As part of Youth Month, Veronica Fourie of SAFM visited Khayalethu Youth Centre and interviewed Dr Marietjie van der Merwe and two of our “old boys”. Listen to their interview here.
For Khayalethu friends not fluent in Afrikaans, here’s a translation:
Young boys that live on the street are often used by criminals to break in through small openings during burglaries. They are offered drugs and land up in the control of drug lords. Only the lucky ones are saved from these circumstances and placed in youth centres by street workers or social workers.
The director of the ACVV Khayalethu Youth Centre, Dr Marietjie van der Merwe, says they end up there with lifeless eyes. She believes in the role of sport in teaching discipline and that better contact is made with the boys on the sports field than in the office.
We started a karate club about 11 years ago. So far we’ve already had eight black belts. We have a world champion. Last year, six of our boys qualified for the World Championship in The Netherlands. And these are the boys that – if you drive past them – you think they’re good for nothing. There is so much potential. We just have to get them off the streets and into the right environment to grow that potential.
Our karate programme is every day. We use it specifically to foster discipline, and from the youngest – he’s 6 – to the oldest take part in karate. They enter competitions. We have won a tremendous amount of medals.
Then we have boys who have played rugby in the Craven Week. One of our boys has represented South Africa in Mexico playing street soccer. We have a cycling group. We’re part of a soccer league with all the children’s homes. And we now have a swimming pool, sponsored by Ironman4TheKidz, so all our children are water-safe.
One of the “old boys” of Khayalethu – the 28-year-old Luvuyo Thole – already knew (at 12) the consequences of dagga, petrol and thinners. He looks back on his life on the streets:
We were sleeping in town. In North End. When you find an open area, if you have some boxes, you can sleep there. If you want to eat, you have two options. You beg for the money. If you don’t get it, you go on the bins. But if that day you don’t get anything it means it’s a day without food.
He got a second chance and he grasped it. He now has a brown belt in karate, was part of the President’s Awards Programme, matriculated, and has his driver’s licence. After four years of work at a sport organisation, he returned to the Youth Centre as a junior youth worker.
Another success story is that of the 29-year-old Mbulelo Dweni who also took part in karate and earned his brown belt. He has a National Diploma in Business Management. He remembers his tough days on the street.
So, where I was sleeping under the pipes, and under the bridge. Living in unpleasant circumstances. We used to beg at the robots and also search in the bins and also go house to house, door to door, begging for bread. So that is how we used to survive on the street. I felt very sad about my situation. So I had to face it and deal with it. I was involved in drugs, but not crime. We used to sniff glue, sniff paint, sniff a solution that you use to patch your bicycle. So dagga, cigarettes … all sorts … to get yourself warm at night.
A street worker helped him out of this tragic situation. Khayalethu was his home for 11 years. Memories of his alcoholic parents fade, and are replaced with positive thoughts.
We’ve been through to many different young and youth camps. That is where I have gained my leadership skills and also ambassador skills because we were trained and developed to think positive. To be where I am today … I wouldn’t be the person that I am without Khayalethu. And also realising the fact that even if I had grown up from my home, my life wouldn’t be the way it is today because of the opportunities that were not there.
Luvuyo and Mbulelo have advise for boys in difficult circumstances.
There is always a second chance. Whoever tries to help – give that person a chance. It will change your life around. It’s never too late.
Your past doesn’t define your future. When I tell people that I was once staying on the street… when they compare what I am today and what I’m telling them, you would find it’s two different worlds, so anything is possible, ma’am.
These are but two of the success stories of boys who rose above their circumstances and grabbed the life line that was thrown to them. Veronica Fourie, in Port Elizabeth.