Sunday, 22 July 2012

Yabonga: My learning experience

     Fatu and I had the pleasure of working with Yabonga during the Public Health Studies study abroad Cape Town trip. Yabonga is a nongovernmental organization that seeks to support education for children. Yabonga’s vision is to empower men, women and their families affected by HIV/AIDS to become agents of change in their communities. Yabonga originally started out in 1998  with a children’s program because they realized that the educational system was poor and under resourced. It all started with educare centers that expanded and Yabonga soon noticed that people were becoming affected by HIV. Yabonga expanded their efforts to offer HIV/AIDS programs. Today Yabonga has 14 support centers around the Cape Town area. Yabonga manages to reach about 75,000 people. They train people on how to live a positive life despite having HIV. They train men and women to be peer educators, youth counselors and youth leaders who work in the various support centers around Cape Town. We didn't really get to see much of the HIV/AIDS program since we mainly worked with the Youth Program. The Children's Program also has an Orphaned/ Vulnerable Children program. Community mothers open up their homes for children where they can get a nice meal, counseling and other things. The Children's Program has an importance from a public health perspective. It offers psychosocial support, material support, HIV/AIDS support, educational support, and other enrichment programs.

     My experiences with Yabonga have left me speechless in a lot of occasions. I realized that Americans have so many resources related to education that students in the townships do not. I could go into why education plays a key role in health but I feel like I should share more of the things that the students have taught me during my stay here. I remember when I was in high school; I had a counselor who advised me on applying to schools and financial aid. I wouldn’t be studying at Johns Hopkins if I didn’t have any guidance. I think it is important to realize that the youth of today will be the employees of the future but they can only be qualified to fill these jobs with education. Some of the students didn’t know what they wanted to do and that is absolutely understandable. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life in 9th grade either. What is more important is that I had someone who I could go to to advise me on things and bounce ideas off of. I think the South African education system puts students into situations prematurely. Students have the option to attend a FET school, which stands for Further Education and Training school. Students can either continue at their high school or apply to a FET school at during their 9th grade year to study for 10th grade. It happens so early.
Most of our lessons focused on students thinking about  what they want to do by considering their interests, values, and skills.

Our days weren't limited to lecturing. We did group activities about peer pressure, decision making, and other life skills. 

It was the student's winter break so we had to incorporate fun icebreakers and games so students would be comfortable with us. I had so much fun playing games with them. I really got to see the student's personalities. 
Going to the park and doing relay races. I lost every time/ I'm getting old.
Space availability in the universities is sparse so we had a Representative from a FET college (Further Educational Training) come and speak to the students. False Bay College is one of the FET schools in the Western Cape. We wanted students to consider this option to learn some type of trade so they have a chance at getting a job and try to pursue higher education after.

       I learned just how much apartheid still affects South Africans. Many of the students Fatu and I worked with didn’t really get to experience full blown apartheid but their parents did. It is important to understand that their parents weren't allowed to pursue higher education and were reduced to work jobs just to get money. Therefore the students’ parents can’t really offer advice on college and further education. I noticed that many students want to be doctors and lawyers and that is probably because their parents don’t want them to live like they are currently. I mean I think it is parent nature to want their children to always do better than them. The problem is that students don’t realize how to get to become a doctor or lawyer. I understand that students want to stop the poverty cycle in their family but they can’t do it by themselves. This made my role at Yabonga fulfilling because I knew that I was contributing. Granted I don’t have all the answers but we were able to sit down with students and talk to them about what they wanted to be. We did exercises about setting SMART goals. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we were with the students doing interactive activities to get them to think about the future and have them realize their own potential.
     When I first got accepted to go on this trip I had no idea I would be getting attached to these students after 6 weeks. These students will always have a place in my heart. These students have so much potential. I think a lot of the children living in the townships get overlooked. They deserve so much more though.. It was a struggle to get it in my head that I can’t make everything better but they really deserve better. They deserve to get to explore Cape Town and not be confined to the township they were born in. They deserve teachers and faculty who care about their success.  They deserve more guidance. I was so happy that I could be someone for them to talk to. I will keep contact with Yabonga and I'm eager to hear about the students' progress!

 Guest Blogger: Chantel Fletcher

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