Friday, 4 July 2014

Youth Day Celebration - Desmond Tutu Youth Center

On June 16, 1976 in Soweto, South Africa, 20,000 students protested the education system under apartheid. During apartheid, black and colored students were taught in Afrikaans in school. Afrikaans (often referred to as “the language of the oppressor) was a third language for many of these students (Xhosa and English were usually first and second languages, respectively) and they struggled learning in such a foreign language. The police shot down hundreds of the protesting students, including a boy named Hector Pieterson. Hector was one of the first students shot and killed by the police and the image of another boy carrying his limp, dead body has become a symbolic image of the entire Soweto Uprising. Today, the sacrifice these students made many years ago is commemorated as a national holiday for all youth to celebrate.

At the Desmond Tutu Youth Center in Masiphumelele, the staff and youth worked together to put on quite a ceremony celebrating the power of today’s youth. The youth center has adopted a positive youth development program that emphasizes the “6 Cs including: confidence, character, connection, competence, compassion, and contribution. The Youth Day celebration not only encompassed confidence, character and competence evident in the youth’s performances; but the ceremony also showed off connections with the community as the youth contributed to the Youth Day Holiday with their skits in addition to showing a great deal of compassion for those students who sacrificed their lives many years ago in Soweto.

The ceremony began with powerful poems, songs/raps and speeches reminding the audience exactly what happened thirty-eight years ago in Soweto. The youth performers were extremely well spoken and the audience was very responsive—nothing is more exciting that being immersed into a crowd that is laughing, clapping along and cheering to show support for this generation’s youth. Later into the ceremony, the youth performed tribal African dances to the beat of djembe drums. To say I was impressed is quite an understatement. The entire great hall of the center echoed with deep drum beats as the talented youth moved their bodies to mimic snakes slithering in the brush or pounded along to the beat with maracas made out of soda cans. Even though the majority of the commentating between skits was spoken in Xhosa, the language barrier did not hinder my ability to enjoy the ceremony one bit. Being surrounded by such a lively group of youth, parents, staff and community members was exciting and I could not have been more proud of the youth performers. For the finale, the entire crowd moved outside to the courtyard area where the African dance group performed one last dance. Drumming and musical techniques were combined as well as drama skits that the kids have been practicing during weekly youth center classes—the finale certainly went out with a bang!

As the festivities wrapped up, I was left with such a positive lasting impression of the Youth Day holiday. Hearing the youth speak about empowering the younger generation so that they can help lead South Africa to a positive future was extremely humbling. Each of the kids that participated in the DTYC Youth Day ceremony truly embodied the “6 Cs” of positive youth development and not only put on quite a performance, but also showed a sense of pride for being a young person in South Africa and demonstrated individual commitments to making the future of this country a successful one.

- Megan Auzenbergs, Class of 2016

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