The official two week adventure I set out on with South Africa Challenge has just come to a close with the departure of our first team mate from King Shaka International, so I find this a poignant time to reflect on the experience so far and fill you in on what’s been happening in Durban.
Firstly, I would like to say how beautiful South Africa is. It’s not just the blue skies above the green and brown valleys and the hazy mountaintops in the background, nor the view of the Durban skyline from the Spirit D’Elan as we look back from a mile off shore. It’s the people. If you haven’t visited South Africa, you might picture a dark and desolate, impoverished country, but it’s easy to see the wealth that exists here. And it’s in the people that I see the potential for this country to thrive.
On a mission to tackle the rape crisis in South Africa, it’s only natural that I would meet amazing people and be exposed to all the good that people have committed their lives to. South Africans are proud of their country, they’re proud of the history, and they are thirsty for change. We’ve been fortunate to meet inspirational leaders who are mentoring the youth to take responsibility for the development of their country, and programmes delivered by these people really do change lives.
I’ve been staying at World Changers Academy, an organisation founded by a wealthy American who gave up everything for the children of South Africa. Taking in anyone from local communities, be that repeat offenders, drug addicts, or challenged students, their life skills programme at WCA has empowered over 35,000 young people since its inception in 2002 to make the most of their lives and to support the development of their communities. Jeff, a Pinetown Magistrate says,
“We have sent many students to World Changers before sentencing them. They have changed so visibly that I’ve reduced their sentences or even let them off with suspended sentences. World changers is one of the best programmes to send people to for alternative sentencing that I know of”.
I will second such a testimony having talked to former students here at World Changers, who have formerly been in prison or hooked on drugs, and who have totally turned their lives around after completing the programme due to the hope it has restored in them.
This just goes to show how powerful education can be in changing the mind set of young people. That is why we are working with professional psychologists, counsellors, life skills coaches and NGOs to create an educational programme which really can change the behaviours of violence and aggression within young people, boys particularly, providing hope and empowerment for a better future. We are also working with a really talented music group from Durban who are part of this mentoring process to inspire our students to reflect in on themselves and change their attitudes towards others.
We are launching the programme in the Hammersdale community on Thursday with a group of 30 teenagers. The programme is developed around the topics of perceptions of gender roles, relationships, sex and rape. The idea is to create a safe and trusting environment for boys and girls to open up to one another and develop a relationship of understanding and mutual respect. To develop their thoughts on a deeper level, they will work with our musicians to write songs, which we are filming to be shared on social media and performed around the community for the duration of one week. The most popular performances will compete at a large community event on Saturday 25th July, and the winner will go on to record a song at Jemotech Studios.
The boys and their prima donna star Coco have agreed to back this campaign by curating an album, and I have no doubt that the international market will love it if we can get it there. I have honestly never been so moved by the willingness of such talented individuals to support a cause greater than themselves. Having grown up under difficult conditions in the townships of Kwazulu-Natal, I know that they are fantastic role models for young boys and girls, and I’m so happy to have them working with us. Supporters of The Ukuthemba Project will be able to get their hands on the album by donating to the programme, and we hope to gain the support of bigger names in the music industry to generate publicity.
With the revenues gained through album sales and deals with business partners, we will scale up the programme to reach into more communities, hosting a regional competition with the final round in Durban at Christmas, with the winners from each district in Kwazulu-Natal. The vision is then to host a national competition the following year, and to reach all young people in South Africa and run a global competition within the next ten years.
On a personal level, I have learned so much. Most importantly, I have realised the greatest things happen when we strive to achieve what is greater than ourselves. It is in serving others that we become rich. As a project I have been so deeply involved with, I had somehow allowed Ukuthemba to become a part of me, and in doing so restricted the project from growing. There were two reasons for this, first being that I didn’t feel that I could ask for support because I felt as though I would be asking for myself, which I don’t like to do. Secondly, because I lacked the self-belief that, as a leader, I could make this happen with my team. I felt extremely responsible for the success of the project, and for that the fear of failure set me back. But I’ve discovered a liberating reality that this isn’t about me at all. What we are doing is empowering this generation to save the next from the anger and despair that has thrown it into darkness. We are working for a better world. And that is a cause that I do believe in. I believe it has to happen. And I believe in humanity enough that it can happen.
Who could turn down such a plea to make the world a better place? Everyone benefits from a kinder, more just society. Perhaps those in power don’t realise that yet, but it won’t be long before they do. We are putting everything we can in to this pilot so that we can turn around to big sponsors for their support, showing that we can make this work in the interest of everyone. It’s all go go go, and it’s so exciting. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier than I have been in the last two weeks. It’s a privilege to be here and to be a part of the movement against sexual violence across the world. And I can’t wait to see what happens.