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South African NPO Displays Exceptional Agility In Meeting Challenges Of Pandemic

The Tomorrow Trust moved quickly to adapt its learner programmes to remote learning requirements and ensure children were provided psychosocial support as lockdown hit

If single family units found it difficult to adjust to life under lockdown, one can only imagine the enormity of the task that awaited South Africa’s non-profits. 

With so many lives dependent on their operations, these organisations were not only required to adapt their models to satisfy the existing need, but had to do so under exceptionally trying economic circumstances. 

It required instant and innovative thinking to meet the considerable challenges. 

Despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them, organisations like the Tomorrow Trust, which since 2005 has mobilised investors to reduce the inequality of educational opportunities faced by orphaned and vulnerable children, excelled. 

The NPO, which is part-funded by the Datatec Education and Technology Foundation, was named as Conscious Company 2020 NGO of the Year – an initiative that recognises visionary leaders who have created leadership capacity.

The Trust currently supports 1,100 children through its Holiday and Saturday School Programme in Gauteng and the Western Cape, and a further 120 youth in various universities and colleges throughout South Africa in its Tertiary Programme. 

It also provides additional holistic support to just less than 100 youth and youth professionals through its YES initiative partnerships, Work Readiness and Wellness Programmes.   

Yet as established as these programmes are,  in many respects the Tomorrow Trust was required to “throw away the playbook” when it came to confronting the challenges presented by the pandemic. 

“We had a moral imperative to act quickly and adapt what we thought worked previously, to try and lessen

the impact these youngsters are facing and will continue to face,” says Tomorrow Trust CEO James Donald. 

“What’s needed is agility and responsiveness – the same principles that successful organisations and businesses have used to counter relentless challenges.”

With some clever maneuvering by the board, the organisation was able to reduce its budget by 13% and still render exceptional services to beneficiaries, particularly from an education and social welfare perspective.

The biggest difference was felt in learning itself. 

The Trust mobilised quickly to provide essential remote learning tools to learners, including the provision of 5,090 educational support items like puzzles, Lego and educational toys. 

Even more impressive was the rollout of devices to all the Tomorrow Trust’s Grade 10, 11 and 12 learners, which gave access to Zoom classes supported by 675 data packets.

In one exciting innovation, Grade 9 learners were able to participate in a WhatsApp webinar where they discussed topics like knowing one’s interests and personality, the different careers and required subjects, the difference between mathematics and maths literacy, and choosing and understanding subjects. 

The Trust also ensured online support to the learners in the form of an online mentorship programme administered by 15 mentors, and a first-of-its-kind counseling hotline that provides direct counselling support to learners and households.

When the opportunities for physical classes and career days arose, the Tomorrow team was quick to pounce. Overall, eight career days and 16 career workshops were held during the course of 2016. 

The organisation also aligned with other prominent South African NGOs to build a National Teacher Platform supported by the LEGO Foundation. 

The project’s intention is to create a messaging service that provides resources for all learners and teachers in South Africa. 

This tool, known as “Teacher Connect”, will give the Department of Basic Education a dedicated line to communicate its focus areas and advise the broader education community. 

As exciting as this development is, it was on the welfare level that the Tomorrow Trust made a significant difference in 2020. 

“During lockdown our students have continued to have fulltime access to a psychologist, and our sessions with them have been split between managing their online learning process and their various personal challenges, often mentally and emotionally related,” Donald says. 

“It’s been crucial that we don’t only take care of their educational needs, but also address their emotional needs.”

Sustenance and safety have played a huge role in learners’ well-being.

In the week prior to the implantation of the lockdown, the Trust delivered some 377 food parcels and sanitiser to its learner communities. 

Furthermore, by partnering with other NGOs like Afrika Tikkun, Lunchbox Fund, Human Doings, and TLT, it was able to deliver 11,721 food parcels and vouchers and 11,784 masks to beneficiary households. 

The overall effect of these interventions both inside and outside the classroom was immense. 

In term 4 of 2020, 87% of the Grade 9 group performed at averages above 50%, and 93% of learners achieved averages of 50% and above in English. For Grade 11, 100% of learners achieved averages of 50% and above in English.

“As we continue to navigate Covid-19, reinforcing educational programmes will be necessary to build our economy and future workforce. The Tomorrow Trust believes in supporting the educational needs of orphaned and vulnerable. This is a sustainable way of achieving economic freedom and self-sustainability,” Donald says. 

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