In the township of Alexandra, once known as Dark City, there is a hub of activity and creativity, a place where the township’s troubled youth can go to explore their potential. Thusong Youth Centre is a community development facility where young people can sit in the driver’s seat and steer their own lives down the paths of their choosing.
Offering classes in a number of fields such as drama and music, as well as providing the youngsters with educational resources such as a library and a computer centre to help them with their academic needs, the centre has changed and continues to change the lives of many young Alex residents. It has a specific focus on orphans and children from families that either don’t have what is needed to provide for them, such as child-headed households or neglected children. It is an escape from the harsh and unfriendly life of many of these township children and offers them a chance to chase the dreams that they would otherwise have cast away.
Thusong also has a feeding scheme that gives the children who come to the centre cooked lunches daily. The meals mostly consist of maize meal and cabbage, but when there are donations of food from local supermarkets, the youth can choose from a wider variety of foods such as tinned fish and stews.
Chris Ndlovu, one of the volunteer facilitators at Thusong, says: “The most rewarding part of being involved in such projects is seeing these kids go on to become what they had set out to become upon arriving at the gates of Thusong.” Ndlovu has been helping out at Thusong Youth Centre since the beginning of 2009.
Among the activities that Thusong offers are sewing, visual arts and public speaking as well as various forms of martial arts, gymnastics and performance arts such as dancing and poetry. Since its inception in February 1979, the number of children registered at the centre has grown from 15 to 260, coming from across the small but densely populated township. Thusong is a safe haven for these vulnerable children while they are trying to find their identities during their formative years. But it needs help from the public to continue growing and catering to their needs.
The organisation is run on donations from good-hearted businesses and individuals who want to make some sort of contribution to improving the lives of vulnerable children, as well as on contributions from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and donations of food and other materials from franchises such as Pick n Pay.
Volunteers dedicate their spare time to helping orphans reconstruct their lives through nurturing them and equipping them with the tools and resilience necessary for them to thrive and become productive members of society. Children living in townships are always at risk of falling victim to crimes or becoming criminals themselves for lack of other options. They also may become substance abusers, making it crucial to provide them with alternative ways of spending their time during their formative years.
People like Ndlovu and his colleagues are few and far between, yet the need for others who are willing to sacrifice a part of themselves for the less fortunate is ever growing. To play your part in improving the lives of the children who need your help, contact the Thusong Youth Centre on 072 339 5212 and speak to Ndlovu about volunteering.
To make donations of time, money or material goods, call Mama Beauty, the head of Thusong, on 078 514 4845.