Sonwabile Luhabe is a young advocate and communications graduate from East London, South Africa. He has worked around the Eastern Cape engaging communities around sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence (GBV), HIV prevention and youth unemployment. Alana Christopher caught up with him to talk about his experiences as a volunteer.
Read the article or listen to the full interview below;
Within two weeks of applying for Youth Take the Lead, Sonwabile found himself leaving his own country for the first time and heading to a completely new continent. His expectations of Nepal were completely different than the reality he saw on his first day. “I thought Nepal was just a low, flat-lying village in terms of geography and the first time I got here I saw heavy traffic and high-rise buildings.” Kathmandu was nothing like his hometown of East London, which was much smaller, more open, and right by the sea. However, what struck him most upon his arrival wasn’t how different the city was, but how friendly and welcoming Nepali people were.
“My first perception of Nepal was: there’s a lot of people, but a lot of people with big smiles and warm hearts. […] When you meet people, when you go out there and expose yourself, you learn and you improve and you come back home with a new experience… That was the primary reason why I took this opportunity, just to see the world and see how I could take that experience and bring it back home.”
Sonwabile’s activist journey started in 2018, working with Restless Development through the International Citizen Service (ICS) program. He was placed in Mthatha for 3 months, where he and his team led community outreach, youth empowerment and school programmes. After ICS, Sonwabile started working in HIV prevention, education and community outreach for a national organisation, where he coordinated awareness campaigns and localised outreach. However his journey to Nepal offered an exciting opportunity to take the lead in designing and directing his own project.
“Between university, my internship and association with Restless Development, I have learned a great deal in this field of communications and I would like to build on that…”
Sonwabile and his volunteer partner were tasked with interviewing other volunteers and writing impact stories about Restless Development alumni, developing communications materials, and writing a newsletter to be distributed to previous volunteers. As a PR and communications graduate, Sonwabile says that his time in Norway at the NOREC Youth Camp and at Restless Development Nepal provided him with many opportunities to develop and build on his intercultural communication skills. He also learned how to do youth advocacy work and engagement in different environments. This helped Sonwabile understand how other people communicate and strengthened his own communication skills.
“My major is communications at school, but I had never really had the opportunity to practice it the way I’ve been able to practice it in Nepal. It’s one of the things that I can take with me and say that I’ve engaged with people.”
Sonwabile is looking forward to returning to South Africa with all that he has learned as a NOREC volunteer. For the last stage of Youth Take the Lead, volunteers return to their home countries to implement a final project. For Sonwabile, this means developing an advocacy plan for Restless Development South Africa to address the needs of young people in Mthatha.
One of the most prominent issues in South Africa is youth unemployment, with a country-wide 27% unemployment rate. Sonwabile’s home province, the Eastern Cape, has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 37.4%. He’s planning to use what he learned to develop an advocacy plan for improving livelihoods and life skills among young people.
“We’ll tackle youth unemployment, what we can do, what we are missing, what we can suggest to leaders of the communities.”
Sonwabile also plans to tie his experience into his work with a local organisation, Haven Hills Youth Foundation, which addresses unemployment by connecting dropouts, graduates and young professionals to bridge the opportunities and information gap between them. After leading the project in Nepal, Sonwabile wants to take his work with the Foundation a step further. “Our main ambition is to actually grow this initiative into a formally registered NGO with a relatively measurable profile by the end of 2020,” he shared.
Sonwabile says that the best thing a young person looking to get involved in their community can do is volunteer.
“What we do here, it’s not about rewards and cash. It’s not a big sum of money. But the experience, it’s bigger than any money… if I had missed this opportunity, I would have never seen what I’ve seen. It’s once-in-a-lifetime.”
It offers young people experience and valuable connections that could lead to more opportunities. He emphasizes that you don’t need to have a university degree or special skills to be able to make a difference,
“You’re also a resource to the community, to society in general, by being a contributing human or person to society. Take yourself, your body, your mind, and put it to good use by involving yourself in community projects.”
Alana also interviewed Sonwabile’s inspirational project partner, Jackline. You can hear the whole interview here.