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Maths + Dreams = Kids who can

Aspirational IkamvaYouth – Article in this week’s Business Day

In the Business Day this week (7 June 2011), economist Peter Montalto finds inspiration in the aspirations of Ikamvanites. Montalto refers to his experience of visiting the Nyanga branch of IkamvaYouth a couple weeks ago and the impact this has had on his perspectives of South Africa and how important it is that we foster aspiration in our impoverished communities.

He writes,

 

In Nyanga, Ikamva Youth is working in the heart of the community in a local library. An army of enthusiastic volunteers, many of whom went through the project themselves, and a close connection with local universities provide the drive behind the project, and the energy comes from the leaders. Visiting the project, I saw young people hungry to learn, help each other and take advantage of the services Ikamva offers them. Most interesting, though, was that at its heart the work Ikamva is doing and the difference it makes is very simple — it is about providing a spark of hope, a path of opportunity and role models to look up to, all triggering aspiration.

The most basic tragedy of the townships is not even high unemployment (about 60% in Nyanga) or the conditions — it is a lack of aspiration. The encouraging thing, which Ikamva Youth has shown, is that though role models and simply providing information (and implicit incentives) about what options are available for youngsters and what they can achieve in life by putting the effort in at school, this aspiration can be ignited, grades can be improved and lives can be enriched. Once aspiration has been sparked, a basic entrepreneurial spirit in those who live in the townships causes a multiplier effect and youngsters then want to work hard, giving up time after school to be part of the programme, and so have a larger part in driving their own destiny. Much of Ikamva’s work relies on volunteers, who have been through the programme and then want to return to give something back.

I met Phillip and Thobela, two young people who had grown up in the township, been through the charity’s programme at school, got good enough grades to go to university, and now volunteer with the charity and are going on to great things. As an economist, I was delighted to find a common understanding with Phillip, who is passionate about econometrics. He is doing well at university and looking to go on to, for want of a better word, a “normal job” using his interest in statistics for the government or a company. Thobela, who now sits on Ikamva’s board, is passionate about chemistry. Getting into a good university allowed him to go on a study exchange to the US, and he now wants to become an academic teaching what he loves, a bug he has caught from his experience with the charity. Creating role models can become a virtuous cycle.

From my visit, I learnt many things. The issue of “untapped potential” is a much broader concept for SA than I first imagined. Government policy must be geared to providing the incentives and structure for personal aspiration of youngsters through mentoring and additional support in schools.

For the full article, visit http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=145012

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