by Sonja Kruse

Yenza shares resources

The Ubuntu girl embarks on the journey of SELF

The SELF Project develops the youth
The Ubuntu girl embarks on the journey of SELF

It is amazing what we can hear in passing. I was eavesdropping when I heard:
“We are one another’s resources…”

When I accepted an invitation to speak at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Conference on non-racialism in Johannesburg in 2011, I had no idea that my path would lead me to a group of youth at Mfuleni High School. The conduit of this connection was the dynamic Czerina Patel, fondly known as CZ (“CeeZee”), she is the executive director and founder of Yenza. 

Yenza is a Xhosa or Zulu word for ‘do’ or ‘make’ and one look at the fire in her eyes will explain why she chose this name. Yenza runs various community, media, technology and empowerment charitable projects such as the SELF project which has worked with 20 teenagers on all aspects of self development for the past year and a half. Patel’s passion for her work with youth resonates with me as we both seem to understand that we do not have to give birth to raise children. It did not take much effort for me to decide to become a volunteer with Yenza’s SELF Project.

The SELF project works with high school students (grades 9-12) from the Mfuleni township in the Western Cape on self-development – things like self-esteem, goal setting, identity, living happy lives, facing fears and challenges. Well, that is what the website says, but it is much more than that.

On my first day there, I was actually quite nervous because I could tell that what Patel was doing with the kids was forming a bond: Growing trust. Nurturing. Caring. It was a sacred space for these kids to feel the freedom to speak their hearts and minds. There was no script. No flashy ad campaigns.

In Patel's words: “Youth Development is experimental.” She explains that there is little data to prove that what she and other youth development agents are doing will positively change the trajectory of  high-risk youths’ life journeys but when you see their confidence, demeanour, habits, punctuality, and engagement now as compared to a year ago, you witness that something good is happening, that the youth are thriving, and it feels like this experiment is working.

Patel decided to base the project at Mfuleni High School after hearing about a suicide and some suicide attempts at the school. The youth in this community face many serious challenges. Yenza aims to do many things with the youth – like inspiring them to develop the character and habits that can help them be successful in school and in life, building their comfort with the English language, exposing them to different people and activities, teaching them about a wide variety of things and filling in learning and education gaps, but it also aims to simply help the youth feel loved and supported, to feel a part of something, to be happy.

The first workshop Patel held with the students was on Identity; the second was on Ubuntu. Being with this group of people brings home to me what Ubuntu really is: We are indeed one another’s resources. Patel teaches me that it takes time, effort, dedication, persistence and a strong willingness to be present to become meaningfully involved with our youth. 

Lindeka Qampi is a photographer with a similarly disadvantaged background to the youth in the SELF Project. She first learned photography from a project that Patel volunteered with a few years ago and has since been exhibited internationally and even written about in Aperture magazine as an “Emerging South African Photographer”. She too is a testament to the fact that training, mentoring and skills development matter. She now supplements her photography by working as a teaching assistant to Patel in the SELF Project workshops, sometimes also photographing the project or teaching the youth photography. Qampi lives with her four children in the neighbouring township of Khayelitsha.  

The SELF Project brings in as speakers and mentors South African adventurers and dreamers like John McInroy, Riaan Manser and me, youth across the world (via skype), a businessman, a chef, a pharmacist, a fashion designer – all to showcase that there are many types of dreamers, many types of dreams and different ways of reaching them.

Patel and Yenza volunteers have taken the youth hiking on Table Mountain, to see theatre at the Baxter, to an art gallery to see photography, to swim in the ocean, to visit the movie set of Long Walk to Freedom. Patel shares her resources and her community with the youth, and in so doing, hopes that this will open up their minds, hearts and dreams, connect them with people who can mentor or inspire them, lighten their spirits and motivate them to do the hard work necessary to overcome challenges in their lives and to energetically reach for success. 

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