“You can’t just sit back and relax and expect things to happen. Who is it that is going to make those things happen while you are relaxing? We, as young children, need to start preparing the changes we want to see in this world because everything is in our hands.” – Khuluma Mentor
Adolescents are often forgotten and pushed aside when it comes to dealing with problems in marginalised communities. Many people prefer to be working with a baby or toddler as opposed to a young adult. Adolescents are usually not given a voice, and many people do not want to speak up for them. This can mean that they fall through the cracks. Working as a social worker in a residential centre in South Africa, I found that the young adults were never allowed to raise their opinions on life and how they were really feeling. We need to understand the behaviour of an adolescent; through understanding how they see themselves and others in the world.
We should not be focusing on one or two experiences that the adolescent is going through, but instead look at them holistically, as whole human beings. Adolescents are not always seen as individual, unique members of society; they are often put in a box and we assume that they are all going through similar experiences in life. One adolescent with HIV may experience the difficulties and struggles completely differently to another adolescent. HIV should not be their identity though. There are so many other aspects of the adolescent that one could be focusing on.
The Khuluma Mentor Program has given some of these adolescents a purpose in life and a sense of belonging. It grew organically from the mobile phone support group initiative, Khuluma, which supports HIV positive adolescents in South Africa. The adolescents involved in the Khuluma support groups expressed the wish to ‘pay forward’ the support they had been given once their groups had come to an end. Through the Khuluma Mentor Program, we have so far trained 27 adolescents to become mentors and deliver psychosocial support to other adolescents living with the same condition via the Khuluma support groups. What a great way to be able to draw out the talent in these passionate and ambitious adolescents.
The Khuluma Mentor Program is an exciting initiative, certainly the one that’s closest to my heart. Coming from South Africa myself, I suppose I am able to connect to the adolescents, having worked with many adolescents in my previous career as a social worker.
The mentors show so much passion and dedication to make a difference in the lives of others suffering from HIV. Although the Mentor Program is there for the mentors to support participants of the Khuluma groups, it also gives them a space to confidently communicate about their own issues. As put by one of the mentors, “we are able to mentor each other”. What is important and unique about this program is that the mentors are not only able to share their experiences and skills, which enables them to provide peer-to-peer support, but are also able to get the necessary support from each other as well as the members of the Khuluma team.
The program is also a lot of fun to be part of! We organise fun days out and activities for the mentors; they participate in arts and film projects; and they get to meet inspiring people from academia who are just as inspired by these young people and keen to work with them on new and exciting initiatives.
The most important aspect of this program is that it gives these adolescents a place where their voices are really valued. The mentors are always given the opportunity to voice their opinion and we strive to make sure they are always heard. We do our best to involve them in conversations discussing how we can further develop the program, and consider their views when making these decisions.
The Khuluma Mentor Program has empowered many adolescents to be the best that they can be. It has given them the hope that they have been needing. We are working with such bold and courageous young people and I’m so excited to see how this program grows and develops, just like the young people who make it what it is.
Blog By: Ashleigh Beukes
Published on: 21 February 2019