Art, Health & Youth: What I learned about development in South Africa

Story by Sean Sander

During the summer of 2015, Lasha Zenashe and I, among other Albertan youth, were granted the opportunity to travel to rural South Africa to visit a village on the Eastern coast. The trip was organized by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation and was guided by Annette Wentworth (Keiskamma Canada) and Leah Ettarh (ACGC). The opportunity offered a unique glimpse into the inner workings of the Keiskamma Trust. We quickly discovered that the Trust has been changing the lives of youth who laughed, loved and joked just like us, yet lived very different lives. The radiant smiles and the laughs we shared with the Xhosa youth gave no inkling of the struggles these youth faced daily. The trip provided us with a sobering awareness of the challenges faced by youth impacted by societal injustices and HIV/AIDs. The focus of the Trust’s work is to prevent and treat with antiretroviral medication HIV/AIDs in all populations, namely the most vulnerable-children and women. It’s other focus-equally important—is to offer education, opportunities and employment to the population.

With all this talk of sickness and loss, the story of the Trust is not one of sadness, but one of hope. The Trust provides programming for local youth by engaging them in art, education and music. The beautiful artwork that the Trust employees create is sold and the profits are put back into the Trust. The funds collected from the sold artwork support the Trust’s education, healthcare, art and music academies. I know many of us returned with beautiful artwork- a reminder of the Trust and our South African friends. We visited one of the workshops where the art was created. The youth proudly showed us some of their current projects and masterpieces. The sense of pride in their workmanship was evident. Beyond this, the artwork and the Trust raise awareness of the communities in Eastern Cape that are still battling social injustice, poverty and HIV/AIDS. The artwork works both to allow for a creative outlet for youth and to raise awareness in the general public.

As aforementioned, the Keiskamma Trust has many youth programs. The education program allows the youth to learn and acquire valuable knowledge in a classroom setting. We were impressed by the intuition and work ethic of the students, as we sat in on classes and witnessed the curriculum and teaching style in a nearby school. Students from the school had taken up leadership positions in the community and were helping support the Trust. Because of the education program, the most apt and ambitious students were granted the opportunity to continue their education at the post secondary level, and some with music scholarships earned thanks to their hard work and dedication in the music academy.

Currently, the Trust is working to implement computer literacy programming. In an age of computers and technology, providing youth with computer skills is as valuable as language skills or arithmetic. In Canada, the Keiskamma Canada Foundation involves youth through regional and local fundraisers and the opportunity to purchase hand made artwork. Upon our return to Canada, Lasha, the three other youth and I toured Alberta promoting the Keiskamma Trust and raising awareness of HIV/AIDs.