Student led Community Risk Assessment in Touws River, South Africa
Between 4 -7 May, students from RADAR’s Disaster Risk Studies course (an elective module from the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Geography postgraduate BA honours programme) took part in a fieldtrip to Touws River, Western Cape to conduct a Community Risk Assessment (CRA) for residents living in the lower income suburbs of the settlement which has been plagued with issues of poverty, substance abuse, crime as well as flood risk. The fieldtrip serves a dual role, one giving the students valuable lessons and experiences with conducting community engagement and risk assessments, and secondly the report compiled from this data will be offered to the community and local government, for them to use for influencing and guiding future risk reduction and management initiatives.
Students arrived in Touws River on the afternoon of the fourth, meeting with key stakeholders for the communities under assessment, discussing prevailing issues and risks experienced by the residents, their root causes and consequences for the town as a whole.
The second day, students began their research by inviting key stakeholders and members of the community to take part in their participatory risk assessment workshops. During these sessions, students would sit with community members asking questions concerning themes of risk in the settlement, encouraging residents to discuss their experiences and impart with their local knowledge. The students used several ‘tools’ which encourage a bottom-up approach of data collection and research engagement which involves those being assessed to write and draw their experiences on large pieces of paper. These included the use of “problem tress’, ‘risk history tables’, ‘livelihood calendars’ as well as ‘community risk mapping’, which produced some very in-depth and colourful results.
The third day saw students continue their research by doing a ‘transect’ walk of the study site. The walk allowed students to see the settlement through the eyes of its residents, walking with and talking to them about issues and concerns highlighted at the previous days workshops.
The final day, the students were invited to visit the Aquila Game lodge to see the success of the business and learn more about its sustainable ethos and Aquila’s contribution to employment and economic upliftment of the people of Touws River. The students were also very fortunate to be given a free all you can eat breakfast and safari to see the Big 5!
Overall the fieldtrip was a great success with the students learning much from their participation with the residents, opening their minds to the many challenges that they experience as well as developing their skills and confidence to conduct large participatory research and stakeholder engagements. Residents too benefited from the students assessment, offering them a means of giving their voice to issues and challenges which have been largely marginalised.