My study forms part of a bigger project, Resilient Youth in Stressed Environments (RYSE). The purpose of this study of limited scope was to explore the community supports that enable the resilience of adolescents living in the petrochemical-affected community of eMbalenhle in Secunda, South Africa. A number of resilience studies have been conducted both locally and abroad, but none of these has focused on the resilience of youth in petrochemical-affected communities.
Since resilience is a complex process that results from individuals’ interaction with their social environments, my study was grounded in the Social Ecology of Resilience Theory (SERT). As an educational psychologist, I employed a phenomenological design with 30 participants (17 males and 13 females) aged 15 to 24 who were selected through purposive sampling from eMbalenhle community. Among these participants, 10 attended school, 2 were at the tertiary educational level and 4 were employed part-time. For this qualitative study I undertook an interpretivist approach to make sense of participants’ interpretations of their experience of living in a petrochemical-affected community. The data was generated by the RYSE team. A variety of arts-based /visual participatory methods (draw-talk-and-write, body theatre, and clay modelling) were used for generating data.
I analysed the secondary data by means of inductive thematic content analysis where recurring themes were identified from the data. The main themes that emerged as community supports for adolescent resilience included support from Sasol (jobs, bursaries, learnerships, housing loans etc.), having positive relations with, and drawing support from, other community members and having access to health services and education. These themes indicate that although the petrochemical industry may affect the adolescents negatively it also constitutes their biggest support. The themes also indicate the importance of the social contexts in enabling adolescent wellbeing (as the theory behind SERT suggests should be the case). Therefore, when working with vulnerable adolescents from a petrochemical-affected community, any educational psychologist needs to partner with other role players from the community.