as well as participate in enriching programs and events. In essence, the Centre would serve as a vehicle to promote self-help, self-expression and self-development. To work toward this goal, we have developed the following objectives:

  1. Identify various stakeholders including community members, NGOs, and government agencies, and begin making positive connections.
  2. Working with the stakeholders above, access various venue options based upon the assets and needs of the community (in particular the Green Light Project).
  3. Learn about the numerous finance and fundraising options available and evaluate the feasibility of each.
  4. Working with the stakeholders and the community at large, develop a sustainable management model.
  5. Make the vision of the Help Centre more concrete by creating a design plan and potentially begin the process of building or renovating.
  6. Create a working approach which makes all the above objectives possible with community involvement and a shared learning experience.

Starting to move these objectives forward, we have created brief planning pages that can be viewed click here

To read about a few ethical considerations taken for our project, click here!

The go back to our team page, click here!