Lead SALead SA

Circles of protection around vulnerable youth in honour of Madiba’s legacy

Written by: diannem

Mohlakeng, a township on the West of Johannesburg is battling a myriad of challenges that are eroding the promise of a brighter future for its young people. The parents and teachers of learners attending one of the high schools there have shared alarming experiences of raising children in an environment where they are exposed to drug use, sexual abuse, bullying, teenage unplanned pregnancy and high crime and poverty rates.

Last year, Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF), Deloitte and Girls and Boys Town (GBT) jointly produced The State of the South African Child Report which shows that a majority of the country’s children are highly vulnerable to poverty, violent crimes and lack of access to basic services. Their employment prospects are also compromised by having few opportunities compounded by a school system that is rated among the lowest in quality globally with a high dropout rate.

But all hope is not lost.

At the heart of this community is a school that has opened up its classrooms to do more than deliver the curriculum for learners, but to accommodate dialogue with concerned parents and other stakeholders to create healthy and sustainable change. Finding solutions for reducing the impact of poverty on youth is at the core of change efforts because of its link with developmental issues like educational outcomes. Poverty eradication is the focal point for this year’s Nelson’s Mandela Day under the theme: “Action against poverty”.

The robust discussions are part of workshops facilitated by the youth-care organisation GBT in a programme called Circles of Protection and Safety that was designed in partnership with the NMCF.

“Our work with youth over the years has shown us that you cannot simply counsel young people and give them the tools to cope with challenges without looking carefully at how family, school, community and social environments impacts on their healthy development. Poverty features at the top of the list of causes for many of their obstacles."

Lee Loynes, GBT CEO

GBT has done similar work with schools and families for many years in Kagiso and other communities around the country. But for the first time, it is applying a social-ecological strategy that seeks to understand and address the complex and inter-related underlying factors for the prevailing problems that mainly affect the youth.

evidence-based method places the school at the core of the project which equips community members with tools to become change agents in addressing some of their challenges.

This approach fulfills the vision outlined in NMCF’s strategy.

The main priority of NMCF’s initiatives is to support and foster partnerships with organisations like GBT that are embedded in communities as they are better positioned to make a meaningful difference to children’s lives and ensure that efforts are not abandoned with time.

“It is impossible to change the course for communities with complex problems like Mohlakeng in the blink of an eye. This is why the Circles of Protection initiative is informed by a shared vision with GBT which is to help communities identify their own assets that can be optimised to achieve better and more sustainable results for such interventions. Our hope is to inspire all workshop attendees and stakeholders to become _Madiba change-makers _in their own way and bring new hope into the lives of our youth."

Sibongile Mkhabela, CEO, NMCF.

The implementation and outcomes of the programme will be evaluated using interviews with parents, school teachers and other stakeholders as well as measuring changes in different variables for school performance that can be attributed to it. The results will be used to inform rollout of comparable activities in other communities similar to Mohlakeng around the country.

>There is an encouraging willingness and energy among stakeholders for collaborating with one another to come up with solutions for social problems based on past successes. These include a project led by a young resident of the area in which resources were mobilised to establish a library to replace one that was torched during protest action.

"We are very inspired by how different men and women, who in the spirit of the late Madiba, are taking a stand and committing to tear down the barriers that trouble youth at risk and cast a shade over their bright futures – and then help them to Shine™."

Lee Loynes, GBT CEO

Find out more about Girls and Boys Town here



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