EVS is training youth who are prone to joining gangs, to become volunteer firefighters… creating purpose and changing their outlook on life!
This snapshot of a conversation between one of the Emergency Assistance Volunteer Support (EVS) team members and a gang leader in Ocean View offers an authentic view of the social dynamics at play within one of Cape Town’s many imperiled communities.
“If you beat us, we’re out. But if we beat you, you need to bring your guys to our training session.”
With dwindling public investment in disaster response and relief programmes, EVS is one of those fearless trailblazer organisations which, regardless of funding, continue full steam ahead equipping at-risk youth with fire-fighting and emergency response skills.
‘The 2015 Cape of Flames’, as it was referred to in some quarters, endured an average of just over 100 fires reported nearly every day in the height of the December 2014 to March 2015 fire season and while the impact on vegetation was cause for concern, the communities who live in vulnerable areas and informal settlements were most at risk.
Disaster volunteer and fundraiser for EVS Davin Chown says:
“In some respects we could pat ourselves on the back for shrinking the number of fire-related losses and possible mortalities, but if we look at the impact these fires have on these vulnerable communities who lose everything within a matter of minutes, there is yet a greater price to pay. These fires compound what is already a desperate and complex socio-economic dynamic within these communities.”
Davin says that the response to the training is quite telling in terms of these youth’s pursuit for significance. He also mentions the sense of pride with which successful training candidates take collection of their uniforms and the noticeable shift in their demeanour after they have overcome what seem insurmountable challenges.
“We are dealing with young people who, for the better part of their lives, have no control over their circumstance or their ability to change the course of their lives. We are working with school leavers, failed matriculants and even matriculants who are just not able to pursue a tertiary education.”
According to Davin, for most of these youth, they discover, for the first time, what it means to be part of a tight-knit community, how they can contribute, make a difference and perhaps more importantly, they see themselves as game-changers and potential role models for younger learners and at-risk youth.
Through donations from the Rotary Club of Newlands, and Rotarian Colin Burkes unwavering support, as well as other benefactors, EVS is equipping and training community disaster volunteers from flood and fire-prone areas in the Far South Peninsula. And every time a fire flares up on the mountainous vein that runs through the Peninsula, the disaster volunteers put their lives on the line to serve and protect their communities.
“The multifarious setting of informal housing has required its fair share of ingenuity. Our new response vehicle has been custom-designed, our fire-fighting equipment custom-made. What most people don’t realise is that while those response vehicles may appear invincible, with no fire hydrants and difficult terrain, they are of no use to man nor beast. We have had to improvise.”
Traditional fire equipment often has limited impact so volunteers are acquiring portable foam back-packs, enabling agile movement between houses in informal settlements and mountain area that are difficult to access.
With sustainable investment these everyday heroes could grow in number. And impact. And change their lives for the better.