"It is a challenge, as the quality of education (in South Africa) is not improving and it is harder and harder to get admitted to Varsities. Those who make it need more support, as many drop out of Varsity during their first year, as they are not prepared to face the challenges of the student life."-Valérie Hirsch
A FirstStep.me exclusive interview!
FirstStep.me have found two champions of South Africa’s underprivileged youth and asked them about South Africa’s future leaders and up-starts!
Valérie Hirsch is a coordinators at the SIZANANI mentorship program which is a aimed at final year high school (matric) learners from Alexandra township in Johannesburg. Adele Pillay is the Life Coach for the Kids Haven centre in Benoni, Johannesburg.
Is education the number one priority for the youth of South Africa or are there other areas that need to be brought into focus in order to become employed?
Adele: Education is key to having a great future. Going to school is much more than just how much you know. There are life lessons learnt at school: a) what are your goals b) do you have the discipline and resilience to attend school no matter what is happening in your private life? c) what marks are good enough for you? You set the standard and depending on the work you put in you will get the results. Your level of commitment to your personal growth and how much you challenge yourself is directly related to how employable you are or will become. A job is just that-having your boss expect you do tasks-you can turn your job into a career through your attitude and how much you respect it. You have to push yourself to do such a great job of the tasks given to you that people around you a) take you serious b) offer you more to do. (FirstStep.me says: well put!)
Valérie: Better schools in townships are the top priority, better career orientation is also needed (too many kids end up with a high school diploma, which does not have much value, instead of learning skills from a younger age) and training in soft skills. A lot of young people lack self confidence. They need to believe in themselves and study harder.
How do setups like Kids Haven and SIZANANI put forward benefits for individuals of need in South Africa?
Adele: There is a huge need in South Africa. To youth that do not have parents or mentors-that are orphaned or estranged from family or community I want to say-my heartfelt apologies. I am sorry for the responsibility you have of being an adult before your time. It is unfair and very disheartening. You may feel that your life has no value and that you matter to nobody. Not true. The fact that you are born makes you worthy and know that you have a purpose. The very trials that you are going through is preparation for what you will do in life.
It is important that you create an inner belief in yourself and not be defined by your circumstances. Decide what you want to do and write it down. Keep working on your dreams as that is the motivating factor that will ultimately change your circumstances.
Valérie: In 2011, about 50 mentors have been involved in the program, which benefited 70 matric learners, selected from 5 Alexandra high schools. The mentors invite the learners on outings (cultural, touristic, sports, etc.) to broaden their horizons. They also help them to choose their field of study and access tertiary education. Most of them come from very poor families where they do not get this kind of support. There is no financial sponsoring in our involvement, except for a few meals and entrance tickets during outings.
What are the positive results that you see from individuals going through these types of setups?
Adele: Primarily is an increase in self-belief.The youth have come to realise that entering the job-market means that they are responsible for what happens during their working hours i.e. a)being questioned if away from workstation b) being courteous to seniors even when you are in a bad mood c) being treated as an adult at functions allows the youth to mingle with staff as they have earned the trust of the adults at the organisation-having and growing a reputation for being reliable and dependable
Valérie: The South African mentors are happy to give back to their community; the foreigners enjoy getting to know youngsters from a township. Most of them build a very good relationship and have a lot of fun together. The youngsters say that the mentors encourage them to “focus on what is important” and realise “you have to work hard to achieve your goals”. They also help them to build their self confidence and assert themselves in their families.
In terms of the youth of South Africa, what is needed to be implemented by both the public and private sectors industries to encourage their growth?
Adele: Public Sector-tangible resources on the ground i.e. in communities. Youth Office in communities that are fully resourced and functional. Youth should be able to walk in confused and unsure of future-and walk out with a life plan, cv and contact details of mentor that will inform youth of all the places that his/her cv has been sent and future appointments for career/private counselling. Group sessions-there are many great South African speakers wanting to work with youth-create a platform.
Private Sector-find a way to invite the youth into your space and teach them little things that will not affect strategic areas. Create win-win situations.
Valérie: Public schools, sport and recreational facilities need to be improved. In townships, learners should get access to libraries in the evening to study. The private sector should offer more career guidance and student jobs. (FirstStep.me take's notes!)
Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel for young underprivileged South Africans or is it’s a endless challenge that you face?
Adele: I see light for the youth that have support-in families and in welfare because they are attached to a structure that is connected to sectors. Unless South Africa seriously and intentionally starts investing in the human potential of the country i.e. its youth-we will lose the great capacity that our youth have-as it will remain untapped-we will continue to find solutions to the symptoms (teenage pregnancy, addiction, school drop-out) that arises from the lack of leadership facing today's youth.
Valérie: It is a challenge, as the quality of education is not improving and it is harder and harder to get admitted to Varsities. Those who make it need more support, as many drop out of Varsity during their first year, as they are not prepared to face the challenges of the student life (self discipline, etc).
What are your ambitions for each setup and how do you want to achieve them?
Adele: Ultimately we want to support youth in becoming independent-which is a process. We achieve our ambitions by running programmes that focuses on the group and taking youth aside to allow them the space to tap into their passion and see how they can sustain themselves through practicing it.
Valérie: Our ambition is to get as many mentors as possible to expand our program. Mentorship of township learners should start before the final year of high school. It can make a huge difference.
The youth of South Africa need encouragement and a reminder that they need to become self sufficient, how do you motivate this thinking?
Adele: As adults we need to constantly go back to our post-matric/post school years and tap into the emotions we felt and allow that to guide us when dealing with youth. Youth is a time of great energy and excitement but it is also filled with angst. We need platforms that allows that angst to be heard-sounding boards. The youth of South Africa will only become self-sufficient when they feel whole on the inside. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to be done. Organisations working with youth need to unite and spread expertise and resources.
Valérie: We provide them with information but they have to be pro active. We don’t do the things for them, we just give them the support and motivation which are often lacking from their families.
What is your message for the youth of the world?
Adele: The decisions you make today will impact your future. Have a structure in your life that will create success. Success is a personal way of being and giving your best to the task at hand. Have a life-long love of learning. READ READ READ! It is the easiest way to educate yourself.
Valérie: Solidarity is important. If you are well off and had the privilege to get a good education, try to help an under privileged person , who did not have the same opportunities, to achieve his/her dreams. It is very rewarding to think that you made a difference for another human being.
Find out more about Kids Haven on http://www.kidshaven.org.za/ and the SIZANANI Mentorship Program on http://beststudentsofalexandra.blogspot.com/.
(Pictures courtesy of Valérie Hirsch)