“And so, we celebrate what it means to be in community – in a world where disconnection and disenchantment is rife. We celebrate this breath and the next; we celebrate the proactive energy of the collective, the kindness economy where the currency is love.”
These powerful sentiments were taken from a co-written poem orated in a mini documentary produced by University of Cape Town (UCT) master’s student Diana Ocholla. The mini documentary formed part of her research and focused on a Community Action Network (CAN) in Woodstock, and its efforts to assist residents in need since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, at the onset of the hard lockdown in South Africa, CANs sprouted across the country. Initiatives such as soup kitchens, clothing donation drives, and mask-making start-ups provided much-needed aid to those most impacted by the effects of the shutdown.
Ocholla, a Woodstock resident who is completing her MPhil in Inclusive Innovation at the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB), was inspired to seek answers to multiple questions. She engaged in participatory research with several CAN members in the area to co-create the mini documentary. She asked them about their involvement and experience in community-led initiatives, and about the power of community mobilisation in a time of need. The video was screened at the GoDriveIn Movie and Roadhouse in Salt River, and the Bertha House in Mowbray on 14 and 15 October respectively.
“Those behind community-driven initiatives, who responded to the enormous need of our people, were some of the heroes of this time.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic will forever be etched into the world’s collective memory as a defining event of our generation. In South Africa, those behind the community-driven initiatives, who responded to the enormous need of our people, were some of the heroes of this time. I felt that it was absolutely necessary to capture their contribution,” Ocholla said.
From April to October 2021, participants engaged in Zoom workshops, and in-depth semi-structured interviews to creatively communicate their individual involvement. By using video as the primary storytelling means, it offered viewers direct insight into each CAN member’s perspective in a unique and innovative way. It was at the first screening that Ocholla met participants ‘offline’ for the first time.
“By remotely co-creating a video to commemorate and document experiences of a community-driven pandemic response, we explore the potential of social change,” she said. “The community controls the narrative of their lived experiences and memories during this time, and then share it with diverse audiences. I can’t help but wonder what the impact of this video will be.”
As a resident of Woodstock, Ocholla said the pandemic revealed the true spirit of ubuntu among residents, who often went above and beyond to support those in need.
And participants agreed. Sharing some of their stories, which included how community members rallied together to cook and distribute food; sewed masks; and provided outdoor interfaith prayer groups, proved to be a cathartic process.
“Connecting with my community and amplifying and sharing their incredibly inspiring work has opened my eyes to so many things. I hope that with this video, others in South Africa and potentially internationally, will learn from this very unique community response,” she said.
Lest we forget
With the uptake in COVID-19 vaccine access in South Africa, the country has slowly started picking up the pieces.
“I hope that this work will serve as a reminder of what we can achieve when we work together for the common good and benefit of our people.”
In years to come, Ocholla said she hopes that her mini documentary will serve as a reminder of the pandemic’s devastation, and the collective effort on the part of community members and civil society to weather one of the toughest storms in recent history. She said she hopes it would also serve as a blueprint for future crises and how to better respond.
“We cannot forget where we come from. Though we’ve made giant strides, I hope that this work will serve as a reminder of what we can achieve when we work together for the common good and benefit of our people,” she said.
Ocholla presented her work at the 2020 Build Peace global conference and the Creativity During Lockdown Symposium.
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