Dumi Magadlela
Dumi Magadlela

Youth month not just about June 16

June is youth month and the theme has something to do with youth getting involved in economic opportunities. Quite appropriate I must say. Now and then we have a period of time when we dedicate our national attention to one important cause, a demographic group, heritage, or an issue of national or socio-cultural interest.

We have had women’s month where there have been strong messages directed mainly at men to stop abusing women and children. I have always found it disturbing that there seems to be more incidents of violence against women and children during this month. It does seem to be the case. Emphasis on ‘seems’. My journalist friend tells me that it is a phenomenon he prefers to call ‘spotlighting’. He says this means that you tend to see more of the issue when there is a lot of attention given to it, just like the month-long spotlight tends to do on violence against women. Common sense, if you ask me. We do see more of what we pay attention to, always. What you think about, talk about, engage in more, you tend to see more of.

So what is the spotlight for youth month? Do we see more of the youth in dire straits during the month of June? Maybe not. Do we see our youth at all? Do we notice them if they are not in the spotlight for one thing or another. Are we paying more attention to the struggling, unemployed and untrained, unskilled, parentless, rolemodel-less, youth during this month? Methinks not enough. These are the same youth whose vote political parties will be fighting over pretty soon. The vote of the born-free will be the decider, or will it? Youth month. How political is the month of June for you? Or is it just about the onset of winter. Maybe to some of us its all about winter fashion, such as knitwear, knee-length boots and heavy coats. For others its about a full tummy first. The emotional and psychological cost of just about completing school, marginally passing, with no tertiary qualification, menial work, and a weakened sense of self and will power demand that we all tackle this challenge together.

What are we doing about this at individual level. I have taken it upon myself to mentor a few youth (male and female) and help them find their feet. Their only commitment is time and being available for our sessions on the agreed time. A good friend of mine has set up a foundation that assist with the mentoring mainly of young males across the African continent. This work goes to the root causes of why some young people are as any as they are, and addresses their self esteem, builds self-confidence and helps them find work or build their businesses (www.tumifrazierfoundation.co.za). The foundation helps young people find purpose and supports them to do something meaningful with their lives (with a lot of values-driven development).

I have noted that what is afflicting many young people ranges from a sense of helplessness, through feeling less than, all the way to a deep sense of envy and strong feelings of jealousy against those that either have a job, a spot in a tertiary institution or a relative that can offer them something to do. I am yet to work with and mentor youth living in rural areas for extended periods of time. What is refreshing about youth from rural areas is a sense of discovery and bright-eyed expectation of what city life offers. It’s the innocence. However, this is shrinking fast with the fast-paced mobile information technologies and cellphones. So much for subjects to romanticise for anthropologists and city slickers like us. More clients for the adverts to help feel less than, insecure and needing one gadget or another, a branded piece of clothing, shoes, etc. to feel like they belong, like they have arrived. Oh to be young and impressionable!

So, during this youth month, how about we make an effort to engage any young person we meet and find out what makes them tick. I have found this absolutely amazing. There are many young people that can hardly keep a conversation going. One word answers are not fund for a conversation. The truth is, many young people actually do not know how to hold up a simple conversation. Thanks to texting, Mxit and all that ironically so-called ‘social’ media (very anti-social). One of the young men I mentor from Soweto is an aspiring writer. All he needs is confidence in himself. Its growing slowly but surely. One of the biggest gifts these young people say having a mentor has given them is self-assuredness and confidence from being given the simple gift of personalized attention. This may sound trite and rather limited, but I know for a fact that it is a powerful gift to give to someone, especially a young under-pressure South African or African of all shades and backgrounds.

This youth month, why not give the gift of attention, and while at it, really listen to the ambitions of a young person. Where is your spotlight?