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Isibindi: Guiding tomorrows leaders

UNICEF South Africa/2016/Reddy
© UNICEF South Africa/2016/Reddy
Vuyo and Jeff in conversation at the King Williams Town Safe Park.

March 2017 - “I am an example of the success of this programme” asserts 19-year old Vuyo Gqotholo, as he sits in the shade provided by one of the former shipping containers that make up this Safe Park on the outskirts of King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

A colourful ‘Welcome to Isibindi’ sign greets visitors to this large, well-maintained site that sits on a small hill surrounded by the five villages which it serves. In existence since 2008, the park comprises three former shipping containers and a few playground facilities. Home to between 30 and 50 children daily, the Park also hosts a soup kitchen every Friday for the needy children in this economically deprived community.

Vuyo, comes from one of these impoverished households where his mother had passed away in 2008 and where he his siblings were dependent on the old age grant of his grandmother. Fortunately, the child and youth care worker in his area noticed the plight of Vuyo and his siblings, including their absences from school, and intervened to support the family.

The child and youth care worker, using family counselling skills gained through Isibindi, encouraged the family to talk about their emotional difficulties and how to express them. A ‘memory box’ was made by Vuyo and his four siblings in which items of personal worth and meaning were stored. They were then encouraged by the child and youth care workers to speak about their past and how they deal with it. For Vuyo, the memory box was a reminder that “you can change and make your future.”

A household routine was then introduced to ensure that the children were aware of their responsibilities. Budgeting skills were taught and an expenses plan drawn up and assistance was provided to plant a vegetable garden. In terms of long term support, the children were encouraged to attend the Safe Park in order to build a sense of belonging and to provide a welcoming sanctuary.

Vuyo in particular found great solace in the Park and quickly became involved in the various youth forums as well as the Adolescent Development Programme and then the Young Men Empowerment Programme, all of them Isibindi initiatives. These programmes, he says, taught him “effective decision-making, analysing skills, how to minimise weaknesses and maximise strengths as well as respect and responsibility.”

He excelled as a speaker during debates and group discussions facilitated by the Park coordinators and this translated into him doing well in his Grade 12 exams. As a result, this confident, polite young man is now beginning his life as a student at the University of Fort Hare where he will be studying Social Work.
The enthusiastic welcome he receives from the staff of the Park when he arrives is testimony to this dynamic young leader’s popularity and the good example that he provides to other youth in this community which, like many, is plagued by high levels of substance abuse, school absenteeism and violence, both domestic and criminal.

Vuyo is adamant that this positive change in his life is due to the Isibindi programme and, in particular the child and youth care worker who worked closely with him, Jeff. Through Jeff, he had his text books provided, was given after school tuition and has assistance in accessing a financial study grant.

The fatherly support that Jeff continues to give Vuyo is evident in their interaction and the pride that Jeff feels for this remarkable young man whom he has mentored for several years, is palpable. A Safe Parks coordinator for 11 years, Jeff managed 24 child care workers in the area and is heavily involved in the Adolescent Development Programe (ADP) where issues around adulthood, sexuality, and responsibility are raised in an open and interactive way.

For both Jeff more such safe parks are needed to support the many children and youth in the Eastern Cape who face a range of socio-economic challenges. He would like to see more sports facilities in the Park so that it can attract young men and teenage boys who would then not have the influence of bars and drug dealers.

Vuyo fully agrees with this sentiment and waves goodbye before reiterating that he is grateful for the support he has received. “Isibindi,” he declares, has been with me every step of the way.” 



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