Empowered young changemakers are making a difference
Award-winning human rights organisation, the Justice Desk, is empowering young changemakers through a Youth Ambassador programme.
In 2022, a MEETCHANGEMAKERS grant helped sponsor the delegates.
The programme educates school children, parents, and teachers about their basic human rights. Armed with this knowledge the young ambassadors are helping to change the lives of others in their schools and communities – while developing the skills, networks and confidence to be “ambassadors for life,” as Mpoletsang Radingwane puts it.
Her passion for giving back to the community and school at large led to her being selected as a youth ambassador in her hometown of Kimberley in South Africa’s Northern Cape province.
Her two focus areas were encouraging young girls to go to school and the fight against human trafficking. The network she established helped to lead to the arrest of human traffickers and the rescue of at least one young girl from the area.
“A campaign is a success when you’re able to not only convey a message or educate people, but you’re also able to rescue people. People were able to save themselves and people around them as well,” she says.
Success comes from proper planning and execution, she learned. “In the little time we had we sat down and planned.”
Execution included presentations during school assembly, demonstrations during breaks and a mini march to educate the community and raise awareness of the very real danger of kidnapping. Pupils were taught how to keep themselves, their family members, neighbours and friends safe. The message was successfully driven home.
Working with the South African Police services, the empowered learners were able to catch kidnappers in action outside the schoolyard.
One of the life-changing lessons Mpoletsang learned is that it “doesn’t matter the age that you are. Changing a person’s life, impacting a person’s life has no age limit. It has no age restriction. People might tell you that you’re too young to do this, or you’re too old to do that. But if you put your head to it and you know that this is what I want to do, make sure that you do it go all heads up for it.”
After completing her school education in 2018, Mpoletsang moved to Cape Town where she reconnected with the Justice Desk during the annual conference in 2020. It has helped to reconnect with her youth ambassador partners and peers. “This is the project that is going to keep us going it’s going to keep us continuing serving people from the injustice that they face on a daily basis.
“My dream for the Lead Ambassador project is for us to be able to equip our fellow ambassadors, and for them to be able to stand on their own two feet. They should be able to do the work without us.
“What I want the fellows and residents to know as that. No matter the challenges you come across, no matter the consequences they might be, never give up. Keep on pushing, keep on serving the community. Keep on serving your fellow students. It is justice that needs to be served at the end of the day.”
Mpho Pelema has been a youth ambassador since 2016. The programme helped her to focus her energy and passion for justice. “When I was introduced to the Justice Desk, I got guidelines and got help. And it was amazing!”
Her personal breakthrough came with the success of a breast cancer awareness programme. “People in my school and community had heard of breast cancer, but didn’t know what it was, how one can develop it, or how to check your body for signs.
“This was accompanied by female health education, where we had a menstrual pad drive as young girls were embarrassed about their periods – about being women.”
Another success came through educating girls about skin lighteners. “We had a situation in school where girls started bleaching themselves. So, we used the Africa month of May to raise awareness about the dangers of bleaching your skin, and the need to accept yourself as who you are. This is how I am. I’m African. And this is my skin tone. So, we got girls to stop bleaching themselves, and to realise that you are beautiful as you are.
“We also did a recycling drive where taught people how to recycle, and what can be recycled.”
Mpho was also involved in the human trafficking campaign.
“As we were raising awareness around the community and in school, it was actually happening. We got the community involved. We saved girls lives. Many girls’ lives.”
Through community involvement one girl was rescued from her kidnappers.
“Saving that girl’s life was like wow! It’s not that we wanted a pat on the back. But rather that we are grateful that she is still here with us.
“What I plan to do now as a lead ambassador is to get involved with the youth ambassadors from my school and other schools and run campaigns with them. I really miss it.
“And, as much as I’ve grown, I still want to learn more. I still want to be an activist and polish my skills and use what I have now and what I know from back then to make it better to make the world better.”
For Bless Mohato, selected as an ambassador in 2016, it has been a life-changing journey which started with attending the annual conference. Staging monthly campaigns proved to be a challenge.
“It’s been a hassle. It has been up and down in a fluctuating journey. Our teacher encouraged and pushed us, but our principal let us down. But I said to my partner that we had to focus on the future, and to persist and to keep on his case. We pushed and pushed with pride, and I think we managed to do two or three campaigns.
“So, I can only say that at that time I was still trying to find myself. It was two years later when I realised that, wow, the Justice Desk had really caused a change in the development of my character. I found myself caring for other people.
“At first, I was interested in studying technological subjects like forensic science or computer science. But then I felt I needed like to take care of people. That’s when I started getting interest in fields such as medicine, occupational therapy – anything involved in health.
“So, I changed my total career field to the health career field, where I can take care of people.”
His work with the Justice Desk featured large in his applications to tertiary institutions, and he was accepted into a nursing faculty.
The impact stretches further than personal growth through learning how to plan, implement and manage campaigns. “The impact is what counts.
“Florence Nightingale once said the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. That’s the statement I’ve been living with. In my studies and practicals, I remember it’s not about me. It’s not about my efforts, but it’s about actually making an impact on other people’s life, I believe we’re all here to make an impact. That’s why we keep on waking up every day.
“So maybe that’s the impact that the Justice Desk and the Youth Ambassador programme have had on me. And I feel that if we can spread these values to other people, we will make our world a better place. They say be the change that you want to be.