Off the streets and motivated

Finalist — Non-profit Organisations Award: Catholic Welfare and Development

Catholic Welfare and Development is one of the largest and longest-established NGOs in South Africa. Although it is a welfare wing of the Catholic Church, it brings together people from all faiths to tackle poverty by improving the skills of the youth.

Operating in Khayelitsha and other townships around Cape Town, the secret of its success is an integrated approach to youth development. Its innovations include using ballroom dancing, skipping and soccer to draw young people off the streets and away from the lures of crime and drugs.

‘When children from the poorest homes go to school without the proper uniforms, their poverty shows. Every time they miss school because they don’t have bus fare, their poverty shows.’ And it also shows up when these kids are teased, bullied or pitied simply because they’re poor. It hurts — and it’s humiliating.

‘So rather than face the stinging shame of it all, these youngsters drop out of school, which places them at great risk of being lured into gangsterism, drugs, crime. ‘It’s not right or fair. But most of all, it can be prevented,” says Janet Wakelin, the NGO’s programme fundraiser.

It employs a programme manager and six youth development workers, who are helped by volunteers to run its programmes. One of the development workers started the Masithandane ballroom dancing club in Khayelitsha three years ago.

The soccer and the rope-skipping clubs have proved most popular. One of the soccer teams, the Masakhane soccer club, toured Germany and won the Caritas International trophy in 2003.

The club has since been registered with the South African Football Association alongside its sister team, the Seven Star soccer club from Gugulethu. The rope-skipping team has 85 members and has produced a number of world champion rope skippers.

Although this programme was conceived by the department of education to try to establish gymnastics in previously disadvantaged schools, it has since been moved to Andilemsizi Hall in Khayelitsha to make it accessible to more youth in the area. It is supervised by one of the Catholic Welfare and Development workers.

After joining the various fun activities on offer, boys and girls are enrolled in the more serious learning courses of the organisation’s youth interfacing programme. They are educated about responsible sexual behaviour, goal setting and life planning and are given career guidance.

As their talents improve and their confidence and self-esteem grow, they are encouraged to start and run their own clubs. This is made possible through the leadership training that the NGO includes in the interfacing programme.

It’s central to the exit plan that the beneficiaries become independent, though Catholic Welfare and Development remains available to them in an advisory capacity. The activities reach integration when youth from the interfacing programme are referred to the Ecodev Programme, one of the multiple empowerment projects run by the NGO.

Some receive training for jobs in the hospitality industry through Jobstart, others are given access to micro-MBA studies and learnerships through partnerships with various companies.

The skills acquired at this stage go a long way towards advancing their employment prospects and improving their living conditions.

The Investing in the Future judges praised the NGO for its innovation in finding ways to attract young people and for the breadth and scope of its interventions in their development.

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Percy Mabandu
Percy Mabandu is an art historian and freelance writer based in The city of Tshwane.

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