My experience thus far has already taught me so much about the difficulties of being a nonprofit organization in a country with the economic struggles that South Africa has. Not only does the Youth Centre provide reproductive healthcare for free to the youth attending, but it provides them with a safe and non-judgmental environment which is hard to come by in the township of Masiphumelele. This township has one of the highest rates of HIV in the entirety of the western cape. Around 31% of people in the township have AIDS and the average age for a women to become pregnant is 20. The office where I work in the youth centre is situated in the clinic where young women and men come to get tested for HIV or to attain contraceptives like the injection, free condoms, and soon they are offering the IUD. Every day I see girls as young as 15 come in with children and meet with the adolescent counselor to discuss whether there are any other options other than her dropping out of school in order to take care of her child, given the father is not contributing to the parenting and her parents are both already dead. The other difficult aspect is that there is a sort of stigma that people should not disclose their HIV status, so often times young people will engage in relations without even knowing the status of their partner. These are simply not issues women and men my age have to deal with in Santa Clara, California.
That being said, the environment at the youth centre is so vibrant and every single staff member and intern are dedicated to helping the youth develop their working tools so that their opportunities in life will expand. They develop music programs in the music studio provided, take kids to surfing lessons at the nearby beach, and have resume and application building labs in their 19-computer lab. They have received many donations to continue the work they are doing, but its still difficult to raise enough money to have all the ideal programs for these youth.
I am doing a lot of the behind the scenes work in the organization, for example redoing their website, writing proposals to Foundations in South Africa for donations and funding, and coordinating events when potential sponsors come to visit the clinic and centre. I would ideally like to be a little more involved with the youth that are attending the center, but many speak only a little english so they feel much more comfortable sparking up a discussion with another intern who speaks their language. But, I think in the future I will be able to start assisting with some of the programs that work directly with the youth, such as traditional dance and music programs.
Being back in South Africa has been so amazing, especially because I am having such a different experience from when I was here on my abroad program. It has allowed me to focus more on the issues that communities face here in South Africa, because last time I was mostly here as a tourist. I feel like I’ve already made lasting connections with other workers here at the centre, and I have a special connection with the community we are working in. I look forward to the rest of my time working here, and I hope that these relationships continue to flourish.