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12 Oct 12
South Africa

Dreaming in Kwelerha

Written by Munira Ali - ICS Volunteer 

Dreams are often described as hopeful aspirations, an ideal set of circumstances or fanciful wishes.  Rarely are they described as necessary. Dreams are not only our most formidable vehicle for change but an unrelenting guard against unfulfilled potential; quite simply, they make us live.

I spent three months (May-August) in Kwelerha, a poor rural village in East London, South Africa with a youth-led charity called Restless Development. I volunteered as a peer educator with over twenty other volunteers aged 18-23 from the UK and South Africa. The children and young people that I encountered had the same dreams as the youth in the UK. Some spoke animatedly of becoming a wealthy businessman/woman even though their parents, friends and most of the community are unemployed, and with some reports declaring that over fifty per cent of South African youth are unemployed.  A dream, it must be said, not always  conceived in spite of these bleak prospects, but sometimes because of them; according to an amiable student that I lived next door to, it is a source of motivation. Several peer educators, who came from the region we worked in, eagerly mapped out plans of going to university even though they were not granted a state bursary to fund it, determined to succeed. For others, any job would do- a regular visitor at our youth centre, in his early twenties, meekly opined, ‘I just need a job, any job’- a sentiment shared by several out-of-school youth. The community needed and continue to need career advancement resources, training and opportunities. 

As young and inexperienced peer educators with limited resources and time, we were never going to transform the community, but we were going to try our very best to meet some of the needs of the community. Life for a young person in Kwelerha is really tough. The high school is extremely under-resourced, the transport system is ridiculously unreliable, the roads are in a deplorable state and there is nothing fun for a young person to do; unsurprisingly therefore, most go to the local tavern. Underage and excessive drinking is a serious problem and one without an easy answer. Young people there are bored, politically apathetic because their voices are often ignored, and impressionable (some of their unemployed parents drink copious amounts). A very much linked and prevalent problem is underage and unsafe sexual practices. One of the most worry things is that a number of the young people I came across understood the ramifications of unsafe sex but practiced it anyway for various reasons: several insisted it was because of peer pressure, others because of alcohol.  The story sadly sounds typical of many underprivileged areas; but the response has to be varied, nuanced and forthcoming.

Restless Development built a youth centre containing three computers in Jongilanga (my host community), to help alleviate these social ills. It was in this centre that I did most of my work because the schools had been closed for holidays. Along with my fellow volunteers, we mainly taught basic computer skills and facilitated classes on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and career guidance (teaching CV writing techniques and outlining necessary job skills) both at the youth centre (targeting out-of-school-youth) and at high schools. Some volunteers also organised regular SRH-focused drama workshops, art sessions for children and sports games. A few volunteers also taught basic computer skills to health workers at the local clinic.At times it was incredibly challenging. Getting access to much-needed work supplies frequently proved tricky and the response from participants whilst mostly positive was occasionally disconcerting.

Overall, it was an absolute pleasure to hear what the youth in the community had to say; to hear their thoughts, beliefs and dreams. An advantage of being young, generally speaking, is that you’re unafraid of articulating or entertaining your dreams, as audacious as some of them appear to be, possibly because with all that time seemingly in front of you, the odds are with you. Through their tenacity and unwavering belief in their dreams, they taught me a dream unrealised is a personal disappointment; a dream unimagined is a collective failure.
This work was part of a government-funded global volunteering programme that supports young people from all backgrounds to help lessen the hardships of those suffering abject poverty in developing countries, known as the International Citizen Service (ICS). The opportunity helped me and my fellow volunteers develop skills, acquire new skills, markedly improve my confidence and learn first-hand about global poverty and what it is like to work in the development sector- an undertaking that can be arduous, exasperating, unpredictable but really rewarding.  


Munira (front row; third from the left) and her fellow ICS volunteers in South Africa   


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