/ 13 December 2011

LoveLife helps youth redirect their lives

Instead of going on endless, ­fruitless searches for work, young people in Orange Farm in Gauteng are enhancing their employability and life prospects by ­participating in loveLife’s mpintshi volunteer programmes.

LoveLife is South Africa’s national HIV prevention campaign for young people. The project empowers young people in communities to lead positive and healthy lives, pursue successful futures and stay HIV free.

For these youngsters, aged between 12 and 25, volunteering is way cooler than sitting at home and waiting for their future to happen. The young leaders do not take the world as it is; they plan to change it.

Each loveLife mpintshi ­volunteer — mpintshi is township slang for friend — is trained and inducted into the mpintshi ­programme, a branded curriculum of ­capacity- building, implementation in schools and social mobilisation.

The volunteers visit schools around Orange Farm, motivating their peers to make life choices that will protect them against HIV. They address attitudinal and knowledge gaps in schools, first at assemblies and then, when appropriate, in ­one-on-one sessions.

After at least 12 months of ­volunteering as an mpintshi a young leader may be chosen as a ­groundbreaker, managing a team of mpintshi volunteers.

At the Y-Centre in Orange Farm a passionate team of groundbreakers and mpintshi volunteers are ­implementing loveLife’s Body-Ys — sexual health, life skills, dance, drama and sports ­programmes at schools. Young ­people also go to the Y-Centre to learn computer
and radio skills.

According to loveLife’s youth ­programmes director, Scott Burnett, the impact on the fight against HIV cannot be ignored.

“They fight individual behavioural drivers of new infections by motivating young people through our ­loveLifestyle ­in-school programmes,” he said.

As community champions the ­volunteers are “shifting social norms in their community by ­challenging harmful gender ­stereotypes, ­creating platforms for dialogue within ­communities and creating a positive lifestyle and healthy ­sexuality culture in their communities”.

While volunteering they also gain life skills and ­experience that will add to their CVs and may help them with future ­employment opportunities.

Victoria Borman, a volunteer at the Orange Farm Y-Centre, loves working with young ­people in her community and sharing ­information with her peers. “I like teaching them to believe in ­themselves and focus on their futures,” she said.

Lebo Lehana said he enjoys encouraging and informing young people about their options in the big wide world of sex and ­relationships. “As young people we should put our dreams into action and aim to ­realise our full potential,” said Lehana.

Burnett described the young ­leaders as “pathfinders of ­opportunity for marginalised ­communities”.

“By linking in to the loveLife ­network, our groundbreakers and mpintshis develop themselves and their life prospects, which build the networks and bridges that other young people will need to get connected to mainstream South African society,” said Burnett.

Mahleke Matome said that since he began volunteering at the Y-Centre he has learned a lot of skills, such as public speaking and entrepreneurship. “We are a generation tasked to solve problems facing our society today and if we don’t do it no one else will do it for us,” he said.

Phumzile Nkomo said she joined the programme to help develop and gain life skills. “We ­teach young people about the use of ­contraceptives and in our area the rate of teenage pregnancy has gone down because of loveLife.”

Kedibone Segonoto said ­peer-to-peer conversations make an impact in the fight against HIV/Aids among young people in Orange Farm.

“Young people feel ­comfortable to talk about sex and HIV with their peers because we are of the same age and we can relate to their challenges,” said Segonoto.