The Unsung – Hip volunteer shares his GroundBreaking passion

2012-02-25 11:10

There was a certain nostalgia evoked by meeting Vhutshilo Mashau outside his Hillbrow apartment block last week.

Perhaps it is the exuberance of youth that he exudes in dollops, or our vague familiarity stemming from the various times we’ve run into each other, or perhaps it’s that he lives just a block up from where I lived when I was not much younger that he is now.

Vhutshilo (22), who hails from Jelele in Venda and now lives with his mother, a domestic worker toiling in the northern suburbs, and his ailing aunty is full of that worldly cool that was the hallmark of my generation of Hillbrow teens.

As we take a trip around the block and down memory lane, Vee, as he is affectionately known, retraces his history, beginning at the point where I met him about a year ago.

He and a number of other youths had joined fellow directors and I on the LoveLife board for a strategic retreat.

LoveLife is one of South Africa’s largest NGOs and is certainly the most prominent HIV/Aids intervention programme for young people.

The organisation has been undergoing a process of rediscovery, and it was this process to which Vee and some of his GroundBreaker alumni colleagues contributed.

GroundBreakers are the young community pioneers who champion the LoveLife lifestyle programmes in their respective communities.

He was impressive, giving us a depth of insight into the LoveLife programmes and their outcomes that no amount of literature or site visits could provide.

As a GroundBreaker, Vee facilitates youth development programmes in his community and leads by example, embracing the sort of responsible lifestyle that many of his peers would frown upon or call boring.

Over the years, there have been 10 000 GroundBreaker alumni who, like Vee, have grown through the ranks. He started in 2009 as an Impinchi, the auxiliaries for GroundBreakers.

As he recounts, he couldn’t identify with his friends’ “we’ll see what happens” attitudes about their futures and opted to begin volunteering at a local theatre in search of inspiration.

Next door to the theatre are LoveLife’s offices, which he would visit, and soon enough, he joined the programme.

Two years later, through this network of LoveLife alumni, he became a facilitator for a holiday camp for Orange Farm scholars called Camp-I-Am.

Camp-I-Am, (started by Kai Krooks-Chisano, the former Mozambican president’s daughter-in-law) develops vocational skills in participants and culminates in a UN-style debate among campers. I attended the last one and was pleasantly surprised to see Vee there.

And even more so to find out that he was coaching two of the six UN-style debating teams.

Both of his teams did exceptionally well, one winning the competition outright. A couple of months later, poring over correspondence I had just got round to, I came across an email outlining an interesting scholar programme: a spelling bee. And lo and behold, one of the organisers listed was...yup, Vhutshilo again!

The youngest of three boys (his older brothers have remained in Venda), Vee is sanguine about his life of community service initiatives. He is less modest about his ambitions for The Young Minds Spelling Programme.

This interschool spelling bee was inspired by the movie Akeelah and the Bee, and Vee hopes to see it grow into a nationwide programme. Started in 2010, most of the participating schools are underprivileged and in historically disadvantaged communities.

Vee has been raising funds for the programme and for some of the more gifted participants to travel comfortably across the country.

Vhutshilo’s face lights up whenever he relates his experiences of working with his peers and teens.

He has a remarkable clarity about the voluntary work he is doing, which I don’t recall sharing at that age.“But what of school?” I ask.

He says he would like to aim for a marketing qualification and has recently started a sales job for a local security company to pay for his schooling.

His previous academic studies in electrical engineering were interrupted after two years because of financial difficulties.

Recently, I became aware of the vast number of young South Africans who volunteer just to have something to do in a jobless society, as well as to develop particular skills and contacts.

Vhutshilo represents some of the more dedicated of these youths, having developing a competence in community service itself.

But it is his passion for his work and his solid reputation among those who have worked with him that puts Vee in a class of his own in this second part in our series on unheralded champions of service.

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