Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Goals and Dreams, Doubts and Fears

The sun resisted the tug of daybreak as it rose leisurely through a blanket of clouds, signaling morning in the townships. Dim lights could still be seen from the road, their wires crisscrossing like webs above miles of brick houses and metal shacks on our way to the Sonke field offices adjacent to the Gugulethu NY1 Clinic. After meeting up with Sonke staff, we found ourselves bouncing around in the back of a white van on our way to pick up the Sonke soccer team for the SRAC/HIV presentation programme at the Goodwood prison. Eleven men piled into the van at the community recreation center and we were off.

When we arrived at the prison, we stored our cameras and phones in Emily’s car and were ushered into a large room where members of the inmate jazz band were setting up for the program. We took our seats in the front few rows of chairs and soon the rest of the room was filled to capacity with men in orange jump suits, guards and visitors. It was clear that, though the programme was formally a SRAC/HIV presentation, every aspect of the day’s activities commemorated the youth of 1976 and honored the youth of 2013.

Programme director, Charlton Mac Quena pointed to the paper posters plastered along the walls of the room, depicting the iconic image of Hector Pieterson being carried after the Soweto uprising on one side of the paper, and a gentleman carrying a lady who seemed to be drunk, on the other. “Both youth have goals and dreams, as well as doubts and fears,” he explained. Whether they are fears of stigma, of getting tested, peer pressure, gangsterism, or standing on one’s own- we all have fears. But it is what we do in the midst of all of the fear and doubt that defines us. “We chose to rejoice in this day, because life is about the choices we make.”

The jazz band continued the programme with three songs, and everyone sang along with the vocalist to the crowd favorite, “Stand by Me.” Sonke’s Mr. Aviwe Mtibe was then introduced as the deliverer of the keynote address. In his speech, he ardently echoed the words of previous speakers, stressing the importance of choices. He acknowledged that the prisoners were at Goodwood because of mistakes that they had made, but he encouraged them not to be defined by past mistakes, but by the skills they develop through prison programmes. At the end of their sentences, Mr. Mtibe hoped that all of the men could say, “This is what I have done. I was a prisoner that made something.” The final message of the address tied together the future of the prisoners and the youth of 2013. Not only should these men cultivate skills that will bring about personal pride and achievement, but they should also be the role models for today’s youth and support them in making good decisions. The presentation part of the programme closed in song, written by members of the jazz band, singing “I’m on my way and I’ll be back again.”

The programme continued at the Mbombela Sports Field with games played among the Young in Prison vs. the Goodwood Youth Offenders and Sonke Gender Justice vs. the Goodwood Offenders. It was incredible to witness the power of sport in bringing together different communities. Once in their team uniforms, the offenders’ evident talent replaced social stigma. These men were great sports and teammates on and off the field. Time passed quickly, as it always seems to do when you’re having fun, and the games ended with scores of 2-0 and 2-1, respectively. We left our opponents after handshakes and high-fives and ate lunch in the dining hall before heading back to the office. 

As a student volunteer in the IPN unit at Sonke’s Cape Town offices, I really appreciated the chance to engage with members of the community and the One Man Can staff. I am consistently amazed by the quantity and diversity of the work accomplished by Sonke and am honored to be working with such a dedicated, compassionate group of community activists.

Written by Maggie Storm

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