How can we address the next pandemic: children’s mental health?

The restrictive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an ongoing global epidemic in children’s mental health. Very high levels of anxiety and stress in children need to be addressed now to avoid more serious long-term impacts in our futures. Using scalable digital resources to support children’s psychological well-being is part of the solution – and to mark World Mental Health Day, we are releasing free meditation audio tracks for children across South Africa.

Deaths, economic and housing instability and disruptions  to school routines are just some of the destabilizing aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic for children. Such impacts will, experts warn,  result in society ‘grappling with the after-effects for decades to come.’ Research by child psychiatry experts has found that children – especially those in economically underprivileged contexts – are suffering very high levels of uncertainty, stress and anxiety due to lockdowns and quarantines. The research points to an urgent need for mental health services – specifically ‘tele mental health,’ provided in scalable, digital formats –  which would be particularly crucial for the ‘most vulnerable and underprivileged section of the society’. In line with this, and to mark World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2021, The Earthchild Project will be releasing a series of free guided audio meditations for children, called  Take Five. Through these specially-created meditations – in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa – we hope to encourage the decisive and large-scale action needed to transform the lives of our youngest generation.

The pandemic and child mental health in South Africa

Earlier this year, UNICEF stated that the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be most damaging for ‘children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighbourhoods.’ This is serious for a developing economy like South Africa. Indeed, research found  that 72% of young people in South Africa reported depressive symptoms during the ‘hard lockdown’ – a figure that is drastically higher than pre-pandemic levels. 

It is of critical importance that these symptoms are addressed now. Children who  experience trauma or stress are at risk of suffering lifelong mental health challenges later in life if the issues are not addressed  early on. 

Reality on the ground: Lavender Hill and Khayelitsha 

The Earthchild Project, which runs complimentary education to under-resourced schools across Cape Town,  has experienced this devastation on the ground.  Our staff have witnessed a marked increase in trauma and stress levels of the children in our programmes since the start of the pandemic. 

In Khayelitsha and Lavender Hill schools – where we have run programmes for 15 years –  the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic has heightened the vulnerability factors for children who already witness high levels of gang violence and other trauma. 

“In our current situation with the gang violence as a principal you need to think on your toes, so when there’s shooting, I breathe because I need to be the person that’s responsible for teachers. Our children know that they need to breathe and they need to stay calm and those are all the skills that we acquire from Earthchild.” Ms Charity – Principal at Levana Primary School.

We have measured the impact of routine meditation practises for children in these schools. It has proved to be a very simple and effective tool to help them to deal with anxiety, fear and trauma.

Every little helps: three meditations

Because these are economically underprivileged communities with limited infrastructure and access to the internet, there is a great need for low-cost resources that are able to close the digital divide, allowing equity of access for all children.

Schools and other NGOs in the education sector have expressed a desperate need for resources to support their learners with trauma, anxiety and fear.  In response to this, the Take5 Meditations are a series of three simple, guided audio meditations in three of South Africa’s local languages – Afrikaans, English and Xhosa. Each meditation can work in a group setting – meaning that teachers can conduct them in a classroom – or in an individual setting. Any child can practice them at home, at any time. They are free, and can easily be sent by WhatsApp or listened to on Youtube. 

Our hope is that the Take5 meditations will be used nationally and globally as a meaningful resource to counter the mental health challenges brought about by COVID-19. These tracks must form part of a wider spectrum of resources to support the mental health of our youngest generations – for the prospects of today’s youth, as well our collective global development. 

To access the Take5 Meditation, and the instruction audio track, see details. The audio tracks can be accessed through the Earthchild Project website www.earthchildproject.org , YouTube https://www.youtube.com/c/earthchildproject, and through a direct request via Whatsapp on +27 79 865 0002. The audio meditations are downloaded along with an instruction video on how to facilitate the Take 5 meditations.

andreamuehleck.com

Jadene – A world of endless possibilities with Earthchild Project

Everyone who has met her will recognise her infectious smile. Jadene started Yoga and Worm Farming with Earthchild Project when she was 10 years old and in Grade 4 in Lavender Hill. After completing the Alumni and Internship Programmes, she is now a full time yoga facilitator with ECP.

Jadene recalls how she was so excited with the opportunity to join the Alumni Programme when she finished Grade 7 and was inspired to then become an ECP intern because she felt that by continuing with ECP, she could find direction with where she was going in life.

