A group of young people from Bolton gave a helping hand to a South African community as part of a unique exchange programme.
The life-changing trip was the culmination of the two year Ubungani – the Zulu word for friendship – exchange project, part of the Duke of Edinburgh silver award and supported by Bolton Council. The project is part-funded by Awards for All.
The group of 11 young people and four leaders spent three weeks working in the South African province of Kwa Zulu Natal, in a rural area close to the Mozambique border.
Working with the Tholowazi Clinic - based in the small town of Kwangwanase - and using resources from Bolton-based organisation The Parallel, the group and their Zulu partners developed a play which they performed at five schools in the area. This focused on young people’s health issues such as sexual health and teenage pregnancy.
Delivering their message through drama had a great impact, transcending language barriers to promote some major issues such as the importance of HIV/Aids testing, as huge numbers of young children are left orphaned each year in South Africa due to Aids related diseases.
Throughout the visit the group stayed in a bush camp under canvas, with fairly basic amenities, inside the Tembe Elephant Park.
During the trip the group considered issues of diet and wasting food, in both communities. They discovered that despite widespread hunger and malnutrition in Kwa Zulu Natal there is also the beginnings of an obesity problem.
The group also witnessed first hand the problems hunger can cause, as children scrambled for the scraps from a meal prepared for the visitors.
One of the group members Jess Anderton, 17, explained: “Children will often get their only meal of the day at school. To see a child unable to concentrate and join in lessons through real hunger is a serious reality check. The group members had a real taste of the moral dilemmas faced by aid organisations in giving food, as we recognised that you cannot feed everybody.”
This is the fourth group to participate in the two year programme since 2002, when it was set up by Bolton Council’s Youth Service through links made during the Commonwealth Games. Participants are asked to raise £16,000 between them each year to fund the visit of young South Africans to the UK and for a three week experience in South Africa.
In order to meet this target the young people organised a series of fund raising events around Bolton, including an African themed Formal Ball which raised in excess of £2000.
Councillor Ebrahim Adia, Executive Member for Children’s Services, said: “This unique project is being delivered over a number of years, which means it is making a real and lasting difference to a part of the world which suffers from poverty and hardship.
“It has been a fantastic experience for the young people who took part and we look forward to receiving another South African group in Bolton next year.”