Childhood in rural KwaZulu-Natal is short and often difficult. Poverty, hunger, lack of social services, crime and HIV are some of the struggles children shouldn’t have to face, but do.
Schoolchildren in the village of Nkandla, in the heart of Zululand, have a variety of problems that may not even occur to adults: from dusty roads that cause asthma to being forced to walk an hour each day to school because of inadequate public transport. Some children wish for running water and electricity to cut down on the many hours they spend every day collecting firewood and fetching water from the river.
“If I had less chores to do, I would have more time to do my homework and study for school,” one girl said.
At Mphathesitha High School in Nkandla the Sonke Gender Justice project and Unicef worked with 20 learners on a photography and writing project that aims to turn their hopes and dreams into instant community action. The four-day PhotoVoice workshop was designed to create a space for children between the ages of 12 and 18 to talk about their experiences and mobilise adults, especially men, to help them meet their needs.
“We want to build confidence and self-esteem by teaching new skills,” says Sonke PhotoVoice project manager Nyanda Khanyile. “Many children in rural communities experience social ills but they don’t know how to express themselves.”
After the initial conversations, children were taught how to transfer their stories into photography and writing. Photographs and stories were printed on posters and exhibited in the Mphathesitha community hall in Nkandla. More than 600 people came to see the works, including representatives from both the municipality and traditional leadership.
Khanyile says he was impressed that, when thinking about hopes and dreams, the children identified issues that could benefit the community as a whole, not only themselves.
“I was amazed that the children chose far-reaching issues that affect everybody in their communities and their childhood development. None of them spoke about personal gain.”
Nkandla municipality strategic planning and implementation manager Mbongiseni Ndlela says the municipality supports the PhotoVoice project as part of a broader strategy of caring and nurturing children: “If we don’t invest in our children, we don’t have a future. So we decided to make children a central part of municipal development planning.”
Ndlela says that the children’s requests will be considered in the municipality’s Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and thereby directly influence local policymaking.
“Normally, the leadership consults only adults during the annual izimbizo Through interacting directly with children, IDPs will now be informed by the children and not only talk about them,” he says.
Thulane Shange (15)
“At our school we have one tap but we have many learners. Girls must have the tap and boys must have there [sic] tap. Because when the boy wants to drink and there is a girl on the tap he just push the girl.
“I learnt many things [during the project]. I used to think boys and girls can’t do the same things. I thought girls have to clean, cook and do chores around the house, and boys have to fetch firewood and herd cattle. I now understand that women can also be heads of households and must be given the same rights and responsibilities as men.”
Nompumelelo Masikane (16)
“I take the photograph of my school chairperson because he is my role model. He always encourages the youth to think about their future. He always tells the youth that they are the future leaders. He inspires me to focus on my school work and forget about useless things like drinking alcohol and dating.
“I also learned [during the project] that we need to take care of people who have HIV. If somebody has HIV, don’t neglect that person, take care of her, include her. They still have a life.”
Khayelethu Zondi (16)
“If am inside the school I feel safe because, there are things that are not allowed to be inside. So we are all protected from bad things from out side.
“I know my school is safe for children. Drugs and weapons cannot come inside my school because they will hurt the learners. But, outside of my school, when I walk through the streets, sometimes I don’t feel safe because there are people that get drunk and get violent.”
Thulile Khanyile (14)
“Sport does not discriminate people gender. Many people believe that soccer is played by males but females can play too. I didn’t know that girls can play soccer. I thought it was a sport only for boys. I wanted to show that even girls can play. When we started the girls’ team, a lot of people thought it was not right because a girl must focus on her school work and help at home with the cooking, cleaning and washing. But we showed them that we can play soccer and also succeed in school.”