Empowering youth in South Africa
Youth unemployment has been inordinately high for many years in South Africa and is one of the country's major socio-economic challenges. Other issues youth face are intergenerational conflict, HIV and AIDS, low levels of education (increasing drop out school rates) and drugs and alcohol abuse. As opposed to the youth of the 20th century which was united under political freedom struggle, there are different, economic challenges now but there is also freedom, hope, potential and real opportunities for today’s youth in South Africa. Practical, social and personal development skills are needed in order to rise to these opportunities which are areas IofC South Africa’s Change in Progress (CiP) programme seeks to address. CiP is a leadership and self-awareness programme, with the aim of encouraging youth to have changed hearts and minds that will embrace a future based on responsible choices, sustainability and Ubuntu.
From the 17- 19 February Cleo Mohlaodi (IofC South Africa) and I (IofC-UK), embarked on a journey to mentor three participants from Botshabelo (meaning 'a place of refuge') community who attended the CiP youth camp at the end of 2014. Botshabelo is 45kms outside of Bloemfontein and these three inspired youth joined our workshop at the Freedom Our Responsibility Conference (run in partnership with the Lyndi Fourie Foundation) in Bloemfontein last September. The workshop was designed as an attempt to meet IofC South Africa’s challenge of engaging youth. Thabo, Lebo and Jerry joined the two sessions and were keen to get involved with IofC South Africa. At the CiP camp in December, they came up with a vision together - to empower the youth in their community. Using the skills developed at CiP, they now deliver twice weekly character building and leadership training to youth and are being mentored by Cleo to run the next CiP camp.
This trip was to start the planning process for the CiP camp to be hosted in Botshabelo at the end of 2015. Cleo writes ‘there were many epic and learning moments during our time. We launched CiP in Seithati Intermediate School where we presented the programme to over 100 students and we promoted CiP on a 15 minute interview on Mosupatsela community radio station to 109,000 listeners during the midday show’. Not only planning, the trip was also about relationship building, individual mentoring and offering the three youth support with their own personal struggles. ‘We found out that each of the three participants was still struggling with personal decisions they had made during the camp’ Cleo mentioned. One told us, 'Since the camp I have managed to express my feelings, something I have always found very hard to do.' Amidst these personal challenges, enthusiasm persisted and an earnest desire to create change emerged from the conversations. Jerry Chabane said how much he appreciated having time to discuss the forthcoming camp and to build teamwork. I found the youths showed determination, commitment and enthusiasm for the coming youth camp. It seems to have given them something to focus and act on, a sense of purpose. Presenting the camp to the schools was a new experience for them, developing their communication and presentation skills.
Beyond Forgiving screening
We screened Beyond Forgiving hosted by the local NGO Love Life and ran a values based workshop for 28 youth from the local community. Although there was not a discussion as such, there was an emotional quite challenged feeling in the room. Beyond Forgiving challenges all of us to think deeply about our relationships on all levels and about what is important in life, not everyone is ready for such thoughts. After being at screenings of the documentary in India, Switzerland, Northern Ireland and England, it was interesting to see the different reactions of the audience; like in Northern Ireland a greater sensitivity was required as although the quest for reconciliation and forgiveness can make an enormous difference, some just are not ready to talk about it due to the not so recent past.
A quote from Letlapa in Beyond Forgiving often stays in my mind when I am in South Africa; ‘South Africa is suffering from soul sickness, we have not taken the exercise of healing to its logical conclusion’. I think the personal reflection and time afterwards provided an opportunity to reconsider some personal beliefs of how to deal with the past.
In conclusion, the CiP camp 2015 will run from 29 November - 11 December under the theme 'Healing and Moral Regeneration.' There is a huge need for young people to gain their voice; Cleo observes ‘leading a life of purpose and meaning is a deep need in Botshabelo’. ‘Seeing the CiP programme grow this year from one province to another,’ Cleo continues, ‘confirms for me the fact that when there is a passionate working team, growth is inevitable.’
On a personal note, I am hoping to work with IofC in Africa in the near future. My insightful experience in Botshabelo confirmed this calling of mine; to spend time and offer my support to the challenges the continent faces. I hope to stay in touch with the youth team and assist in any way that is needed.