Golden pupils beat the odds

Conventional wisdom might have it that kids from poor, gang-ridden neighbourhoods are likely to be poor role models and an even worse investment, but an unconventional youth-development agency is shattering both those assumptions.

For nine years, gold-youth has worked with three schools in Bloekombos and the results are so impressive that a financial services firm is now investing
R3 million in the next phase of the project.

The odds are stacked against the pupils matriculating from Hector Pieterson, Masibambane and Bloekombos high schools: not only are the three schools at the bottom end of the “no-fee” schools and lack infrastructure, but the pupils are surrounded by gang conflict.

Other challenges are common to many poor communities: high teenage pregnancy rates, absenteeism, bullying, substance abuse, HIV, unemployment and many single-parent families.

But despite these problems, Hector Pieterson’s matric pass rate has improved from 40% to 69% in the past three years. Bloekombos too has a 69% matric pass rate and has maintained it for three years.

Masibambane’s average pass rate for the same period is 87.6% and the school has been selected to be part of Department of Education’s national strategy for mathematics, science and technology education.

The gold-youth works with communities, community organisations and, in this case, schools to identify potential leaders. Founder and CEO Susannah Farr said the selected beneficiaries weren’t necessarily well-behaved, studious young people.

“The naughty, mischievous ones are often the natural leaders,” she said.

Those who are selected enter a four-year training and mentorship programme to become peer educators, so that they can encourage their peers to be purpose-driven and make informed choices.

The schools make time and classrooms available for the peer-educator activities. There are currently 285 peer educators at the three schools and in the past nine years, 2625 have been trained and mentored. They, in turn, have reached more than 13000 of their peers.

After leaving school, the peer educators can become adult facilitator interns and complete a three-year workplace internship in which they train and mentor peer educators and help schools with work outside the gold-youth programme, such as exam invigilation.

The next phase of the project will reach the wider community, addressing unemployment and poverty.

In the next three years, gold-youth will pilot projects at Kraaifontein and other clusters of gold-youth communities to give graduates a pathway to further education, employment, enterprise development and entrepreneurship.

Food production and distribution will be a focus, with community agricultural projects providing sustainable jobs, income and an affordable, healthy food supply.

Now DirectAxis Financial Ser-
vices, which is part of the FirstRand Group, will plough R1 million a year for the next three years into the programme.

“The gold-youth programme is successfully dealing with some of the consequences of poverty in the community. What appeals to us about this model is that it is geared towards addressing the underlying problem,” said DirectAxis CEO Robert Gwerengwe.

Ms Farr said the aim was to replicate the model in communities across South Africa and in neighbouring countries where gold-youth is active.