„loveLife virtually changed my life: I used to smoke a lot. What I loved about loveLife: they gave me the attention. They didn’t tell me to stop smoking, I decided to stop smoking.” (Groundbreaker in Tembisa, Gauteng)
Priya, Shilei and I – aka team loveLife – felt very honored to finally meet the young people that are at the heart of loveLife’s mission and success: the groundbreakers. We got a chance to talk to some of them during our field trip to the Y-Center in Orange Farm and the Clinic hub in Temibsa. We were impressed by the extremely honest insights they gave us about their very personal life stories – and why they became groundbreakers. Every single one concluded how loveLife has made such a positive impact on them and how they enjoy making a positive impact on their peers in the name of loveLife.
What do groundbreakers do? Each year, loveLife recruits about 1200 groundbreakers (aged 18 to 25), who will execute their various programs on youth development in loveLife’s Y-Centers, and in hubs within clinics and schools in all the15 provinces of the country.They give talks or facilitate discussions on HIV/AIDS-related issues, distribute condoms and information material, organize sports games and arts events and are simply there for their peers to support them in the every-day challenges of teenage life.Their assignment as groundbreaker is limited to one year and financed by a monthly stipend.
So when we left for our trip last Wednesday, we were pretty excited – and extremely lucky that Jo-Burg traffic jams were on the other side of the road this time. After a one-hour drive, we arrived at the Y-Center in Orange Farm.
Queen, who is the Senior Manager of the Y-Center there, gave us a tour around the center, including the sports area, the internet café, the chill-out area, and the library. The Y-Centre is meant to be a safe isle to provide space for information, networking and development of young people. Actually, we just missed an Aerobics session that the sports groundbreaker had led. We got to talk to the groundbreakers and hear about their daily work, their dreams and challenges.
After seeing the groundbreakers off to work, we went to a loveLife hub at one of the clinics in Tembisa. In this clinic, two groundbreakers help making the health services in the clinic more youth friendly. They give morning talks about health-related topics, and help with counselling. Also, they are integrated in the timetable of nearby schools, for example by offering so-called born-free talks. It is just so much easier to talk about relationships and contraception with your peers and ask the questions you really want to ask.
It was especially impressive to see how these young people work as mentors for their peers, helping to make people’s lives a little bit better. The secret of their programs is not just about distributing condoms. It is about building up strength and resilience with South Africa’s youth as part of a holistic youth development concept. As the groundbreaker says: “They didn’t tell me to stop smoking. I decided to stop smoking.”