Jadene is passionate about how ECP can help young women to discover their dreams. “In Lavender Hill we don’t have a good reputation. We don’t have the freedom of feeling safe. And so I really do  think it’s important for young females to have good, positive, healthy role models to encourage us and to show us that we have more potential and that we can do more…I think we can make the change in the world…”

As a young facilitator, Jadene wants to encourage other young women to stay strong, to believe in themselves and to know that they have unlimited potential. ECP has opened a new world for Jadene where she can be herself and where she can feel safe…a world of endless possibilities. 

Kuhle – Finding joy through yoga, nature, and surfing

Today we share the story of Kuhle, one of the determined youth whom we are proud to work with. Kuhle is 14 years old and lives in Capricorn Square in Cape Town. He had a tough start to life as a young boy, and grew up with foster parents who neglected him and kept him out of school. Social workers eventually put Kuhle in a new foster home where he is now loved and cared for.

Kuhle finds peace and security through the Earthchild Project Gardening and Yoga Programmes, and he also plays rugby and surfs with @wavesforchange – a brilliant NGO using surfing to create community-owned safe spaces in Africa and beyond. We love how his face lights up when he talks about gardening, yoga and surfing. “Yoga helps me with surfing because it stretches my body and (helps me) balance on my board. Yoga keeps me calm in the water”. “Any opportunity after school, even during school, programmes like planting, yoga, surfing, I will be grateful to do it”.

Kuhle sometimes has flashbacks to sad times in his life, but yoga and surfing have helped him to deal with these emotions. He doesn’t get angry in class anymore and respects his friends and teachers. He still likes to be alone sometimes and enjoys being on his own in the garden, which our Gardening Programme has inspired him to care for and protect. Kuhle wants to finish school and go to college one day, and maybe join the army or the navy, with the dream of buying his mother a house one day. We give hope, safety – and a reason to keep dreaming – to young boys and girls like Kuhle. 📸 @dreamcatcherproductionsza #youthday #youthatrisk #southafrica

ECP Climate Girls – Education is the key to change

Meet the Earthchild Project Climate Girls from Khayelitsha. This group of girls is pure power when it comes to sustainable living, and teaching their peers, families and community members how to live more sustainably, too. Even though these girls are only between the age of 12 and 13 years old, they know that they are responsible to make a positive difference for our planet!

Sadly, the lack of awareness among communities, especially those that reside in rural areas like Khayelitsha, allows people to engage in activities that cause exacerbated environmental problems. We believe that education is crucial in cultivating a desire to protect the planet, which is what our Climate Girls are trying to do in their communities. It is through education, which is the key social strategy for conservation, that people will gain an understanding of the importance to think and act in a conscious, sustainable manner.

“What I love about being in the garden is connect to nature because we live in the township and there’s a lot of noise. But when I’m in the garden I relax myself. I get time to connect with myself and also to connect with nature.”  

If we love nature, we will protect it. Our Climate Girls have a goal of educating their communities on the effects of climate change, and how they can live more sustainably in order to combat their own carbon footprint. They also want to encourage their peers to fall in love with nature, so that they too can act in ways to protect our planet and precious resources. 

Earthchild Project is committed to cultivating a generation of environmentally conscious young leaders, like our Climate Girls, who will in turn encourage their peers and communities to protect the future of our planet for generations to come. 

Beautiful video by @join_thedance and  @justincoomber

#education#climatechange#gretathunberg#climate#climatejustice#savetheplanet#climatecrisis#globalwarming#extinctionrebellion#climateaction#nature#schoolstrike#future#futureleaders#youngleaders#sustainability#environment#climateemergency#klimastreik#climatechangeisreal#zerowaste#fff#klimawandel#actnow

Ms Henricks – A teachers perspective on the benefits of Earthchild Project

Meet Ms Hendricks – one of the dedicated teachers with whom we work. Ms Hendricks teaches Grade 1 at Levana Primary School in Lavender Hill, which is one of the 8 schools in which Earthchild Project operates our programmes. She has welcomed the Earthchild Project facilitators into her class for the past four years, and is inspired by the difference that our programmes make in the lives of her young learners.

“The children that live here and come to school here – they are, you can say, constantly traumatised.” She say’s that due to the challenging environment of Lavender Hill, many children come to school distracted and hungry, often only coming to school for the plate of food provided by the school’s feeding scheme. And so the benefits of opening her class to the ECP facilitators are perfectly clear to her.

