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Country of the Week: South Africa
October 30, 2017

On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first full democratic general elections in which citizens of all races were allowed to vote. This momentous election marked the culmination of the four-year process that ended apartheid—the country’s system of racial segregation since 1948—and established Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black head of state, ushering in a new era of racial tolerance and reconciliation.

Since then, all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in South Africa’s democracy. The country has been called a “rainbow nation,” celebrated for its multicultural diversity, and its 56 million inhabitants represent a colorful array of ethnic groups, cultures, languages, and religions.

Today, South Africa’s people tenaciously strive to uphold Mandela’s model of equality for all citizens. And dedicated Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network members like you continue to champion the nation’s democratic ideals and create positive change. That’s why we’ve named South Africa #CountryoftheWeek!

Read on for three inspiring stories about YALI Network members working to educate and support the next generation of South Africans, inspire community engagement, and to empower disadvantaged youth.

Crowd of children huddled around woman
Boitumelo Morobane of #CountryoftheWeek South Africa works with local children.

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YALI Network member Boitumelo Morobane is an inspiring leader from Johannesburg, South Africa. As the founder of the nonprofit organization Rise the Phoenix Centre for the Community, she’s working to serve and educate the children in her community, and to provide an outlet where young children can experience new opportunities.

Boitumelo explains that schoolchildren in her community are often “the victims of circumstance,” and that “their quality of life does not always encourage healthy minds, bodies, and spirits or present the opportunity for success.” To help them succeed, Boitumelo says, her nonprofit provides vital after-school services, homework assistance, tutoring, and a meals program through a local primary school.

“Our vision is to broaden the opportunities and possibilities for children in our community, and our mission is to empower our community members to live independent, sustainable, and meaningful lives,” she says. “We create a haven where children can learn, play, eat, and harness their potential for greatness.”

Her organization also holds support groups for women and girls to tackle issues of abuse, self-love, and work—common issues that women in South Africa face. Boitumelo says that the core values of Rise the Phoenix are based on ubuntu principles of inclusion and support: “that all children belong to the village, and that their struggles are my struggles too. We are one.”[vc_text_separator title=”Inspiring Community Engagement” title_align=”separator_align_left” color=”grey”]In July 2017, YALI Network member Nobuhle Sithole from Durban organized a successful community-wide event to celebrate the legacy of South African leader Nelson Mandela. Her event, called “67 minutes of play for Mandela Day,” brought together more than 60 children and 15 adults for a “playing session” of fun and games. Her goal? “To help the community realize the power of play for young children.”

Children standing shoulder-to-shoulder playing a game
Children playing games at Sikelakhe ECD Centre in #CountryoftheWeek South Africa to celebrate Mandela Day.

As a supervisor at Sikelakhe ECD Centre, an early childhood development organization that helps babies and children from disadvantaged backgrounds, Nobuhle knows the importance of teaching children through games and activities. And after completing her YALI Network Online Course in Community Organizing for Action and attending a recent conference on the power of play in Pretoria, she felt prepared to share that knowledge with others and to encourage community engagement with children.

“Two representatives from my local library supported the event by bringing activities and other useful items, and Afrikans Financial Services donated money to support the event,” Nobuhle says. “Even though we didn’t have a lot of resources and our community is in an impoverished rural area, we played various games, including indigenous games that require fewer resources.”

Her Mandela Day event was a success: “Parents and children showed so much enthusiasm, [they were] ready to play and have fun,” says Nobuhle. “We played, we laughed, we learned. But most of all we united and remembered our hero, world icon Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. I am so happy and proud I did this event.”

Nobuhle was so inspired by her community’s response that she now plans to expand her youth center and to include a development wing where she will host #YALILearns events for local youth.[vc_text_separator title=”Empower Disadvantaged Youth” title_align=”separator_align_left” color=”grey”]In 2014, a UNESCO report estimated that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle due to a lack of sanitary products. Chuma Kahela, a YALI Network Member from Cape Town, wants to improve that statistic.

That’s why she became a mentor for Do it For Her, a pan-African initiative developed at Arizona State University (ASU) by Mandela Washington Fellows two years ago dedicated to empowering young women and girls across Africa. In August, Chuma and others held their second annual Sanitary Towel giveaway. “The aim of the handover was to help those girls who can not afford to buy sanitary towels so they would not miss out on any school,” says Chuma. She believes that education is crucial to empowering young women and girls—a concept she learned even more about by taking the YALI Online Network Course, Understanding the Rights of Women and Girls.

Says Chuma: “Without education, girls have no voice. It’s my passion to assist in every possible way and change their narrative in whatever small way.”

In addition to mentoring young women, Chuma is the founder and Director of Ogiyonke Care, an organization focused on reducing child hunger. She believes that the YALI Network is an important tool that brings together people with the “same goals and the same struggles” working to “find solutions across the African continent.”

Young women standing by table topped with packages of sanitary towels
Grade 11 girls from the ID Mkhize High School in Gugulethu, Capetown participate in the second annual sanitary towel handover as part of the Do It For Her program.