“Where’s Dumisani?” – Speaking the Language of the Youth

It’s only Wednesday, but the Refugee Health and Rights (RHR) team in Cape Town are looking a little worn out this afternoon – and with good reason. They have spent the day going from class to class at Maitland High School, introducing learners to Sonke and the One Man Can campaign.

Starting this morning by presenting to the full student body of 400 learners at the school assembly, the trio (Jean-Marie, Pierette and Papy) then visited all the grade 10,11 and 12 classes to find out more about what the learners need and how best to engage them in discussions about human rights, gender and HIV. They’ll be back again next week to speak to the grade 7,8 and 9 learners and will then have regular engagements at the school to discuss in greater detail the issues that have been raised.

“Where’re Dumisani and Khetiwe?” asked one learner, recognising the One Man Can t-shirt that Jean-Marie was wearing from the popular soapie Generations. This is a common occurrence these days, after the well-known character wore the shirt on the show. And it is a great intro for the team to get the youngsters talking about gender and gender-based violence.

In another class, learners were intrigued by Pierette’s Medical Male Circumcision (MMC) t-shirt: “What do you mean ‘Less Skin, We Win’?” “Are you talking about condoms?” “What about traditional circumcision?” “Where can we go for MMC?” “How can our parents find out more?”

In the short space of time that the RHR team had with each class, a number of difficult and important social issues were already raised by the learners: having multiple girlfriends, dating older men, the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse and police responses to complaints of sexual violence. There is clearly a great need to be working with these kids.

In addition to all these complex issues, the RHR team are also committed to promoting unity amongst the school’s very diverse student body. Jean-Marie has put in a request to UNHCR for sports equipment which will enable the team to host sports tournaments at the school, encouraging South Africans, non-South Africans, and learners from other schools to come together to form teams that can compete for the sought-after OMC t-shirts and other prizes.

With the increasing demand for Sonke to work with youngsters, the Training, Capacity Building and Community Mobilisation team are formalising the organisation’s approach to working with youth. Using tools like the youth digital stories that have previously been developed and the teen novel that we are currently working on, staff will be able to work with kids over a series of weeks to discuss topics of relevance to them.

We are also finalising our Child Protection Policy, which will ensure that whenever we work with children we adhere to the strictest ethical guidelines and have clear policies for what to do should our staff members become aware of situations of danger for the children with whom we work.

We are looking forward to doing more work on children’s rights (especially in relation to violence, gender and HIV) and are excited by the numerous opportunities that are becoming evident.