Ms Hendricks’ class participates in the ECP Yoga and Worm Farming Programmes. She says that over the years, she has noticed how the yoga lessons help to calm down the children who display behavioural issues, as well as teach them good values such as kindness. She notes how after a yoga class, the children are so much more confident, with a well developed self concept. The ECP facilitators inspire her by reminding the children that they are always beautiful and are always loved, and how we create a safe space for our children to express themselves. An additional positive is how our holistic approach to education improves her children’s academics.

We love working with teachers like Ms Hendricks, who are so warm and welcoming and who truly care about the impact that educators have on the minds and lives of young children, especially youth at risk.

📸@dreamcatcherproductionsza

#lavenderhill#youth#youthatrisk#education#teachers#ecp#earthchildproject#yoga#yogainschools#npo#sponsorachild

Building a bright future in a challenging environment

Faqeer, who lives in Lavender Hill, is 17 years old – the age at which young men are the target of gang recruitment on the Cape Flats, and are at high risk of getting involved in crime and drugs. But not Faqeer, who has bigger dreams.

Faqeer says that a lot of boys his age try to do things to impress their peers, which often leads to joining gangs. “To grow up in Lavender Hill is like a task that you’re going through because there’s a lot of things you get distracted by like gangsterism, drug abuse”. Which is why Faqeer believes that ECP saved his life.

Through participation with Eco Warriors from Grade 4 to Grade 7 and then joining the Alumni Programme, ECP has highlighted for Faqeer his capabilities, and shown him how to overcome his weaknesses while building on his strengths. He says that ECP has always been by his side. He has particularly enjoyed the hikes and camps, as well as building the Levana Primary School Food Garden which was built in 2019 with the help of students participating in Semester at Sea – a transformative #studyabroad programme recruiting students to volunteer around the world.  Faqeer still enjoys spending time in the Levana garden with his friends and believes that ECP has provided him with a safe place, away from violence. A place that can nurture his dreams of becoming a firefighter one day. A place where he can be happy.

Beautiful footage by Dreamcatcher Productions ZA

ECP Eco Explorers – Sharing our love for the earth in honour of Earth Day.

In honour of Earth Day tomorrow (Thursday 22 April 2021) we wanted to show our followers how we encourage a deep love for, and connection to the earth by sharing a little more about the Earthchild Project Eco Explorer and Hiking Clubs.

What’s special about taking our Earthchildren into nature and into the mountains, forests and beaches of Cape Town, is that we are able to provide a space for them to leave their communities, explore their own natural environment, connect with nature, and connect with themselves. Our facilitators teach them about local fauna and flora, as well as environmental challenges such as alien vegetation and pollution and the role that they can play in combating these growing issues. The eco-adventures are also used as a platform to empower the youth with life skills such as  team work, leadership and communication. At the same time, we combine our explorations with meditation and mindfulness activities that allow our Earthchildren to connect more deeply.

Hear from the mouths of our Eco Explorers what it is that they love the most about being out in nature and exploring with the ECP Eco Explorers Club;
“It makes me happy and it makes me peaceful.”
“It makes me close to nature.”
“We get to know other people and love each other.”
“I have always seen the mountain from my back yard and always wished I could climb it one day. Today was my first time walking on Table Mountain and it was a dream come true.

Through our Eco Explorations and our hikes, we aim to inspire and grow future environmental leaders who become changemakers and advocates for protecting mother earth!  

This video was filmed in Cape Town in 2017 in partnership with @earthdancect.

Claumi – Youth on the rise with our Alumni Programme

Claumi is 19 years old and lives in Retreat, Cape Town,  with her parents and her siblings. She has been with ECP for 9 years and is one of the proud graduates of our Alumni Programme which focuses on nurturing the leadership potential of a select group of our primary school graduates throughout their high school years.

When she was just ten years old, Claumi joined the ECP Programmes starting with yoga, worm farming, hiking and holiday programmes before moving into the Alumni Programme, where one of her highlights was the eight day Alumni Camp. 

“My experience in the first Earthchild camp was so amazing. It was one of, actually, the best experiences I have ever experienced.” It was a place where she was taught to start conversations and interact with people from other sectors which really helped her to overcome her shyness and build confidence. She says how the activities from the camp helped her to grow her self-esteem, and she still uses the practices of journaling and positive affirmations like “I am beautiful. I am amazing” at home, daily. 

