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Throughout the past months, I thought a lot about the meaning of Vukuzenzele: What does it mean for myself and what is its meaning for youth? I do believe that there is so much significance behind the term and that we can all learn so much from it

Vukuzenzele is Xhosa and means: get up and do it yourself. I once got to know the concept of Ikigai: It is Japanese and means “a reason for being”. The word refers to having a direction or purpose in life, that which makes your life worthwhile, and towards which you take certain actions that will give you satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. It reminds me a lot of ‘Vukuzenzele’. We also shared this concept with the group of the project Vukuzenzele and they truly like it. We all agreed that it’s time to adapt it to the South African context and share it with more young adults out there. But that’s another project!

South African youth are exposed to multiple challenges: unemployment, poverty, corruption, inequality and violence… It’s a number of extreme and unsettling issues they are facing day by day. Growing up with no role models, being raised with different parents, feeling not safe in front of your own house make it difficult for them to grow up in a self-determined and autonomous way. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the responses implemented did not even seem to consider young people as a specific vulnerable category. However, they actually have a lot to deal with and need more support in mental health and personal development.

The question is how to change things for the better?

The experience of the past has led to a dependency system. Many people have an attitude of believing that the group cannot solve its own problems without outside help. It makes it almost impossible to bring about change if youth are grown into this system and belief.

But how to change it?

It comes back to oneself. Your life situation can only change when you become aware of the things you want to change and if you have a vision of where you want to go. Amidst all the struggles, it takes a certain level of motivation, lots of effort and a belief in yourself to take those steps. To grow is to change: it’s our duty to embrace risks and difficulties. It is only through those experiences that we can learn, grow and lead to changemaking processes.

In the project ‘Vukuzenzele’, we focused a lot on our own stories, experiences and backgrounds. Who am I and where am I going? What is my purpose in life and how can I make a living?

Each one of the eight participants came up with a topic they wanted to focus on. They then worked in groups and came up with stories they wanted to show in a video. It was so inspiring to see a strong willingness to reflect and rethink challenges and then try to find solutions together. The stories are not superficial nor romantic. They speak about the raw and true life in their families, about teenage pregnancy and human rights.

Youth got the power to change.

I was blown away by the willpower of each one involved. There is no question that they can and will make a difference in their own life and in the lives of many in their community. Each person involved carries strong leadership competence, different talents, interests and passions. We offered so little – we basically planted some seeds and helped them to restore the soil around them  so that they can grow and be resilient in their future. It is unbelievable how little it required to give them that chance for growth and it makes you realize how significant projects as Vukuzenzele are. Those youth are simply longing for a just and worthy life for all. I am convinced that young leaders like them should lead this country because they got the power to bring the change we all want to see in this world. If you don’t believe it you must come and meet them!

Teresa Boulle

Teresa is excited about how communities and individuals can collaboratively respond to challenges and turn them into opportunities of social change. She believes that youth are the best changemakers in the world and they must be actively included in decision-making processes.

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