Last weekend we had the amazing opportunity to get together with some kids from Yenza – a local NGO that works with high school teenagers from Khayelitsha, a Cape Town township. Czerina Patel, Communications Specialist for Sonke Gender Justice, founded Yenza after she heard about the high suicide rate for these teens. Yenza provides fun activities for these students, encourages them to work hard and finish school, and fosters a sense of community.
We started our afternoon with a discussion about a short video that was recently released by Sonke, called “The Gift of Fatherhood.” The clip is about how a father, also living in Khayelitsha, makes the conscious decision to be apart of his child’s life and how this relationship has actually been a gift to him as well as his children. The students described their relationship – or lack thereof – with their fathers, and how that made them feel. Those who had a relationship with their fathers (only 3 of the 15 teenagers) were very grateful. They thought it was important to grow up with a strong male-character. On the other hand, those who did not have this relationship felt disadvantaged and somber. Coming from a single-parent home, I was able to relate with these students; I am often saddened by my own father’s absence and feel disadvantaged by the lack of a strong male role model in my life.
We moved onto other discussions of their dreams and aspirations – many of which are common among the Duke students. For example, one of the girls in the program planned to major in psychology, just like me. Others wanted to become politicians, engineers, and teachers, similar to my friends from the US.
However, there were some blatant differences between the Yenza and Duke students. For starters, our living environments are extremely different. They live in an impoverished environment that is very crowded, has poor sanitation, high incidence of illness, and prominent violent crime. They also have a political system that is filled with corruption. On these issues, I could sympathize with them, but I could never completely empathize with these issues that I have rarely dealt with on a firsthand basis.
Taking the time to talk to these teenagers, who are only a year or two younger than I am, gave me the opportunity to really engage with the problems that they are going through. I was able to relate to them because we shared so many commonalities: dreams, family life, and friends. However, it’s hard to not see the important differences between us, such as their living environment, poverty, education system, and politics.
We ended the afternoon with all singing together Adele’s “Someone like You.” It was amazing looking around the circle and watching Yenza and Duke students alike singing and smiling together. Our faces and voices were so different but we all had the same words coming out of our mouths. It was a beautiful experience to realize that although we may be different, we are also similar.