Children becoming the change they want to see in the world
12 May 2014 - Tebogo felt a sense of despair as she looked around her community: some of her peers were falling pregnant and substance abuse was turning into a common occurrence, but then she discovered a community of her peers that felt passionate about driving social change. She finally found a circle of friends that she could trust, a group of young people that shared her passion to make lasting difference to the community.
The Girls and Boys Education Movement – simply known as GEM/BEM – has become a powerful platform for social change among young people in South African schools and communities. These school-based clubs offer learners an opportunity to be the leaders and agents of change by discussing societal issues, receiving training and strategising around solutions to challenges they face in their lives and communities. Ultimately, the GEM/BEM clubs provide girls and boys with an avenue to discover their potential and shape them as potential leaders for South Africa’s future.
The clubs are supported by the Department of Basic Education, school management and teachers, but the learners themselves steer the course of the discussions and activities as they focus on issues affecting their communities. They do not shy away from serious matters. On the agenda is HIV prevention, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, poverty, domestic violence and how to plan for a brighter future with confidence.
“I joined GEM/BEM because I knew it would help me develop my leadership skills,” says fifteen-year-old Tebogo. “In the three months since I've joined I have already learned how to communicate better with my peers and other members of our community people and how to encourage them to open up about their problems.”
One of the aspects making GEM/BEM so attractive to all learners, is the fact that the clubs do not discriminate. Members who come from homes affected by poverty or who are being raised by single parents say they feel accepted at the clubs and that their parents’ lack of social status or their lack of expensive accessories like cellphones make no difference to their fellow club-members. Here, everyone is equal, and no-one is unwelcome. The only prerequisite is that you must have a passion for inspiring social change in your community.
Club members who excel in the development of their leadership skills, are invited to join in the GEM/BEM Sports Programme – an extension of the already highly influential GEM/BEM initiative. They are introduced to the programme at camps held nationwide, where they are equipped in using sport as a tool to mobilise bigger numbers of their peers, where they can all benefit from practical opportunities to address social ills, while at the same actively engaging in positive activities.