Meet Paige St. John, Leigh Mante, Ben Hill, Louisa Edwards, Avery Shivers, Sonja Bergquist, and Giselle Pfaeffle

Persevering through the pandemic to support educational aspirations in Khayelitsha.
Community Based Participatory Research with Visionary Minds

In 2018, UVA students and youth in Khayelitsha, a township of Cape Town, South Africa, established a community-based organization called Visionary Minds (VM), which aims to establish youth-led support structures grounded in friendship and respect. Members work together to discuss community challenges and empower each other to create innovative solutions that fulfill the needs of the township. 

This summer, our research team conducted collaborative, community-based research to support Visionary Minds to overcome barriers related to educational access created by the pandemic. With a grant from the Center for Global Health Equity, we purchased a tablet for our translator, Minnie, as well as wireless data for our virtual meetings. Through a series of interviews, we learned that the majority of youth in Visionary Minds aspire to attend varsity school and university. However, they experience numerous barriers to higher education, including the financial costs associated with applying and attending higher education institutions and a lack of access to adequate technology, which inhibits them from actively participating in remote learning. The pandemic has exacerbated these barriers by contributing to an increase in violence and a lack of supportive learning environments. 

We recently connected Visionary Minds with a graduate student at the University of Cape Town, who will be joining one of the group’s meetings to discuss the college and varsity school admissions process. We have also connected Visionary Minds with Mandla Majola, the leader of Movement for Change and Social Justice, a health-focused social movement in Gugulethu, Cape Town, for additional support with community organizing and health advocacy within the township. 

The pandemic has posed significant challenges throughout our research process. Surges in COVID-19 case numbers, along with the lack of vaccine availability in Cape Town and the resulting political violence, often made it unsafe for Visionary Minds to meet as a group. With limited technological capacity, it was difficult to maintain consistent meetings. Lack of clear organizational structure and leadership within Visionary Minds also created tensions within the group and has made it difficult for them to officially register as an organization. 

Nonetheless, this summer has been an invaluable learning experience for our entire research team. We truly appreciate the opportunity to build relationships and collaborate with youth in Cape Town to support pathways to higher education. We are incredibly grateful for the support of the Center for Global Health Equity, and we look forward to continuing our work with Visionary Minds.