An expat’s reflection on Youth Month

Hayley Reichert

Language. Education. Resilience. Freedom. For some, it was just another public holiday; for others it’s so much more. We all know the significance of that tragic day when so many young people lost their lives because they wanted to learn in their own language.

Today many students still struggle to grasp subject matter delivered to them in a language other than their mother tongue. Two quotes from Mr Nelson Mandela come to mind: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” and “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

We live in the 21st century, yet our society and the pillars on which it operates are so deeply ingrained in archaic systems. Through my engagement with the global South African expat community, experiencing life in a First World country, England, and most recently through my growing relationship with 20- year-old South African NPO Khulisa Social Solutions, I’ve realised the value of holistic youth education – self-belief, consciously controlling one’s thoughts and empowering oneself to be resilient in the face of adversity.

South Africa ranks near the bottom of the global log in maths and science. A mere 37% of school starters go on to complete their matric and only 4% earn a degree.

Approximately 80% of our schools are barely functional.

Despite significant strides having been made, some might argue that we still have the most unequal education system in the world. South Africa is failing its young people, not only by these issues, but also because we are not equipping the majority with the most vital life-skills that form the core of human psychology. Developing their self-worth and the ability to rewire their brains will inevitably change their decisions and behaviour.

Psychological resilience is defined as an individual’s ability to successfully cope with adversity. Building resilience and mindfulness are not seen as important by many traditional education standards across the world, yet they remain the most important lessons a young person could ever receive.

I met Lesley-Ann van Selm, founder of Khulisa, and global ambassador PJ Powers in London two years ago and I’ve since learnt about the vast work they do supporting hundreds of communities across SA.

I’m also supporting their collaboration with Professor Thuli Madonsela through the Walk in My Shoes social justice campaign. I recently received an email from one of Khulisa’s social workers who said, “One of the most prominent issues I have found working in the communities of Mitchell’s Plain, Gugulethu, Nyanga, Philippi, Manenberg and Heideveld is the high number of individuals that are affected by mental health issues”

She went on to explain judiciary ecosystem failures such as high volumes of cases, not enough staff to manage the workload and lack of communication between various services which result in many falling through the cracks.

However, she also spoke about some of the positives: “I have seen many success stories from the work we have done that a client stopped using substances, and has gone back to school We have had individuals who have attended our Theft, Substance Use or Silence the Violence programmes asking if they can refer people to the programme as they feel they would benefit from the content of the sessions.”

Mental health has received significant attention in the UK government and media for the last few years, but even with large budgets allocated through the NHS (National Health Service), they still fall short. Looking at South Africa with its almost-stagnating economy, near-broken education and health systems and an overloaded judiciary system, it’s easy to see why we have such a huge burden on our shoulders.

Depression and other forms of mental health coupled with poverty, are known causes in the rise of drug and alcohol abuse, violence, crime and gang-related activity among the youth.

So much can be achieved by exposing our youth to the likes of Khulisa’s Dare to Dream or Global Mentorship programmes.

South Africa has the potential to be a First World country, however, too many of our youth are not being given the most basic psychological tools to overcome their circumstances.

It’s about time we started communicating with the youth in their language, not just isiXhosa or Setswana (although that would help too), but we also need to engage with their emotional and intellectual languages.

South Africa’s freedom came at the highest price: the innocent lives of Hastings Ndlovu, Hector Pietersen and many others. Too many young people are falling through the cracks but there are ways in which ordinary South Africans, regardless of whether they live in SA or not, are able to contribute towards driving sustainable and tangible change in our beautiful country. If I can play my part, then so can you.

For more information about Khulisa’s programmes or how to get involved, log on to Khulisa Social Services also has an office in the Mitchell’s Plain Town Centre, in the Dlaiw Building, at 12 Allegro Lane.

Hayley Reichert describes herself as a passionate South African living in London who educates and inspires others to effect positive change in South Africa. She has a BA in psychology (UNISA), and when not supporting corporates to improve operational productivity with YuDoGlobal, co-organising the UK-based Nedbank South African Charity Day or assisting Khulisa with their international brand marketing, she can be found helping South Africans with various home affairs issues such as loss of citizenship and juggling motherhood