Thursday, 25 June 2015

Youth Day Festivities

My very first Friday of interning at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center, I had the pleasure of attending the site's annual Youth Day celebration. I heard murmurings of the upcoming celebration as soon as I began work at the beginning of the week. As I was getting to know my site, which consists of a positive youth development center and clinic, I could sense a tangible feeling of excitement among the staff and my fellow interns. I attended a planning meeting, and learned that much thought and enthusiasm had gone into the preparation of the celebration long before my arrival. On Friday morning, as I rode through the mountains on the way to the Youth Center, I eagerly wondered what the day had in store.

Youth Day is a South African national holiday on which people celebrate the youth of today and remember the youth of the past. In particular, South Africans commemorate the youth involved in a protest that took place on June 16, 1976 in Soweto. On this day in history, school aged individuals rallied for the right to education taught in their native language of Xhosa. Recent apartheid-era laws had instead mandated instruction in the language of Afrikaans. This initial protest led to a string of other youth protests, collectively called the Soweto uprising. Very sadly, these children and adolescents were met with harsh police brutality. On June 16, 1976, South Africans remember these brave souls as many children across the country take part in festivals and marches. Schools and work places are closed on June 16, so the Youth Center holds its celebration the Friday before the actual holiday.

The main individuals in charge of the celebration were six interns hired from the community the Youth Center services. This community, the nearby township of Masiphumelele, has a high rate of HIV and is home to many lower income families. The Youth Center provides Masiphumelele with a safe place where youth can learn educational and self-betterment skills as well as access clinical services. The six youth interns go through a competitive interview process in order to earn these positions of leadership, and are fully dedicated to helping kids from Masiphumelele succeed and be healthy. For me, their kindness, enthusiasm, and friendship have made them the best parts of working at the center so far.

When I came into the Youth Center that Friday morning, the first thing I saw was the six Masiphumelele interns dressed in school uniforms. Though they had all graduated from high school, they thought it would be fun to promote the holiday's theme of education. I helped them to set up chairs for the youth that would soon arrive. Before long, all the chairs were occupied and only standing room was left. Children filled the room in large groups of friends, laughing and singing. I watched from the far back as the festivities began!

A full house at the Youth Day celebration! 
Puthuma, one of the most outgoing interns, took on the role of master of ceremonies. She told jokes to get the kids riled up and then engaged them in a trivia contest. A giant wheel with numbers was spun, and kids from the audience were asked questions about the history of Youth Day. Correct answers earned the youth lollipops and an invitation to one of the Youth Center's upcoming programs. The children loved this activity; it was hard for those in the audience to resist shouting out the answers to the questions as each one was asked.

Puthuma working the microphone and asking trivia questions
Following this, a string of artistic youth performances took place. An a capella singing group blended beautiful harmonies, and a young girl recited striking self-composed poetry. A group of drummers and dancers amazed the crowd with their rhythmic talents and acrobatic skills. A group of mimes even made an appearance, which caused the youth to howl with laughter and enjoyment. All of these performances had ties back to the original theme of the holiday: the promotion of youth and the remembrance of the Soweto uprising victims.

Dancers at the front of the stage

The hilarious mimes!

When the performances had all finished, the youth gathered signs with positive messages, and went outside for a march led by the Youth Center. During this short window of opportunity, the other interns and I prepared snacks of muffins and oranges for them to enjoy upon their return. The festivities had come to a conclusion, but they had been a great deal of fun.

That evening, as I was riding home to Rondebosch, I thought about all that I had experienced that day. I had seen so much positivity in the youth of Masiphumelele, and I found it truly inspiring. I was excited to get to know the rest of the interns better, and I was excited to interact with more of the kids at the center. I knew that the rest of my summer at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center would be informative, fun, and fulfilling.

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