Young activists change their world

2013-06-23 06:00

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As a pupil attending school in Waverley, Candice Sehoma (20) was embarrassed to have classmates over to her home in Alexandra.

The chemical toilets were dirty and unsanitary, and she watched her family and neighbours get sick from using them.

Instead of waiting for someone else to take action, she thought, why not get up and do it ourselves?

Meet Sehoma and two other young activists who are changing their communities.

Each of them is an ambassador to the One Young World charity, an organisation that brings together youths from more than 100 countries for an annual summit.

This October, the summit will be hosted in Johannesburg and the ambassadors will have the opportunity to show off their city and projects to young leaders visiting from around the world.

Candice Sehoma, the neighbourhood mobiliser

After years of waiting for the toilets to be rebuilt, Candice Sehoma came to terms with the fact that her community was not on the government’s list of priorities.

So she went from house to house, knocking on the doors of her neighbours to propose meetings, organise fundraising and put together a building permit from the municipality.

Sehoma said: “I can see, across all generations, a lot of people rely on the government to develop themselves. But this whole initiative is to build a sense of ownership, to get them to build and develop for themselves and curb reliance on government for fulfilment.”

Now, everyone living in the area owns a key to two new working flush toilets.

Sehoma has witnessed how this small change in lifestyle has greatly impacted the 50 families in her community, and she is working with a group of friends to bring flushing toilets to other parts of Alex.

In consultation with Johannesburg Water, Sehoma is also starting free courses to integrate sanitation education into her project.

When asked if her community sees her as a leader, Sehoma giggled and looked down at the ground, replying modestly.

“I’ve had a lot of people saying: ‘If you start your own party, we are going to vote for you.’”

One Young World Ambassador Mandisa Dlamini started a programme that will plant vegetable gardens in two Joburg schools as a way to teach students how to run a business. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

Mandisa Dlamini, the entrepreneur

Mandisa Dlamini (27), an agricultural specialist at Absa Agribusiness Banking, is passionate about combating food security and unemployment in South Africa.

In her hometown of Ophondweni, KwaZulu-Natal, she helped a woman to start a vegetable garden in order to provide food for her 11 dependants.

Now Dlamini is working on similar projects in two Joburg schools.

She said: “People are working so hard to get an education, but most of them won’t be able to get a job. That calls for us to do something, and I think something is entrepreneurship, calling on young people to do something on their own to make money.”

Dlamini’s Tunnel Farming project teaches learners from low-income families how to run a business by growing and selling their own vegetables. Learners from two schools, one in Cosmo City and one in Westonaria, will farm lettuce, onions, peppers and spinach. They will then sell the vegetables and use the profits to benefit their school.

The project kicks off in July, and Dlamini hopes the students will apply the skills they learn from farming to future business ideas.

“Many children are looking at the future and seeing nothing. This is an opportunity to really plant a seed into these children’s lives,” she said.

Clara Gwatirera, the educator

Clara Gwatirera (24) works a day job in construction and spends her free time as a philanthropist. Three to four times per year, Gwatirera fills up her car with boxes of collected textbooks and reading material and delivers them to orphans and underprivileged kids from low-income schools.

As a child growing up in Zimbabwe, Gwatirera was orphaned at the age of nine and taken in by her grandmother. Her school fees were paid for by an NGO, but her grandmother still struggled to afford books.

She said: “There are orphans out there who finish high school and then are stuck. They can’t go forward to university because of fees, and without education it is hard to be successful.”

In 2009, Gwatirera moved to Johannesburg to complete her education, only to find that school would once again become a financial burden. It was then she decided to start her organisation, Angels Network, to do what she could to promote education among orphans like herself.

“I’m still in the process of being a leader. I hope to set up my own foundation someday and do something more tangible then just distributing books,” the young humanitarian said.

But for now, Gwatirera is working on getting more individuals and organisations willing to donate textbooks so she can expand her programme.

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