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EMpower Joint Executive Committee Chair shares his experience in South Africa

Posted 20 January 2017 in EMpower News   |   Share


In December, I was in Cape Town. Before the trip, I asked Theo, EMpower’s Senior Program Officer for Africa and Russia, if he would be able to arrange a few meetings with local EMpower partners. The timing of our visit was not great since Christmas falls right in the middle of the summer break and many of our local partners’ staff were on holiday for the festive season. However, three organisations were able to meet up with my family and I, and helped us understand the importance of the work EMpower is supporting in South Africa.

Our first visit was with Lana Rolfe from Waves for Change. Lana has the important role of running Measurement and Evaluation for the organisation in order to assess the short and long-term effectiveness of their work, as well as improve their programmes. EMpower has just made its third grant to Waves for Change, and we are very excited about their innovative approach. Youth in South African townships regularly experience high levels of violence, neglect and poverty, and have unstable domestic lives. In the UK or the USA, we are likely to be exposed to 4.8 ‘highly traumatic’ events per lifetime. South African youth can expect to be exposed to 8 such events per year. It is a shocking difference – an apt word as many youth are literally ‘in shock.’

Waves for Change provides safe spaces, access to caring adults, and weekly ‘Surf Therapy Sessions’, to help young people from unstable backgrounds develop skills to regulate their behaviour, build healing relationships, cope with stress and make positive life-choices. Many of the participants cannot swim at the outset. Surfing attracts children that are often seen as leaders and risk-seekers versus their peer group. This enables the impact and reach of Waves for Change to extend far into many youth groups in the townships. This excellent one minute video helps you visualise the extraordinary work they do:

The following day we met with Carly Tanur, the founder of Mamelani, and her colleague Gerald Jacob, who lead a group we have supported for the last 5 years. Mamelani’s youth development programme supports young people who have grown up in state care (Child and Youth Care Centres and former Children’s homes) who, when they turn 18, must move on from these institutions. Mamelani’s programme ensures that these young people do not fall through the gaps at this critical time and ensures that they are emotionally and practically prepared for the next chapter of their lives. For much of the time that these institutions have cared for the youth, they have taken a risk-averse strategy, and the children have often had little experience of living in the real world. At 18, they must leave the institution but no longer have any financial support, food or accommodation provided by the state. Not surprisingly, the transition often does not go well. Carly founded Mamelani after seeing firsthand the social problems that followed. The youth volunteer for an intensive program which prepares them for change and integration into society. I was so impressed by the logic of their approach that I hope Carly will be able to visit London this year and lead a salon dinner for more of us to hear her amazing story firsthand.

Lastly we met with Rockgirl, a grassroots organisation founded by India Baird in 2011. Rockgirl is not currently a program partner for EMpower, however they are very proud to have just won a With and For Girls Award partly financed by EMpower. These awards recognise and support philanthropic organisations that put girls at the heart of their decision-making process. As India was travelling at the time of our visit, we met directly with the girl leaders of their programmes. We spent 4 hours learning from the truly inspirational young team who have been trained as reporters and photographers to create a new generation of women journalists and advocates who are equipped with the skills and knowledge to speak out about the injustices they face. Their experiences with violence in the community have inspired the “Safe Spaces” campaign which created real and symbolic art spaces in some of the most dangerous places in Cape Town and Johannesburg, in a bid to raise awareness about violence. The girls have regular local and national newspaper and radio slots to get their messages across to help change society and inspire others to action.

Once again, personal contact with our grantee partners was an inspiration to my family and I, and a wonderful endorsement of EMpower’s core purpose of enabling at-risk youth in emerging markets to realise their potential.

Jeremy Llewelyn

Photo: Jeremy and family on a walking tour with the Rockgirl team

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