STORY | First impressions of South Africa

This Summer, Milena Boulianne (member of IMBEWU's committee), visited South Africa for the first time. As she is reponsible for the project ACADEMY OF CREATIVITY, she spent several days in Port Elizabeth to see the activities and meet the local partners. Here is her story.

In August this year, I had the immense privilege of accompanying Anne, general coordinator with IMBEWU, on a mission to South Africa. We received a warm welcome to the Walmer township in Port Elisabeth by Jonas, the director of Masifunde, our partner for the new ACADEMY OF CREATIVITY project. This project organises activities for the children and adolescents of a number of schools in the township which take place in a local high school while waiting until the newly built centre with the fitting name, The Changemaker Academy is ready for use. The centre will provide the young people with a safe place to learn after school in the heart of the township. We had only just arrived when we were able to attend the broadcasting of a report produced by a group of young people on the sensitive theme of the status of the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) in the township. These budding young reporters called for freedom of expression and tolerance towards difference.

Afterwards, we visited various groups: the choir, a theatre group and a visual arts workshop. I don’t know how to describe my emotions on entering the classroom where the choir was rehearsing, these children have a lot of talent. Once the music was over, we were overwhelmed with “his” and “thank-yous”. If the choir has grown since, it’s due to the large number of those who were in Neuchatel for the exchange SOUNDS OF PEACE some weeks before!

The visit to the Walmer neighbourhood and Port Elisabeth was fascinating. It is a very different city with a stark contrast between rich and poor areas. The black and coloured communities are affected mostly by poverty and their children have little chance of attending a good school. The young people from the Walmer township grow up in a very difficult context and extreme conditions. A tour through the township with Jonas spoke louder than words.
The participants from the project that we met are determined and to see them sing, act and create with such passion is magic. They receive solid support from their coaches and I could really see the commitment and the huge work of awareness building and prevention. In fact, the objective is not only to enable the young people to express themselves but above all to prevent risk behaviours and to prepare them for their future through life skills sessions and learning support.

One moment which moved me in particular during our stay was during an outing to the beach with the choir. Those who participated in the exchange programme in Europe were offered the opportunity to record their music, which in turn will raise funds for the project (available through IMBEWU very soon). After the recording session, we set off for the beach for a picnic. The joy and excitement was at its peak and nearly everyone ended up throwing themselves fully-clothed into the freezing sea! As the Walmer township is far from the ocean, the young people rarely go to the beach.
These few days visiting our partner allowed me to really see the quality of their work. The ACADEMY OF CREATIVITY offers new opportunities to the young people what a pleasure to see our efforts in action! I could have stayed longer...