A young Rondebosch resident will be winging her way to the UK today where she will receive the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award from Queen Elizabeth herself.
Jessica Dewhurst, 24, who is completing a Master’s degree in Social Development from the UCT, co-ordinates the Green Point-based Edmund Rice Justice Desk of South Central Africa, which advocates, educates and equips people in the area of human rights, justice and advocacy.
Founded only three years ago, the desk operates in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, while also offering support, expertise and educational materials to various other groups across the globe.
With Ms Dewhurst at the helm, the desk has gone from strength to strength, prompting her nomination for the Queen’s Young Leaders Award which honours young people from across the Commonwealth.
“I still don’t know who nominated me,” she revealed this week.
“I was contacted by the Royal Commonwealth Society, and subsequently went through several rounds of Skype and telephonic interviews. It was quite an intense process. I must say I was quite shocked to learn that I will be receiving the award.”
She said the honour was “very exciting” for her and her team. The awards will be presented at Buckingham Palace on Thursday June 23.
The visit will also provide Ms Dewhurst the opportunity to ask British Prime Minister David Cameron a question during a question-and-answer session at 10 Downing Street.
“I will be asking him about the exploitation of African skills and resources by the bigger nations of the world,” she said. “It is an issue that is very close to my heart.”
Also included on her itinerary are visits to the BBC, Cambridge University and the British headquarters of social network Twitter.
The timing of her award was not lost on Ms Dewhurst, as South Africa celebrates Youth Day today, marking the 40th commemoration of the Soweto uprisings on June 16 1976.
“I am always amazed by everyday South Africans and how they manage to rise above their circumstances. As the youth I think we know it is our responsibility to take the country forward.”
Dr Evona Rebelo, national co-ordinator for the Edmund Rice Network and director of the Catholic Schools Office in Cape Town, who has known Ms Dewhurst for almost 15 years, wrote a glowing motivation for her prior to her being announced as one of this year’s award winners.
“Jessica is driven by a deep passion to improve the circumstances of the marginalised in South Africa. Our country remains deeply polarised with a growing inequality between the rich and the poor. In my opinion, Jessica’s greatest gift has been her ability to sensitise youth to issues of social transformation. She has facilitated ‘immersion’ experiences which have ‘broken open’ the heart and moved young people from a theoretical understanding of injustice to an empathic constructive engagement,” she wrote.
“She is a talented young woman with exceptional organisational and communication abilities. She is a connector who is able to inspire others to make a difference. She operates from an inclusive spirituality of social justice.”