Yes!Youth – You are the open door and the helping hand in your community.

“People want to improve their communities but they haven’t found the door, the hand, the heart….so let us do something.” Dreadlocked Jean America, a radiant kid with a toothy grin spoke some eloquent words that night. He’d just completed his nine day foundation training ( YLTP – Youth Leadership Training Programme) with IAHV’s Yes! Youth Programme. Jean grew up in Ocean View, a hard neighbourhood situated on the fynbos slopes of the South Peninsula, where violence and drug abuse are a part of life.

Jean is giving his final speech. He has just completed the course and is sharing his ideas and vision for his community with the audience. Jean wants to open a studio space in Ocean View that is open from late morning to late in the evening so kids have somewhere to go after school. He wants to acknowledge art as a valuable skill-set within his community and provide a space for budding artists to foster that skill.

One of the objectives of the YLTP course is for the participants to create a realistic community project that they can take home and initiate in their own ‘hood. One of the ways they go about learning this is by watching what people are doing in other communities.

I popped in at the YLTP course on day four and after a morning of inspiring creation, we headed out to Masiphumelele to meet with Yandiswa Mazwane, an artist living and working there. Yandiswa was a youth leadership training graduate herself and it was this course that ignited the leader in her and catalysed a turning point in her life.

In 2008, Yandiswa helped rally together her community when there were xenophobic attacks across South Africa. Many Somali nationals living in Masiphumelele fled in fear. Yandiswa got the community together and organised the peace talks that brought the foreign residents back to Masiphumelele. Not only did she put the township on the map as one of the first locations to demonstrate acceptance, but her community won an award for it. A formidable character with a creative flair, Yandiswa has also travelled to Melbourne, Paris and Amsterdam for her sought after art. While cleaning plastic off beaches for work many years ago, she started thinking about what she could make with these found objects. A few workshops and good connections later, business is booming and Yandiswa’s colourful creations can be found representing South African craft in design centres across the globe.

As Yandiswa exemplifies, community building starts with the individual. This is the basis of the YLTP course. It nurtures the dormant power within us.

“I didn’t even know that I needed healing,” explains Kashiefa Jacobs “but the YLTP course healed me.” Kashiefa is referring to the process you go through on the course.  When I popped in on Tuesday I could see some of the students were working through some personal challenges. It’s a journey and not always an easy ride. The foundations of the course are based on a yoga-style detox, clearing your body and mind and shifting your focus to the task of self knowledge and empowerment.

Each morning is spent learning yoga and a unique breathing technique, Sudarshan Kriya. This helps participants to de-stress and quieten the mind. They eat a vegetarian diet, made by volunteers who are part of the IAHV and Art of Living community. I had lunch on my visit and I can echo the sentiments of the kids, the food was beautiful. Siyabonga Makhaba from Khayelitsha admits this was all very curious to him. In fact, it was a yoga demonstration that made him join the course. He wanted to know more.

At the end of the course participants shared how they came to be on the course, what they learnt, the sense of gratitude they felt and their plans going forward. I was impressed by the knowledge and insight these kids were sharing. Some kids rapped it, some rolled out their gratitude in a thunderous drumming session, some recited their own beat poetry, Siyabonga raved about the alien yoga in his mother tongue, Xhosa and the great sense of satisfaction he got from helping others.

Jean’s words rang true for so many of us listening that night. We’ve all felt stunted at wanting to do some good in our own communities. But after these nine days, these YLTP graduates are in on a universal secret and they’re taking it home to Lavender Hill, Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha. In your ‘hood, YOU are the open door, you are the helping hand, you are the willing heart. You are unique and you have skills that no one else has. Share them and put them to good use.

Article written by Martina Polley

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