Sunday, 22 July 2012

My Time at Yabonga!

So this is our last week here in South Africa and I have a lot of mixed emotions.  Part of me is really excited to go home and see my family and friends and eat my mom’s delicious home cooked meals.  But the other part will greatly miss the memories I’ve created here, the beautiful views, and especially my kids that I’ve been working with the past 5 weeks at Yabonga. 

Yabonga is a NGO that helps community members live healthy lives while being HIV positive.  It provides counseling and support through many programs such as the Youth Program, HIV program, Training Program, Income Generation, and Taverns.  It even has an OVC program which helps provide a safe haven for children living in dysfunctional homes.  There are three community mothers which have opened up their homes to let the kids in after school.  They provide food for them and teach them various lessons. 
I’ve been working in the Youth Program for Yabonga.  My job has been to work with the grade 9’s and help them decide what they want to do after they pass grade 9.  The education system in South Africa is a complete 180 from the American system.  After completion of grade 9, students can choose to either go on to grade 10 to eventually matriculate or apply to an FET (Further Education and Training) college.  These FET colleges are harbored for training students for a specific skill and helping them master it so by the time they receive their certificate, they are very marketable.  Unfortunately, a lot of kids in South Africa view FET colleges as a second choice and not up to par with universities.  However the grade 9’s I’m working with are from the townships so are very under resourced and have very little access to tools that will help them succeed at the university level.  A lot of their schools don’t have libraries; and none of the schools offer any form of career guidance.  So my job while working at Yabonga was to try and help the kids see what a great opportunity it would be to go to an FET college.

I helped lead numerous workshops with the grade 9’s that covered topics such as peer pressure, decision  making, navigating word documents, setting up emails, note taking and studying tips.  At first it was difficult because Chantel and I would literally just be writing on a flip chart and have the kids write their responses on paper.  Plus it was the phase of getting to know one another so the kids were pretty shy.  However as time passed we used more interactive and fun activities that allowed the kids to have more fun.  They were debating and role playing and engaging in activities that required critical thinking and teamwork.  It was difficult at times however.  For example, when I held the computer workshop I helped the kids set up email addresses.  They had major difficulty filling out the information page where it asks for your name, DOB, gender, etc.  Something that I thought was really simple was very difficult for them and it was just so devastating to be reminded of how little exposure to essential tools they weren’t receiving.  I actually cried that day.  I took something like using a word document and sending an email for granted.  However that very same day was a turning point for me as well.  Lisa had stopped in during the workshop and told me something that became the reason I enjoyed working at Yabonga even more.  She emphasized that my role for these kids wasn’t merely just education guidance.  Sometimes just being someone they can talk to and play games with is enough.  For many of these kids it was the first time they received guidance of this sort or had someone who cared about their future.  Me just being there and showing that I cared was good enough.  And once I realized that, that’s when I started having a lot more fun.  I tried not to get so upset about these kids’ situations.  I just tried my best to provide all that I could and give them all the information that I had.  I built relationships with some of these kids and got to know them on a personal level.  We would speak of all sorts of things from music to sports to relationships. 

Sive, Andile, me, and Lutho (from left to right).  After lunch
                                          the kids always wanted to take pictures and it turned into a 
    photo shoot.                                  

Anele, me and Yibinathi (from right to left).  These two boys are
amazing and want to become electrical engineers.  Hardworking
students like them is what made me happy to go to work.

On the last day of work Chantel and I will be turning in recommendations to our supervisor on all the grade 9’s we’ve worked with.  There’s a total of 40 grade 9’s but we’ve only seen about 20 so we won’t be able to give all of them recommendations.  And of the 20 that we worked with, not all of them came on a regular basis.  For example this one boy named Andile came for two days then we never saw him again.  This made it really difficult and somewhat frustrating because we really wanted to give everyone an equal opportunity.  I think a good amount of the kids are kind of considering the FET college option but they’re still not too sure.  I hope my work at Yabonga has made an impact on at least a few kids.  For that I’ll be nothing but thankful.

Last day with our kids :( It was very hard to say goodbye. 
These kids will always have a special place in my heart. 

guest blogger Fatu Conteh

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