Saturday, 20 July 2013

My Yabonga Family

It is estimated that 6.3 million people currently have HIV in South Africa.  Throughout this experience, I have learned about the political, economic, and cultural factors contributing to this number.  I learned a great deal in the classroom, but working at Yabonga brought it all to life, and that’s not even the beginning.  Yabonga is a NGO with a range of services dedicated to men, women, and children infected or directly affected by HIV and AIDS.  It is difficult to articulate my experiences here except that from day one it was an emotional journey.  The connections I have made and the lessons I have learned about the people around me as well as myself will stay with me forever.  To keep this short, I’ll focus on two major highlights of my experience at Yabonga: the youth center opening and running the career workshop.
van-loads (literally) of people showing up for the
Khayelitsha Youth Center Opening
            I am grateful I had the opportunity to attend the official opening day of the Khayelitsha youth center where we would be holding the career workshop and after-school youth program.  The opening mostly involved a few speakers and a handful of performances by the Yabonga youth.  To say the day was inspiring would be an understatement.  Not only was I in awe of the voices and talent of the kids, but also the spirit of the community was overwhelming.  One performance in particular brought me to tears.  This group stood up to sing, but incorporated their personal stories into the song.  One boy recalled how his parents threw him out of the house when he told them he was HIV positive; another boy recalled his dad raping his sister.  It’s easy to forget about how much I take my parents for granted, and situations like these can really make it hit home.
A performance put on by
students for the opening day.
While the stories were devastating, the response in the room was empowering.  These kids were not afraid to shout out their stories because everyone in the room supported them, cheering them on as they continued.  I think this performance was so memorable because it spoke to the challenges of the youth of today.  Many of the kids chose to focus on past events of the apartheid and Hector Pieterson, although some speakers—as well as Nandi who you could say was one of our supervisors—voiced a need for emphasis on today’s struggles.  The recent past should not be forgotten, but the idea of focusing more on today and the future of this generation of post-apartheid youth resonates with the necessary progress to be made in South Africa toward a brighter future. 
Presenting goals and obstacles
to the group during the workshop.
            The youth center opening was my first exposure to some of the students I would come to know on a much more personal level during the career workshop.  Our major assignment at Yabonga was to design a career workshop for the grade 10-12 students that would take place over the course of two weeks.  The workshop was to be organized and run by the gap year students and us.  We were about the same age, but got off to an unexpectedly rough start mostly due to the language barrier.  While all of the students knew English, they were much more comfortable with Xhosa, their local dialect.  They had trouble understanding our accent and were afraid to speak up when they didn’t understand.  This became both frustrating and time-consuming, but running the workshop with them turned out to be my most rewarding experience of the trip.  As we ran the workshop together, we began to understand and become more comfortable with each other.  Within two weeks, we had become close friends and it was hard to say goodbye.      

Some of the gap year students and us!
            On the last day of the workshop, the last activity we planned was a creative response to different topics like family, happiness, etc.  We planned the workshop so that the gap year students and us were involved in every activity.  This helped facilitate relationships with the students and they quickly saw us as equals.  One of the performances was especially powerful.  Their topic was happiness, and they responded to it by saying that Yabonga makes them happy and broke out into the song “We Are Family.”  Eventually everyone was up singing and dancing and celebrating each other.  Every person wants to be accepted and feel like they are a part of something bigger; Yabonga provides this support system for its students.  It’s difficult to part ways with Yabonga, but I have a feeling I’ll be back.

Last day of grade 11/12 workshop

-Shelby Graham


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