Noxolo Maki, or “Noxy”, is 22-years old and volunteers for Restless Development South Africa in the Youth Leaders Today for Tomorrow program. Noxy and many other young leaders deliver peer education training on livelihoods, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, and Gender Based Violence. They visit rural communities in the Eastern Cape for a period of 9 months during which they interact with in-and-out of school youth and address the most significant challenges facing them and their communities.
The Youth Leaders Today for Tomorrow program aims to strengthen entire communities by improving access to sexual and reproductive health information and services in order to combat the rising levels of HIV, youth unemployment, and incidences of Gender-Based Violence.
Noxy has spent the last 9 months living in a rural community teaching other young people about safe sexual practices and HIV prevention methods, forms of rights, procedures for applying to university, pre-professional skills and job interviews.
Everyday, Noxy pushes her way on to a crowded taxi (a small bus) and she has to stand all the way to the small rural village where she conducts her sessions. When she arrives at the village, some of the students are milling around the school, hesitant to enter the classroom. But Noxy and her team inspire excitement from the students who are intrigued at what they could be learning that day.
“…When we politely ask them to go into the classroom, they ask, “what topic will we be taking today?” says Noxy. I tell them Gender-Based Violence and they say, what is this about? I say, no go to class and we’ll explain everything and we eventually get started.
We discuss Gender-Based Violence and they don’t have a clue what it is about -so I tell them, Gender-Based Violence is a violation of rights that is being done to human beings…Things like that we shouldn’t even accept or let go just like that. We should actually do something.”
Every lesson taught by the young leaders is a small step towards a bigger transformative change for the community. Peer educators like Noxy also work with the Department of Basic Education, various local schools, Youth Resource Centers, head of Schools and Life Orientation teacher in hopes of reaching over 5,725 in-and-out of school young people in rural communities – one by one.
The Youth Leaders Today for Tomorrow program goes a step further and also engages parents, health center staff, teachers, School Governing Bodies, and many other community members. And, the students and local community are not the only ones learning from these programs. Noxy also said she has seen changes in herself.
“What has changed is my self-esteem and the way that I speak. I am more confident to talk to young people as a role model. Also, my shyness – it has decreased. It was up here and now it’s down here,” Noxy says gesturing towards the ceiling and then down to the floor.
Noxy’s work is part of a bigger picture. Restless Development South Africa hopes to empower a generation of young people who have the knowledge to negotiate safe sex, have access to contraceptive services, go on to further their education, and secure productive employment. The organization also aims to grow a coordinated youth sector in the Eastern Cape that influences decisions and policymakers.
When Noxy was asked how she felt about her work and its impact, she simply said;
“I feel like I have changed lives.
I have become a role model to some young people. I have worked hard, sharing information and helping young people to be the best. I also think young people engage better with their peers. And in my experience, young people were able to share stuff with us [the volunteers], they were free to communicate with us.”
Learn more about other programs happening at Restless Development South Africa here.