Through the Alumni Programme she experienced deep personal transformation through practical opportunities that allowed her to build her leadership skills. One such skill that she is proud of is that she has learnt how to voice her opinion, while her most valuable skill that she has learned through ECP is the ability to be positive. She says that nurturing a positive mindset is what helped her through high school when friends were sometimes struggling.

Through the Alumni Programme, Claumi made friends who were experiencing similar life challenges to her. They were able to speak about their problems and help one another to problem solve. The ECP facilitators have been meaningful positive role models in her life – offering support, advice, and someone to turn to when it is tough to speak about problems at home. It is through our Alumni Programme that we are nurturing young leaders like Claumi, and are working together to grow future leaders who spread a vision for holistic living.

📸@dreamcatcherproductionsza

#youngleader#youth#youthpower#youthmovement#culturemover#youthontherise#youthchampion

‘My story during Lockdown’ by Jadene van Neel

The 1st January 2020 was a day of excitement, happiness and full of new year’s resolutions…and now we are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. I never imagined that I would be living in a time that would bring the world to a complete lockdown. This is part of our history, it is part of what will not just influence my world experiences, but will shape the world experiences of so many children, youth and grown ups. We are going through this now not knowing what the new world will be like when this pandemic passes. While most of South Africa is in lockdown, people in my street and in my community are going about their daily lives. Everything is normal over here. Nothing has changed. 

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EARTHCHILD PROJECT AMBASSADOR – JOELLE SLEEBOS

22 June 2019 was the fourth annual International Day of Yoga event held in Cape Town, and it was a wonderful success! And so it is a good time for us to honour our fifth Earthchild Project Yoga Ambassador – Joëlle Sleebos.

Joëlle’s passion for health and well-being started 17 years as a group fitness instructor and now calls herself Yogi, Traveler, Personal Trainer, Entrepreneur and Project Manager.

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Earthchild Project and Urban Harvest organic garden harvest day

The 29th May 2019 was truly a special day as Earthchild Project, Urban Harvest, Christopher – our Garden Champion, as well as our Levana Primary EcoWarriors brought their green fingers to school and got their hands and faces dirty (from eating the freshly harvested beetroot) during the first big harvest from the Food Garden/outdoor classroom at Levana Primary School.

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Changing the script for climate change

On 15 March 2019, at least 1.6 million school children across all 7 continents, in more than 125 countries and in over 2000 places, took a stand against climate change, brought to the forefront by Greta Thunberg with the #FridaysforFuture  campaign. #FFF is a movement following the call from Greta to rally school strikes in order to protest against the lack of action on the worlds current climate crisis. Why are school kids striking, you may ask? With the worsening Climate Destruction, the goal of going to school begins to be pointless. Greta Thunberg asks;
– Why study for a future, which may not be there?
– Why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?

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Volunteering with Earthchild Project – more than just giving back.

We have been absolutely blessed an honoured to have some brilliant volunteers supporting Earthchild Project over the last few months. These volunteers have immersed themselves daily in the operating of our programmes and connecting to our earthchildren, have dedicated time over weekends to assist with events, and have offered their skills behind the scenes with fundraisisng, website support and content creation. But the true beauty lies in the connections that our volunteers make with our earthchildren, and their daily experiences in the schools.

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Earthchild Project’s 4th annual Teachers Wellness Convention – a volunteer’s perspective.

On Saturday 2 March 2019, we hosted our fourth annual Teachers Wellness Convention. This event offered 200 school teachers from under-resourced communities in Cape Town an opportunity to learn from leading experts in the Wellness sector. It was a day to celebrate, and empower teachers-  with the knowledge and tools to better manage their stress and improve their health and overall well-being.We asked Pam Hoffman,  one of the many valued volunteers who assisted tirelessly with the event, to give us her vision of what the day involved;

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Cederberg hike under the stars

At the beginning of December last year, three magical days were spent in the Cederberg with 15 dedicated earthchildren and The Cape Leopard Trust for the Earthchild Project Hiking Club camp. There may have been rain and the odd challenging moment, but that didn’t dampen the spirit of our dedicated hikers who spent their last night sleeping a-top a cave under a billion stars.

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We teach children to connect to self, each other and the earth through yoga and life skills.

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We teach children to cultivate practical skills for life through gardening and worm farming.

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We're inspiring a new generation of young leaders through hikes and holiday programmes.

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