Arrival and Introduction
After 24 hours of travel, we finally arrived in Johannesburg to be met by the smiling face of our driver, Petras. As he drove us to our lovely extended stay motel, Petras educated us on some fun facts about South Africa, including listing some of the 27+ languages, the fact that it’s the 3rd most obese country in the world (guess who is number one?), and how immigration was starting to affect South Africa’s economy and politics. On a more personal note, he talked about how loveLife, our client, has had a positive impact on his life. After watching his sister and aunt die of AIDS, he used loveLife to educate himself on the disease and how he could prevent and treat it. We later learned that this perspective of loveLife was widespread and almost everyone we have spoken with throughout our travels knows of the difference loveLife has made in South Africa.
While South Africa has only 0.7% of the world’s population, it accounts for 17% of global HIV infections. One in three women ages 25-29 is living with HIV. loveLife plays an integral role in the education and prevention of HIV in young people in South Africa by providing youth leadership development and support. Studies have shown that youth understand the risk of HIV and how to protect themselves against the virus but lack the structural support and motivation to avoid risky behavior. loveLife aims to give young people a reason to protect themselves from HIV because they are working towards a better future by helping them develop initiative, better deal with day-to-day pressures and transitions, and link them to study and work opportunities.
Technology is a key player in loveLife delivering on its mission, both to support its internal staff across 900+ nationwide hubs, as well as to provide youth with the technical skills needed to compete in the job market. We have been brought on board to develop a sustainable IT strategy to enable them to deliver on their mission. Immediately upon arrival we dove into staff interviews to gain insight and perspective on the role of technology within the organization. But what really is shaping our recommendations is meeting with the field workers at the youth centers in locations around the country. loveLife has 18 youth centers around South Africa, where young people can come to participate in activities like dance, debate, media, computers, sports, poetry, and performances. These youth centers serve the mission both by providing a space for youth development as well as actually employing youth to run the center and lead the programs. These young leaders are 18-25 year olds known as groundBREAKERS, who serve as mentors, role models, and counselors to youth in the community. Trained intensively by loveLife, these 1200+ groundBREAKERS are truly the heart of the organization. We were overwhelmed by their energy, passion, and candor as they talked about what loveLife means to them. Here are a few of our favorite moments from our visits to youth centers:
The first Youth Center that we visited is funded by the local King Bafokeng, meaning that it is much better resourced than other centers. Here we are with the local groundBREAKERS who taught us how to pose South African style.
At this Youth Centre (in one of the poorest areas of South Africa), the groundBREAKERS taught us the meaning of Nakanjani: No Matter What. This motto is foundational to all the programs at the Youth Centres.
Pictured above is a groundBREAKER reading from his book of poetry (which brought tears to Hiroko’s eyes).
The youth were even nice enough to teach us their loveLife dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rh-I036AlJg&feature=youtube_gdata_player
We met with all levels of the organization, interviewing Regional Program Leaders (groundBREAKER’s supervisors), Regional Managers, and Provincial Managers, and between the interviews, the youth kept us entertained with their amazing talents: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYDiG9Yu9Wk
Exploring South Africa
Between visiting Youth Centers and working at the headquarters, we managed to find some time to explore the country. Our first week we spent an afternoon on a game drive in Pilanesburg National Park, where we saw zebras, rhinos, wildebeest, elephants, and even a lion:
And for a bonus round, guess which animal we’re imitating:
You guessed it! Pumba:
The following weekend we took a trip to Durban, on the southeast coast, where we sampled the local fare of bunny chow (curry inside a hollowed out loaf of bread), shopped at a local market, spent some time on the beach, and cheered on the local rugby team. And, most importantly, we discovered a laser cage: