16 June, South Africa celebrates Youth Day in commemoration of the 1976 student uprising in Soweto. On this day, 176 young people gave their lives and countless others were injured and/or incarcerated in protest against a new Apartheid directive to use Afrikaans (the “language of the oppressor”)as the medium of instruction in all schools. It is often hailed as “the beginning of the end” of Apartheid. Youth Day is a day to remember the sacrifices made by the youth for a better future and education.
Today, we cannot and should not look to the youth to make sacrifices. Instead, we should see them as our greatest asset and nurture them accordingly. Many children in South Africa still, 20 years after the fall of Apartheid, live without basic necessities like running water and electricity and many do not receive a decent education. But they are the future. The ones that will ensure a continued peaceful and democratic society, conservation of South Africa’s vast natural resources and access to basic human rights for all citizens.
So much investment in children and youth is required in South Africa, and as a tourist you can do your part. Whether you travel from London or Ladysmith, your choices and actions can contribute to a better future for our children. I have written earlier about some amazing projects aimed at uplifting youth, and protecting the environment at the same time. As two shining examples, projects like Grootbos’ Youth Development Programme and Wilderness Safari’s Children in the Wilderness let children have a good time while learning about important issues like health, education, conservation and tolerance.
Here are (but) a few things that you can do to ensure that your holiday contributes towards a better future for South Africa’s youth:
Check what your hotel is doing:
Do they support Pack for a Purpose? Look at the wish-list and bring something urgently needed. Do they support projects for the youth? Serious projects show longterm involvement and are transparent with what and how they do it (here’s an example from Sabi Sabi)
Go on a tour that supports youth:
Children are not, and should never be, tourist attractions but there are tours that put children’s need first. Look for tours that have strict rules around the engagement with children (so that teaching is not interrupted, and children’s safety is never compromised). Uthando supports a multitude of youth projects, ranging from dance to self defense, and visits are organised in advance (only to after-school projects, never during school hours).
Support a good project:
There are many commendable projects aimed at supporting and uplifting youth in South Africa. From supporting the most vulnerable (like Ons Plek for girl streetchildren) to simply letting children play and have fun (Project Playground‘s motto is to “let children be children” if only for a few hours before returning to the harsh reality at home) and practical ones (I was shot in Joburg provides a platform for former street children to learn a skill and earn an income through photography). Even a small donation can go a long way!
Also, When you meet children along your travels, engage with them! They love a bit of fun and games, a cuddle and seeing themselves on your camera display (shoot me, shoot me often echoes through the streets when you meet kids in a township – referring to taking a shot with your camera).