Maputo, Mozambique, April 2015: “In African culture, young people are not supposed to speak out to their elders… and I’m just one person – how can I change a whole community?” High school youth returning to their communities after a year-long scholarship exchange programme to the USA are often daunted by the scale of the issues. They feel they lack the social rank and power to achieve change.
Addressing this problem was the purpose of the Change Makers Conference in Maputo, Mozambique from 15 to 19 April, organised by AFS Interculture South Africa for recent Mozambican and South African student returnees from the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program. There is an emphasis in the programme on volunteer action for community change.
On meeting in Maputo, the dominant feeling in the group of young people was trepidation and confusion. By the end of the three days of action and learning, the group was “conscious, ready to try something new” and had identified issues for action according to AFS KL Yes programme specialist Raeesah Russon.
As an advanced ORSC-trained systems coach (about to complete ORSC Certification), Raeesah was able to facilitate some of the shifts needed. Working with a visioning tool from ORSC called “Paper Constellations” the students moved from feeling alone to identifying common patterns from Eldorado Park to Hout Bay, from “knowing” their communities can’t change to being willing to initiate the first steps towards change with support from peers. Large group processes where participants “voted with their feet” helped identify the systemic patterns of experience about
- Feeling powerful enough (or not) to change one’s community
- How much support there is in the community for change
- What happens if I get ridiculed at school or in the community?
Evidence of results from the Change Makers Conference came from the immediate activism sparked in the group addressing the xenophobic violence that flared up across South Africa while they were in the conference. And in the longer term, delegates to this year’s conference were inspired by word from one of the programme’s alumni, who has impacted 22000 people in his rural community in Kenya, starting with getting a reservoir built and then a hospital, step by step.