Xola’s Story: Youth Work in South Africa

We envision a world in which all young people lead creative, purposeful lives.

Xola Yoyo is a youth worker on the Eastern Cape of South Africa who uses the Creative Community Model in his work. Here, he tells us about how he came to be a youth worker, meeting Charlie Murphy for the first time and what’s happening in youth work South Africa.

Creativity is the start of everything. If you can use your imagination and think creatively then you can solve any problem that comes your way. For me, the more I can encourage a young person’s creativity the more I can teach them how to deal with difficult problems and situations that are likely to arise in their lives. Creativity helps them to think outside the box and approach problems differently. Activating creativity in young people is empowering them to come up with tangible solutions to the problems in their lives.

I work mainly with orphans in rural areas. They don’t have any parents or guardians to guide them or encourage them so life can be very difficult. They don’t have transport or ways of finding out about the opportunities that are available to them. They are alone and they need support.

I was lucky enough to fall into the field of youth empowerment early in life. My first job was at a community cinema in a small town to the north-east of Cape Town. It was there that I was asked to run some workshops with young people from the local college. I loved the work and shortly after that I moved to work with an organization called Love Life as a Provincial Trainer.

In 2005 I was promoted to Regional Manager. I was still able to influence the direction of the programs and I used creativity to help me with this process. This led to another promotion, this time to give life to a programme that was at the end of its funding period. I used music, dance, theatre and poetry. At the end of that year I moved to work with a new company, but sadly the position meant that I became more office based and spent less time with the kids. That wasn’t my passion, so I figured that it was time to do something different and I came back to my home in the Eastern Cape.

I had no job, no prospects and no idea what I was going to do. Luckily, I heard about African Solutions for African Problems (ASAP) and I went for a meeting. They asked me if I would run a holiday program with them. I agreed.

As part of my work with ASAP I was invited to be part of a training in creative facilitation that was being run by Charlie Murphy. He introduced me to the idea of the Creative Community Model and it seemed incredibly powerful. Charlie, along with Partners for Youth Empowerment, showed me how to develop the youth work I was doing using creativity. I have taken those lessons with me into everything I’ve done since and I still regularly use the techniques I have learned to empower the young people I work with.

Charlie Murphy and Xola Yoyo

In reviewing the year that I have worked with ASAP, it became apparent that for me to grow the youth programme I needed my own NPO. This was then discussed with ASAP management and they agreed that they would fund me. My organization is called Imithayelanga Youth Development and it focuses on orphans and at risk youth in rural areas. These kids tend to be overlooked by a lot of charities. ASAP has been working with these kids by providing nutrition and a safe place to go. This has allowed Imithayelanga Youth Development to have access to these kids at the drop in centres built by ASAP in the villages. There are 3 drop in centres in Matatiele and 15 drop in centres in Mount Frere. We work with about 400 young people who visit the centres regularly.

I run regular arts competitions at the centers. We hold music, drama and poetry competitions. We set a topic and the students go away and prepare their pieces. The entries we get are always really creative. They amaze me.

One activity that I love to do with the kids is called the maze. I put down 36 pieces of colored paper in a square and I decide on a route through the maze. The young people set out, stepping on one piece of paper at a time. If they step on the wrong paper I tell them to stop and the next person goes. Eventually, step by step they work together to work out the correct route through the maze. After the exercise I do a debrief and ask them what this shows about real life and the way it works. Life is not a straight route. You need to make mistakes and learn from them. I take the games and tools that Partners for Youth Empowerment gives me and then I adapt them to help the kids that I am working with to deal with the specific problems they face.

Working in youth empowerment encourages you to think on your feet and to adapt your work to the particular problems and situations that are being faced by the young people you are working with. We do a lot of activities and talk through a lot of issues that they find relevant. We talk about reproductive health and personal development and we help young people to develop a sense of self-esteem. We talk to them about their values and we also offer career guidance. I also try to help them find educational opportunities. Many of them can’t get online to research opportunities or to print off the forms they need, so I travel around and collect the application forms to make sure they get them.

Empowering young people is largely about allowing them to understand how many opportunities and possibilities they have for the future. Encouraging them to be creative and confident in themselves is a great way of doing that.

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