AGAINST ALL ODDS – COLLABORATION ACROSS THE AFRICAN DIVIDE
This is an inspiring story of two young boys who grew up 2,537km apart in Africa, who, through political strife, found themselves in South Africa adjusting to the tough hard living neighbourhood of Lotus River.
When Arnold was 10 years old, his Mom died. He had to leave Zimbabwe for South Africa with his Grandmother who set out to find employment and to start a new life.
2, 537km’s away in Congo, Danny, aged 9 and his 3 sisters had to seek asylum in South Africa with their Dad due to political instability.
Both young boys experienced the challenges of adjusting to a new country, a different culture, an unknown language. And although they had both come from politically unstable countries, adjusting to a neighbourhood where gangsterism was rife was tough for them.
During high school, the boys met a Salesian Life Choices counsellor through the Health4Life* (H4L) program and recall how the counsellor inspired their attitude and thinking. “He taught us a lot about being responsible young men, the importance of how to avoid getting a girl pregnant and HIV awareness. Having the HIV test was reassuring especially for me as I’d become sexually active after my circumcision. Through the sessions I started to get a sense of myself and started developing my confidence and building my self-esteem,” recalls Arnold.
“If it wasn’t for H4L, we would have probably become gangsters. We would have tried to fit into our new community for the wrong reasons because we already felt ‘out’ and different. All the temptations were there – the drugs, the girls and the gangs.” added Danny.
Arnold continued: “During our teenage years, school friends started partying after school but because the one-on-one counselling and Straight Talks messages, we made informed choices about who we were going to hang out with at school. This further alienated us, but our H4L counsellor inspired us to be goal directed and responsible for choosing the right friends, to be true to ourselves and to stay clear of the lure of drugs. The H4L program kept us focused, in spite of the reality of going home to troubled communities where, because we were ‘straight’ in the hood, we would get robbed and regularly tormented into joining a gang.”
During Gr11 Danny and Arnold became friends. Their friendship became tangible when they decided to partner with one another for the matric ball as neither youngster had a partner for the dance. “The matric ball was huge fun and cemented the friendship we have now, even though I went back to Zimbabwe after matric” recalls Arnold.
Danny stayed in touch with Arnold whilst he was in Zimbabwe, finally persuading him to return to SA to establish a gym at the Lotus River Community centre. “Whilst we were at the centre we formed a relationship with (the councillor) Nathan who identified our leadership qualities and asked us to assist at the civic centre as volunteers for a year – he became a mentor to us and offered us an opportunity to run a boot camp at the community centre. We called our boot camp DnA Fitness Training, offering training to stay at home moms and senior ladies. Initially we only had 4 clients, but we’ve grown that to 37 paying clients. This was our opportunity to pay forward what we’d learnt from Salesian Life Choices and to make a positive difference in our community.”
“One thing led to another and we were invited to teach sports and Life Skills at the local high school, finally earning a stipend. Our lives were starting to feel purposeful as up till that point, and after so many years in SA, neither of us had been successful in acquiring an ID or work permits. This meant that we couldn’t study after school, nor could we get legal work.”
Their personal success has continued to grow culminating in internships at the Cape Education department in e-learning. “Arnold is doing admin and loving it, whilst I’m doing IT. We are building our experience and our families are super proud of us. Since the beginning of August this year, we’re on Cape Town Channel 263 TV doing fitness training every Tuesday.”
Danny and Arnold attribute their stability and personal development to the inspiration and teachings they received from Salesian Life Choices.
*Health4Life intervention provides services that get young people excited about their lives and their health. The intervention offers youth friendly health services in schools and communities mainly focusing on HIV and TB prevention & diagnosis, reproductive health education and mental health services.